Day 2 at CHITRAKATHA ‘07 : Highlight – Panel Session on Animation Education and Industry Trends

The panel discussion was a highly thought-provoking and completely interactive session, where several pertinent issues were raised. Moderated by Anand Gurnani of Animation Xpress, the panelists were:

Prakash Moorthy, Head, Animation Dept. Miditech, India
Vaibhav Kumaresh, Vaibhav Studios
Simi Nallaseth, Director, Epiphany Films
Amit Anand, CEO, EttanimA Studios
Binita Desai, Associate Professor & Animation Designer, DAIICT, Gandhinagar
Arnab Chaudhuri, Animation Film Director
Basav Raja, Independent Animation Designer

The first question was addressed to to Arnab, who is currently directing his animated feature, Arjun.

“While directing your animated feature- Arjun, what kind of team are you trying to build and what are the challenges that you face in doing so?”
Arnab: We had a very short time to build the team. The biggest challenge is that the industry is built on technicians and not artists. A good creative layer has not been built as yet. We are trying to overcome the challenge by converting our technicians into artists. What we really need is people who can think on their own; come up with ideas and solutions by themselves.

Q. “The students here in the audience have never seen the inside of a studio. What are the kind of roles they can look forward to while working in a big studio? What is it like to work as part of a whole, especially because these students are used to creating an entire film independently?”
Arnab: In a feature film, the scope is that much larger than in an independent film. The rush you get by doing even 3 seconds of great work as part of a team on a big project, by creating visual effects and doing the job well, is tremendous. You feel the same sense of ownership and pride as you would for your own independent film. I do not think it is a step down.

Question to Vaibhav: “Please talk further on this. Students are so accustomed to owning the entire production process. What is your perspective on this?”
Vaibhav: I would like to say that there is no dearth of opportunities to do your own independent work even after leaving the institute. If you are doing it here at NID, you can go outside and do it too. It is not necessary to work in a studio. There is no compulsion to fit in. One can find opportunities if one looks hard enough. You can approach people to commission your work. CFSI and NFDC used to do it. There’s nothing wrong with working on a small scale and there’s absolutely no need to compromise. Yes, professional work is time bound and there will be a lot of pressure but that is part of the work.

To this, Amit Anand added :
You need to have a sense of realism about what the industry has to offer. Most students have no idea. I don’t think we can convert technicians to artists and vice versa. There is no need to do so. It is all about the supply chain. People need to identify where they want to play a part. In India, we need to grow pre-production talent. Go find your place in the supply chain, there are so many jobs, see where you fit in.

Audience question to Arnab:
Subhadra, NID alumnus: “Is Arjun about the mythological figure? If yes, why so? Why are all our new releases about mythological characters? Do you think the audiences are not yet ready for anything else?”
Arnab: Yes, it is about Arjun from the Mahabharat. No, I don’t think all the new releases are only mythological.
Subhadra: “What was your reason for doing a mythological Arjun?”
Arnab: It was an ongoing project that we took forward.

Binita: People in technical areas in the film industry or in gaming or any area are essential. We need front end sensibilities to be supported by backend technology. At the Dhirubhai Institute, that is exactly what we are doing. We tuning the engineers’ sensibilities to artistic needs so that they can be better tuned to support the creative people. The idea is not to turn them into creative people but to make them understand what it takes to do animation.

Prakash: Animation is like any other Cinema. It has a process and many roles- writers, technicians etc. Here at NID, students learn everything, and at the end of 5 years they will figure out what they are better suited for. Deeper than this, there is a greater need in the industry for well-rounded film-makers than those who a lot about a bit. There is a need for people who understand cinema.

Audience question- Rohit, NID student: “Do you feel there is a need for more specialized people? Do you think schools starve the industry by not encouraging specialization and creating more jacks of all trades?”
Arnab: Are you finding it difficult to find placement? Because we need all kinds of people.

Simi: I believe that your technique will come from your idea. The battle is not between technique and artistic ability. We need more idea-driven films. Make movies on anything that excites you. I do not think that the industry lacks technique or talent. What I would love to see is a day when I open the newspaper and see a whole bunch of animated films besides the regular ‘bollywood’ mainstream offerings. We need more original ideas. Not just mythology. Our film got financed because they loved it. We work because we like the film we are making. Don’t just be a cog in the wheel. Be responsible for your work.

Amit: (Offering another perspective) Why are we seeing only mythology? The ground reality is this – Can your movie poster can stand next to popular Bollywood posters and get a family of 5 to chose to spend Rs. 1000 on the tickets for your movie? Can your idea entice a movie-goer who is used to watching Shahrukh Khan? Is your idea strong enough?

Audience question – Jaya, NID student: “Commercial versus Creative, as artists what do we do? Lay people are not interested in experimental work that we do here as students. Do we create for them or for our own artistic satisfaction?”

Prakash: The answer is “Animation Film Appreciation”. It is not good enough to show each other our films and pat each other’s backs. The need is to take the films to the common man. Show them the films, share the experience. Only then can we sell our original stuff to them.

Binita: Regardless of how many times a story is narrated, how it is retold makes the difference. Its about sensibility, storytelling, passion and madness. You have to be obsessive and just do it. A great example is how Vaibhav and his clay characters made an ad film on a car battery interesting. You have to find an exciting way to tell the story.

Amit: (to a great round of applause) How many people think Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron is a brilliant film? (Most people raised their hands.) The film flopped when it had originally released. What that tells us is that every idea has its time. The time has to be right. Find the right story and do it at the right time.

Dr. Kavita: Myths, be it in India or anywhere in the world, carry certain archetypes and these are replayed with every generation. But their stories reflect the times and the meanings derived also change over time.

Audience response- Abhishek: Actors in Hindi films are iconic. People idolize them. We need to do the same with animation. Ramayan and Mahabharat have the quality where they lend themselves beautifully to the medium. There are heroes that we can idolize and villains that we can hate.

Audience response- Uttam: We need to stop being so skeptical and just take off. Hindi film industry didn’t grow overnight so why are we expecting that from the still nascent animation industry? Although hundreds of films relase every year even in Bollywood, very few actually succeed. The same applies to animation.

Audience comment- Pranay: I see a clash between 2D and 3D. Kids dont like 3D, they prefer 2D.

Audience response- Sara, NID Student: It is about how you interpret the story. 2D, 3D or even 5D!! It simply doesn’t matter. The medium could be anything, even sand or clay. The movie is just someone’s point of view of a subject.

Amit: There are 3 myths here-
1. Kids love 2D – It has been globally proven that the biggest selling properties are 3D. Kids love bright colours, cute faces and sounds. Children can’t even distinguish between the 2 mediums that you mentioned.
2. Its a misconception that our industry is churning out only mythology. A lot more is being done but not being announced for a number of reasons.
3. I forgot!! (everyone laughed at this)

Question addressed to all the panelists: “What are your expectations from NID?”

Prakash: I’m very happy with the way NID is going. There is talk of conceiving a national curriculum and I think it is imperative to do so. Everyone seems to want to teach animation but they are teaching only software and its the software that actually teaches you! Our country needs a unified curriculum so that there will be parity in the students that come out of these institutes.

Vaibhav: NID should introduce software in its curriculum. There’s nothing wrong with it. Once you learn how to use it, you will make far better use of it because you know the art. Otherwise, NID is complete, this is the only missing link.

Basav: Software is a myth. Everyone can learn, it is not a big deal. If you know what you want to do, the software will guide you. All you need is a bit of hard work initially. You just need to learn the methodology. You learn the interface and workings of one software and you can learn the rest.

Arnab: I think enough has been said about software. I would like to see more creative writing coming out of NID. I want ot see more humour, more comedy. It is the most popular thing and yet the toughest to create.

Binita: We must increase 1st order experience in the programme. Have fantastic conversations, watch great cinema, listen to great music. Work hard; work to the bone but also party hard.

Amit: (addressed to Sekhar and his team) NID needs more interaction. They have been isolated for far too long. Thanks for initiating this effort, Sekhar.

Simi: Focus on madness. Money ruins things. Enjoy the joy of creation. Don’t bother about the money.

Question to Sekhar: “What changes would you like to see in students?”

Sekhar: (jokingly) I’ve become a silent film myself! Life is too serious to be taken seriously, so laugh!

Question: “What changes would you see in the institute?”

Sekhar: (joking again) The changes are happening rather clandestinely.

Comment by Greg Acuna: “If you see the websites of institutes, most faculty are people who work in studios. I feel NID students should go out into the world and teach what they have learnt here. Get more industry people to teach.”

Prakash: We need to introduce writing in animation. There is a dearth of good writers.

Arnab: Good writing doesn’t necessarily mean a command over language. Look at Vaibhav. There is great humour in his work but yet without words. Great writing can be without words.

Binita to Greg: Animation is new to India. I meant people should give a return gift to NID, to the new generation by supporting them in their venture to learn.

Greg: “There are so many films being launched. Who is writing them? The Bollywood format won’t work in animation!”

Amit: At the industry level, there are good writers in-house in the studios. They are being trained. I do not know at the institute level.

Sekhar:We are modifying the age old faculty form!

Audience question – Ranjit (sound artist): “Sound is so integral to the story, how do you do it?”

Simi: We have professionbal sound people, who are part of the creation process. It goes back anfd forth, we even derive ideas and inspiration from the music given by the sound artist.

Answering Rohit’s query on finding an audience for independent films – Amit Anand had just 1 word – YouTube!

Prakash and Binita said they agree with Rohit’s anxiety of wanting to do a film independently and not having the money to do so. Earlier it was tough but now easy access to technology has made it easier. There has to be a way that a person gets to work on his/her film and not worry about the finances.

Audience comment- Chand:There are lots of options available like etc but the films also should live up to the media on offer.

Audience comment- Yogi: I personally feel animation should be introduced at the school level

Vaibhav pointed out that we are doing it already through TASI’s workshops. Simi teaches basic animation at her kid’s school.

Prakash: We should be teaching school kids about more relevant issues like conservation (big round of applause!)

Audience comment – Pradip, NID alumnus: Ex students of NID and the institute itself should put together a fund and select 3 films to fund every year, something like a residency programme.

Basav: I w ant to draw a clear line between storytelling and technology. Students should approach companies like sponsors like NVIDIA, IBM etc to sponsor their films.

Sekhar: Students also need to take responsibility. As an institute we do a lot of things, sending entries to competitions worldwide, filling out their forms. But then even they should be more proactive.

Dr. Kavita: I am a bit apprehensive that you want to make NID a deemed university. It might cramp your creative space. I share your desire that animation institutes become genuine institutes but a uniform syllabus will not work. Because then you cannot keep up with the newest trends. You would get bound by guidelines. Who will monitor whether the uniform syllabus is being followed? Who will impose? A national level syllabus might be limiting.

Binita: I fully subscribe to her views. It’s frightening to think what might happen. It is ultimately the people that make up an institute.

Audience – Prof. S Balaram: In most places, the institutes experiment and the industry follows them.It is the job of “professors” and educational institutes to look ahead and create new trends.

A final one line summation by the panelists:

Basav: Storytelling first. The rest will follow.

Arnab: Don’t be so scared of the commercial world. Jump into it and enjoy yourself

Binita: Stop saying “Mera Kya Hoga?” Just enjoy what you are doing.

Amit: (jokingly) Since everything else has been already said, I would like to do some free advertising here. Come join us at ettanimA studios.

Simi: Dont work for money. Just be mad and do what you enjoy. Be mad (she reitirated)

Vaibhav: If funds being raised and NID is doing something, i volunteer

Prakash: Let’s have this fest again

Anand: There’s a lot of exploration in NID student films but we need to see more character development. Students need to create more characters.

On that note, the stimulating discussion on Animation Education and Industry Trends ended.

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