An ‘art enthusiast’ since early childhood, Millie Padmanabhan grew up running away from the stillness of everyday life through constantly creating and daydreaming. Her art pursuits included crafting, drawing, painting, playing music and writing. Having grown up as an only child in a large Indian family which happened to be ‘extremely artistic and cultured,’ Millie says she was ‘moulded in her formative years to be an out of the box thinker.’
The artistic and cultural atmosphere of her upbringing quickly led her to the realisation that visual storytelling is what she loved most and later in life she would probably gravitate towards art and visual thinking. She describes herself as an extroverted, curious, and inquisitive person by nature, as well as ‘a daydreamer, often being caught in a mellow trance’.
Soon enough, when faced with the decision to study Fine Art or try something different in her teenage years, Millie’s artistic ambitions led her to take the leap with the latter. She did a degree in 3D Art and Animation at a vocational college called TAFE in New South Wales, where she obtained ‘many valuable skills that still follow her to this day.’ Fondly looking back at her college years, she maintains that the 3D world taught her how to create in a different manner, ‘rather than a different dimension.’
However, Millie describes her early to mid-twenties as her formative years, when she dabbled in many different professions varying from exhibition design and architectural visualisation to 3D rendering and video editing. She calls those years a journey of ‘self-exploration and expression’, where she found the steppingstones to her career today.
Entering the industry through her first job was not a huge leap for Millie as she’d been employed since the age of 16. “I had a part-time job while I was at university in a local animation studio for a non-profit Christian organisation. They re-created stories from The Bible for underprivileged children overseas who subscribed to their organisation.” After university she pursued another job at a non-profit organisation that created content for underprivileged children overseas. There Millie started learning about the inner workings of the creative process and the pipeline that gets you to the desired result. “Memories were found, as a bushy-tailed intern who walked in with a whirlwind of enthusiasm.”
From a part-time university gig and a non-profit organisation, the digital designer soon got her big break in the industry and was ready to leave the persona of the bushy-tailed intern behind. She describes her break as ‘accidental,’ but nevertheless attributes it to fate. At Start VR, the company where Millie’s career took off, she was ‘mentored and coached by the most kind-hearted and open leaders into the commercial advertising and production world.’ Here is where she started better understanding and elevating her craft. Start VR created bespoke VR content for commercial purposes and hosted training events nationally, working with clients such as Woolmark, National Gallery of Australia, Aptamil and more. At Start VR was Millie’s first project that she felt really changed her career.
An event called Sculptures By The Sea was where Millie’s team was tasked with shooting VR content, putting it together and setting up the experience onsite, where her skills and ability to work under pressure were put to the test. Nevertheless, her ability to step up to the challenge elated her’. During the early days of her career, Millie quickly started learning from her failures and mistakes. “I learned that creativity is a long journey with many twists and turns that ultimately leads you to your highlight reel,” she says. Those were the days when she understood the power of focus and grit, as well as how to apply them to the multitude of challenging situations she faced in the creative world.
Through all the challenges and changes in the industry and her own career, Millie reflects that what she enjoys most about what she does is, ultimately, visual storytelling. “Every piece of work I create has an inception gathered from inspiration and insight. It translates into my craft and approach to form the outcome.” Specifically good visual storytelling, which she envisions as the backbone for great work, is what she worries the industry might water down, due to a shift prompted by the technological advances in the world. “There are new tools for creativity and design which bolsters the craft. But what I’ve seen that has shifted is the lack of attention being paid to the core idea of a campaign and the insight.” However, when looking at the impact the pandemic has had on the creative world, Millie proudly admits that we have’ leapt five years ahead’ and many technologies that were already available are finally being put to use. “I am excited to see agencies embracing different tools to deliver content and advertising in innovative ways,” say the digital designer.
Millie also pays attention to the need for better representation within the community. She is happy to share that at Cheil Australia ‘our ELT is made up of 60% women with three out of five women representing women of colour’. However, within the advertising sector only 25% of senior positions are held by women. ‘Pioneering diversity and inclusion programs, sets an example for generations to come after us,’ which is crucial for the new talent that blooms within the industry, Millie shares. Within Cheil Australia, she is also involved with the LIONS group, which is comprised of ten rising members within the company that oversee education, informing, inspiring, and speaking on current affairs in the industry. Millie describes the LIONS group as a group “where young voices of the industry are heard and where we can positively steer the company to be aware of current trends and needs in the market,” which she loves being a part of.
Although immersed in the industry, Millie still practices her sketching and painting – not only has she done several commissioned paintings, but she has even recently translated some of her work into the digital realm and is hoping to extend her practice there. Reflecting on a lifetime of creativity, inspiration and constant improvement, Millie explains that her motivation comes from a ‘relentless drive to constantly learn and improve who I was yesterday’. The curious and inquisitive person she recognised in herself as a child stuck around and gave her an outlook, which helped her to stay ‘inspired and passionate about everything she puts her mind to’. “I wake up with a strong intention to make an impact, however big or small, to any person or experience in my life.”