We have often marvelled while watching movies like Furious 7, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2, The BFG, Pete’s Dragon, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2, and War for the Planet of the Apes. However, little do we know that it is a man from Assam who has played a major role behind the spectacular visual effects seen in those movies. In this exclusive story, Eclectic Northeast speaks to Jim Hatibarua who has carved a niche for himself in Hollywood and one day seeks to come back and make a film here.
Story of Jim Hatibarua
Currently based in New Zealand, Jim was born to a middle class family in Guwahati. He has been interested in electronic music ever since he was a young boy. ‘As a kid, I used to go to my neighbour’s house to watch movies like Spider-Man, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe and Giant Robo and these movies played a major role in influencing my young mind.’
In 1997, when he was looking at possible career options, few of his friends advised him to study 3D animation. He then enrolled himself in a 3D animation course in Mumbai. ‘It was one of the happiest moment in my life to realize that I have found what I was looking for. And, I have been hooked ever since.’ After completing his course, he joined a small television commercial studio in Mumbai where he worked for three years. ‘I didn’t learn much as not much was happening in the field of 3D animation in India at that time.’
To learn more about the field, Jim wanted to move abroad. In 2000, he got the chance to work for a TV station in UAE. He worked for three years, and on the side began saving money to study in Vancouver Film School, Canada (VFS). He managed to save enough money to enrol for the course, but he needed more money to sustain himself. He tried to get an education loan in Assam but nobody was ready to give him a loan to study 3D animation abroad. Eventually, his family and close friends pooled in the money and helped him turn his dream of studying in VFS a reality. ‘VFS was very exciting; new place, new people and lots to learn. I worked practically every day till midnight, especially towards the latter half of the year when I had to create a 3D animated short film all on my own. I had very little money. My family also could not afford to send me money every month. My fiancé, who is now my wife, used to send me money from Dubai. That was just enough for my rent and some food. I could only spend $2 to $5, a day, for my food. It was hard but I have lot of fond memories during my time in Vancouver.’
His Journey to Hollywood
After finishing his course in VFS, he wanted to work in Canada but had to leave because his visa expired. He first came back to India but then went back to UAE to work in another television studio. Later, he enrolled himself in a 18-month course to study animation at Animation Mentor in USA. After completing the course, he joined Lucasfilm Animation in Singapore. There, he got an opportunity to work on the TV series Star Wars.
After working for five years, he moved to Auckland, New Zealand, with his wife and son to start working on Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness. After a year, he moved to Wellington to work in a small studio called ‘Pukeko Pictures.’ Within few months of working there, he was hired by Weta Digital to work on The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. Since then, he has been working with Weta Digital.
‘It’s been challenging and rewarding at the same time. Every film has their own set of challenges but everyone is really passionate about what they do. Weta Digital has created many memorable movies like The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Rise of the Planet of the Apes Trilogy, Avatar and many more. It feels great to be part of all these great movies. I personally worked on The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, Furious 7, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2, The BFG, Pete’s Dragon, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, War for the Planet of the Apes. Currently, I am working on Alita: Battle Angel.
Jim dreams of making his own movie someday and shares that if he has to return to India to realize that dream, he will do so.
Written by – Nabarun Guha