Student Spotlight: Michelle Khare ’14
Michelle Khare ’14 has a film fanatic or animation buff’s dream resume. Khare, a digital media and technology major at the College, is currently in Los Angeles on the film studies Foreign Studies Program, where she is interning in the office of actor Steve Carell. In the past, Khare has worked in the marketing departments for Google and DreamWorks Studios and interned for Chris Sanders, who directed “The Croods” (2013), nominated for best animated feature film in the 2014 Academy Awards.
What stirred your interest in animation?
MK: When I came to Dartmouth, I had no idea I wanted to do something like this. I didn’t even know we had visual arts classes. Growing up, movies have always been my favorite thing. Not just feature films, but everything that encompasses media, including animated movies and short films. It’s especially interesting now that visual culture is much more prevalent in society. I am interested in the advent of different types of electronic media and how they affect our daily lives.
How would you describe your major?
MK: It’s basically a blend of digital arts, film, philosophy and English. I wanted to make a custom major after taking computer science professor Lorie Loeb’s 3D digital modeling class. She’s an amazing professor. She teaches you Maya, which is the industry standard software for animated movies and a very cool skill to have.
What skills did you gain working at DreamWorks?
MK: It was a really good way to get a taste of what working in the industry is like on a day-to-day basis. I loved it because at Dartmouth we do projects and write papers, but in an internship, you can see how your work is applied to a real product. It’s especially great to work for a movie I care a lot about, like “The Croods.” The director, Sanders, is famous for directing “Lilo and Stitch” (2002) and “How to Train Your Dragon” (2010). “Lilo and Stitch” is my favorite movie ever. It was a huge honor to be able to work in his office.
What was your reaction when you first met Sanders?
MK: I went up to him, and I told him that “Lilo and Stitch” was my favorite Disney movie. Growing up, everyone had a Disney princess that they related to. Someone might be like, “I’m blond, so Cinderella is my Disney princess” or “I’m a brunette, and Belle is my Disney princess.” For me, Lilo was my princess even though she’s not really a princess. I’m half Indian, and I didn’t have a generic princess to refer to based on my hair color, except for Jasmine. I’m not even Hawaiian. I just feel like I relate to her a lot, being different.
I also loved the story, which I think is really heartfelt and cute. I appreciate how Sanders’s movies don’t remind you of this fairy tale, generic plot line. They are all outrageous and so relatable. Who else could have ever thought of the idea for “Lilo and Stitch,” where a little alien comes down to earth and befriends a little Hawaiian girl? It’s so weird, and it works so well.
How has Dartmouth fostered your future career?
MK: I think the most beneficial thing for me has been finding supportive professors. Loeb has been really supportive of me when I was trying to get several different internships, and engineering professor Peter Robbie taught a class that was absolutely phenomenal. The D-Plan has also been a blessing. I was off three out of four quarters last year, and I was still able to travel on the FSP this winter as a senior.
What advice would you give to younger students who are interested in internships or careers in animation?
MK: If there’s something that you really want to do, use every available resource that you have to make it happen. That can include calling people you don’t know or using the alumni network. I was nervous emailing alumni, because I didn’t want to bother them. You kind of have to say to yourself, “I’m taking a chance. The worst thing that happens is nothing.” Also, if you don’t see a major you like, find a way to make your own. I pretty much sat down, found all the classes that I loved and found a way to make that my major.
Why do you make art?
MK: Throughout high school I was involved in theater and films, and I worked at my town’s independent film center. That was my whole life. I came to Dartmouth from this really small town in Louisiana, and I thought to myself that everyone here was way smarter then me and that I needed to buckle down. I need to major in something that’s relevant, go into government or work on Wall Street so that I can have my 2.2 kids and a house. When I tried to do that, it was an absolute failure. I did fine in my classes, but I wasn’t having any fun.
Now, I’ve accepted that animation is what I love to do and that I can make it practical. I don’t think that I’m going to move to California and instantly become a huge star, but I believe if you find something you love and put all of your energy into it, you will be able to do it well. I don’t now if that will actually work out for me, but it worked out for Mindy Kaling ’01, and she is kind of my idol. We’re both Indian and attended Dartmouth. She’s a phenomenal writer and actress. I can only hope to be as funny as she is.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
THE FINAL WORD
My essential winter gear: move to California. That's what I've done every winter.
If I could travel anywhere: New Zealand during the winter, which is their summer, so that I could ride my bike. I'm on the cycling team at Dartmouth, and part of why I love California is that I am able to train outside.