Isha Mangalmurti recalls laughter echoing through her ancestral home and being surrounded by a kaleidoscope of colored chalks before she could even learn the many ways to braid her hair. “When I was three years old, my grandmother gave me a box full of chalk and drew with me on the shahabadi floors of our house,” she recalls. “Bedtime stories and sketches were an integral part of everyday life. As I got older, the stories were replaced by 90s cartoons, but I also started keeping a sketchbook.
The 27-year-old from Pune is one of the rising stars in India’s small entertainment community, following the recent exit of Hrithik Roshan-starrer Vikram Veda. She was part of an eight-person crew that worked on the film’s opening sequence, which gave us a brief look at the story of King Vikramaditya and the wise ghost Betaal.
With a play of light shadows and pirouettes, sharp color blocking aided by a background score on steroids, the lively prologue – which ends with Betaal clinging to the bewildered king’s back and whispering his popular line: “Must I tell you a story?” — sets the tone of the film.
Stereotypes are meant to be ignored
Animators around the world have worked against all odds and the same is true for India: underpaid, their work relegated to the background and so-called experts assuming that animators cannot be considered in the same pantheon than our greatest storytellers.
While the Will Smith slapgate controversy eclipsed nearly all of the Oscars footage last year, for the hosts, it was offensive for a totally unknown reason. Before presenting Encanto the award for Best Animated Feature, presenters Lily James, Naomi Scott and Halle Bailey joked that animation was for kids only. Even animator Amy Schumer added her two elements on animated movies and said, “The only one I’ve seen is Encanto because of my child.
“Animation is cinema,” says Debjyoti Saha, 28-year-old animation filmmaker and founder of Goppo Animation in Kolkata. “For years, the general public has viewed animation as age-restricted content, primarily for comic relief. As the world changes and the avenues multiply, the motive is to change this perception by approaching stories in various contexts and aspects.
Animator Debjyoti Saha
Saha’s versatile portfolio shows the stunning range of what this art form can do: the grungy, monochromatic animation punctuated with pops of yellow in the music video for Prabh Deep’s “Chitta,” which satirizes drug addiction; the animated title sequence showing a fiery race of women in the Netflix film Lapeta Buckle; and DIVINE’s ‘Mera Bhai’ music video. “Every story should be handled differently and that’s why we exist in the first place,” he says. “So the stories guide my style. After all, there are radical ideas that can only be executed in animation.
An excerpt from Debjyoti Saha’s music video for Prabh Deep’s “Chitta”
An excerpt from Debjyoti Saha’s animated title sequence for the Netflix movie Lapeta Buckle
Learn from collaborations
Nikunj Patel, the 30-year-old founder of Mumbai-based Studio Moebius — which works with an extensive network of graphic designers, illustrators and animators — believes that it’s at the intersection of a meeting of minds that the full potential of animation can be hitched. “For a very long time, animation in India focused on mythological storytelling and many Indian animators my age wanted to do something different. We didn’t know how and the only way to do that was to follow our meandering vision of what animation can do.
Host Nikunj Patel
One of Patel’s breakthrough works was Ariana Grande’s 2021 video and The Weeknd’s “Save Your Tears.” He worked as a solo animator in a global animation team and they wrapped the video in less than three weeks. “I continue to share my work with studios and directors around the world in the hope that they will commission me or [so I can] just learn how international animators do it,” he says. “One of those studios I sent a cold email to about my work was director Jack Brown, who I worked with for almost a year before he wanted me to be part of it. of the music video.”
Nikunj Patel was a solo animator on a global animation team who worked on Ariana Grande and The Weeknd’s “Save Your Tears” music video.
Another big project last year was that of multi-Grammy award-winning English heavy metal band Iron Maiden. The video visualized the board game Stratego as a real high-stakes battle between warring armies launching torpedoes and flaming bullets at each other.
Patel also incorporates “the wonder of this collaborative appeal” into his studio. His recent project was at the intersection of food and art: working with chef Lakhan Jethani of Japanese restaurant Mizu Izakaya on a short animated film about the making of chawanmushi, an egg custard dish in Japanese cuisine. “We documented the chef creating this dish from all angles, and I studied that footage for hours and built a montage,” he says. “I also had the opportunity to use my own music in the film, bringing together the worlds of visual arts, animation, food and music into one. It was truly a satisfying experience.
About children’s animation tour
Indian animators go beyond the children’s projects that were once their staple. Today, animation in India is becoming more and more personal. Young animators aren’t afraid to channel their tools into engaging with what they see as a sick world. Saha’s personal Instagram page went viral during farmer protests when he created artwork supporting the movement and disapproving of attacks on Mahatma Gandhi.
Along the same lines, Goa-based animator Deepti Sharma, 26, works as a visual storyteller at Quicksand, a design and research organization, where her role is to work on impact-driven storytelling. , with or without animation. One of his recent projects highlights the biodiversity catastrophe that will be unleashed on the residents of Mollem in Goa, a protected area, if three unplanned infrastructure projects that were approved without a thorough impact assessment on the environment (EIA) during the pandemic are moving forward.
“I learned about this through social media and now we’re a group of lawyers, designers, teachers and more,” she says. “And it works because the Supreme Court has already ruled in our favor to block the transmission line and the authorization for the railway line has also been dropped, but it’s an ongoing fight.” Simultaneously, she also makes sense of her homosexuality through the fluid world of animation, having previously worked on a music video for a popular dating app that depicted the deeper nuances of love between gay women.
From psychedelic art to NFTs
The styles used are varied, ranging from 3D and psychedelic animation to flat style characters, kinetic typography and old-school animation. Completely in line with global trends. Abhishek Verma, 34 – who won the 2018 National Award for Best Animation for Maacher Jhol (the heartwarming story of a boy who cooks traditional Bengali curry in the hope that hanging out with his parents at dinner would be easy) – shares that he uses experimental 2D in his films.
His last independent work entitled Project manhole, mixes virtual reality and 2D sketches with 3D processing to immerse viewers in the horrors of manual cleaning. “The form must itself become a vehicle for storytelling,” he says. “This creative treatment of the medium for a sensitive story becomes in itself crucial.”
Does the world of cryptocurrency and NFTs offer opportunities? Sharma is skeptical due to the inherent volatility in the crypto world. However, 26-year-old Asha Susan Alex, an animator based in Kollam, Kerala, has previously worked with NFT projects in a professional capacity. “The kind of projects we’re getting now would be unimaginable in the past,” she says. “Animation takes time, and even studios like Disney would take days to work on a single layer. Now, with software like Blender and AfterEffects, you can achieve that grand feeling on your own, without having to work with a team of 20 people.
A similar sentiment is shared by Puks, a 27-year-old animator based in Bengaluru, who mixes 3D animation with hand-drawn 2D illustrations, drawing inspiration from Studio Ghibli films. “As animators, we don’t have to be constrained to any medium,” she says. “So when I worked with Griz and Wiz Khalifa on the lyric video for ‘Find My Own Way’ , there was absolute freedom from their end. Recently, she sold some of her works on crypto platforms such as OpenSea. And his work, Golden Hour, which depicts the purity of unspoken love and silences, was featured at Art Basel 2021, the international art fair held annually in Switzerland, and is available exclusively on OpenSea.
Clockwise from left: Isha Mangalmurti, Puks, Abhishek Verma and Asha Susan Alex
The freelancer protocol
Most emerging animators in India are freelancers or have set up their own studio. “It usually doesn’t make sense to work full-time for someone else’s studio, because the money would be extremely low, and [there would be] little creativity,” says Verma. The average freelance animator earns between ₹60,000 and ₹80,000 per month, but this often comes with unrealistic deadlines – a tricky road they are still navigating. And although there is a lot of work in the entertainment segment with the increasing use of animation in films and music videos, animators share this their main employers are the corporate and fintech sectorsfor whom they design graphic animations, short advertisements, etc.
The animation industry is by no means nascent in the country. In many ways, Indian animators have been at the forefront of innovative storytelling, replete with quirky visual language. But now, from Saha to Patel, aided by the rise of small studios, they aren’t afraid to own their voice.
The writer is a Mumbai-based author and publisher.