For the past 12 years, animator Rini Sugianto has brought to life everything from Hollywood superhero blockbusters to Steven Spielberg’s latest movie, and she’s proud to fly the flag for Indonesia in her industry.

Imagine watching a Marvel movie or Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit series without the animation or visual effects added in post-production. It would be unfathomable. Animation in films has gone from strength to strength; from go motion in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980), to the first computer-animated feature, Toy Story (1995), to the highest-grossing movie of all time, Avatar (2009).

Today, technological advances in animation have primed the viewing audience to enjoy fantastical effects, lifelike mythical creatures and animated characters without batting an eye. For animator Rini Sugianto, making the audience believe the characters are real and blurring the lines between reality and digital animation are a passion.

“We use real life as reference,” she says. “Then, we adjust it depending on the motion that we need. For example, there are a lot of things to consider in making a blink feel natural. Or, when we smile, it also moves certain parts of the face based on its muscle system. The audience can pick up the small little things that feel awkward. So, we, the animators, try to eliminate those errors as much as possible,” she explains.

“In the visual effects industry, our work is even less obvious,” adds Rini. “Anytime there are things that an actor can’t do (flying, for example), we create a digital double but make it look exactly the same. So, maybe the next time you go to the movies and watch superhero films, try to guess which shots are real and which ones are computer generated.”

Some of Rini’s work can be seen in blockbusters including The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, The Avengers, Avengers: Age of Ultron, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Adventures of Tintin (in which she referenced her own dog for Snowy), Ted 2 and, most recently, Steven Spielberg’s new movie Ready Player One.

While her résumé is undoubtedly impressive, Rini admits that her passion for animation has been “more of a progression, rather than a childhood dream”. Initially, Rini trained to be an architect, earning her bachelor’s degree from Parahyangan Catholic University, Bandung, in Indonesia’s West Java province.

“I got introduced to the 3D world when I worked at a small firm doing 3D environments for architecture plans. From there, I got more and more interested in the computer-generated world, specifically, in filmmaking.” Pursuing her growing interest, Rini went on to complete a master’s degree in animation from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco.

“My passion for animation came at the right time and got me to where I am today,” asserts Rini. She adds that she is proud to have “made it this far in this industry. It has been a long road as a foreigner trying to make it in an industry that is not very big in Indonesia. I didn’t think that I was going to make Indonesia proud with my career, but it does feel good to represent my country.”

As for the industry in Indonesia, Rini would like to see “more polished and higherquality animation”. To that end, she has volunteered to become a mentor in order to share her knowledge. “I feel that animation is a field where you can’t just read a textbook,” she explains.

“I can say that some of the earlier breakthroughs in my career were the result of a couple of animators in the industry who were willing to spare their time without knowing who I was and despite their busy schedule to mentor me and critique my work: Shawn Kelly (Transformers, Jurassic World, Pacific Rim) and Kevan Shorey (How to Train Your Dragon, Shrek the Third, Madagascar).” Budding animators can reach Rini about her mentorship via her website www.rinisugianto.com

Based in Orange County, California, Rini spends as much time as she can in the great outdoors, hiking or climbing, when she’s not animating. “Animators work long hours, sometimes 12 to 14 hours a day,” she says. “I used to work up to 90 hours a week on The Hobbit. It can drive you crazy and is not sustainable. So, you have to figure out how to balance yourself. I’m getting a lot better at balancing my life now.”

Rini tries to come home to Indonesia once a year to visit her parents and because she misses Indonesian food. When she’s on this side of the world, Rini mostly flies Garuda Indonesia. “I like that Garuda Indonesia is reliable,” she says.