Featured Artist | Harsh Agrawal

Harsh Agrawal

Personal Website | Instagram

Harsh Agrawal is currently working at Pixar Animation Studios as a look development artist for Toy Story 4, and his fantastic work can be seen most recently on Pixar's Coco. His upbringing in India has given his art a great balance between technical and traditional.

Miguel and Dante visit the land of the dead.

How did you become a CG artist?

I grew up in Rairangpur, a village in India, where I was trained in mathematics and physics but I always had a passion for painting. I would always sketch and do watercolor paintings.

Plein air watercolors at Pixar campus. Check out Harsh's Instagram page.

This led me to Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), where I was introduced to Maya and eventually RenderMan. I learned most of all from Professor Malcolm Kesson, who was a wonderful teacher. At the time I had only used Maya's mental ray, so I was enchanted by RenderMan's hybrid Reyes/raytracing engine and how quickly I could get desired looks. I read through all the RenderMan documentation and made some personal projects, which got me into a RenderMan internship, where I helped the team create libraries of shaders and other tasks which helped me learn RenderMan in-depth. This was my break into the industry while a sophomore in college

During my RenderMan internship, I found out about PUPs (Pixar Undergraduate Program). Since I was not sure what I wanted to specialize in, PUPs was a perfect opportunity to try different hats in the pipeline, and after finishing my RenderMan internship, I created a demo reel in order to apply. I was excited I got a call from Pixar for an interview! They asked me some general questions regarding my reel and why I wanted to join the PUPs program. Luckily, I got in and was able to learn each aspect of the Pixar production pipeline from modeling to rendering. This experience has led me to work as a Character Shading TD at Pixar on Toy Story 4. I still have a lot to learn and grow as an artist, but hopefully, my passion will continue to be the driving force.

Shaded paint over for Manny's Cars 3 easter egg shoes for Coco.

What artists, music, and movies inspire you?

I derive a lot of my inspiration from my surroundings and nature, especially when painting. I believe that keeping yourself surrounded by artworks that inspire you and being enthusiastic is key to growth and keeps you from having creative blocks.

One of the artists that really inspires me is Joseph Zbukvic, I Love the mood and atmosphere created in Joseph’s paintings. His contemporary watercolor expressionist paintings try to achieve a balance of harmony between tonal values, design, color, and mood that visually evokes the emotions between the viewer and the painting. He is really good at reducing complexity in environments and strategically placing details in focal points to compose a believable painting.

Joseph Zbukvic is one of Harsh's most important artistic influences.

This is something that helps in texturing as well. You can create believable complexity through chaos if you are smart enough to place details at right focal points. Thus, your final textured object will still look realistic and be believable, but it will be much more efficient and composed.

Here are a few of the artists and movies that inspire me:


“My advice to is to always be passionate and enthusiastic..."

Hello, Dave.

Hello, Dave.

Watercolor Artists

Concept Artists

How does traditional media influence your work?

Doing a lot of watercolors and plein-air painting, you learn the importance of values and hues. This also improves your observation and eye for details. Doing watercolor impression also teaches you how to convey the story with minimal amounts of brush strokes and to choose your focus wisely, which is useful in texturing.

I also like to photograph random objects which can be used for textures, and then use them to create texture libraries.

Check out Harsh's Cookies & Milk tutorial.

What are you working on?

I recently finished working on Coco and now I've shifted to working on character shading for an upcoming Pixar film. For personal work, I'm trying to make a collection of Plein-air watercolor paintings.
I recently co-wrote an article on RenderMan’s bumpRoughness and I'm currently working on writing a second part, which delves deeper into the technical details of bumpRoughness.

Coco assets shaded by Harsh Agrawal

How much fun are you having with RenderMan?

RenderMan is very flexible and as an artist, you can pretty much do anything you can imagine. What I love most about RenderMan, is that it doesn’t restrict you at all, if you have an idea you can quickly prototype it and render it. Now that RenderMan is a path tracing renderer, it gives you the ability to do progressive rendering, which reduces your iteration and look-dev time dramatically. Improved iteration is a big plus for any look-dev artist, which means you can focus more on art and less on render times. This helps speed up the process but also encourages more experimentation.

Harsh helped shade background characters for Coco.

“...it's important to maintain a work-life balance and seek inspiration...“

What has you most excited about the future of RenderMan?

RenderMan 22 is coming out soon, which is pretty exciting! I am especially looking forward to the XPU system, which will use both CPU and GPU to boost renderers. Most of all, I'm looking forward to the live rendering, which will really improve iteration times and will let artists focus more on aesthetic decisions instead of debugging.

I am also excited about bumpRoughness, it's going to be a game changer for retaining details and getting those specular breakups at a distance. It renders much faster than a bump map and retains a lot more detail by converting displacement/bump details into roughness/anisotropy. Overall, I'm excited that RenderMan 22 will make my life easier as a digital artist.

RenderMan 22 and XPU

Learn more about the future of RenderMan with the presentations at Pixar's Art & Science Fair

Harsh textured and shaded Rosa's headpiece.

Do you have any advice for new artists?

There are times when you will reach a creative block and feel frustrated, and it's important to maintain a work-life balance and seek inspiration during those moments, be reminded of why you chose to work in this field. Taking some time off will reduce stress and propel creativity.

Sculpture with tissue paper and Elmer's glue

My main advice to is to always be passionate and enthusiastic about your art. Keep yourself surrounded by inspiring artworks. When you are starting out,  it’s easy to get caught up in technicalities and troubleshooting given the number of software and tools, but most of all, it's important to remember that those are just tools and your ultimate goal is to create artwork and tell a story.

NEWS | RenderMan 26 is here!