EDUCATION IN ANIMATION Indian animation needs role models rather than critics

Even as the Indian animation industry evolves and looks to leap towards the next level, one area in which it needs to get its act together is education. No doubt there is good effort from some of the institutes, no doubt that compared to 18 months ago, today we have some amount of improvement in training, yet there is a long long way to go and every institute whether currently offering the best of training or not can evolve and improve as the industry goes ahead. Again education is not restricted to institutes, it happens at the workplace, under expert guides…anywhere and everywhere… There is a stark contrast between the quality and level of education offered in India as against that offered abroad. Education and training has been largely if not solely responsible for the strong creative capabilities and success rate of the animation industry internationally. To share various perspectives on animation education here and abroad, Animation ‘xpress is proud to introduce a new series ‘Education in Animation’ In the First of the series Animation ‘xpress’ Charmi Chheda met up with animator/director Kushal Ruia who is a Sheridan Graduate.

‘Animation Education needs role models rather than critics’

Kushal with Animator & Author John Canemaker Kushal's is an interesting story.
Hailing from a marvadi business family, Kushal Ruia a commerce graduate was studying to be a chartered accountant. Even though he liked watching animation, the aspiring CA was light-years away from considering animation as a hobby, let alone a career. Until magic struck. Kushal had always liked animation but he fell in love with it while watching Beauty and the Beast’ and Little Mermaid. The subtlety in Belle’s performance had moved him completely. The smitten Kushal actually began to wait for behind the scenes fillers (of animated features) on Star Movies with blank VHS tapes to record the show. His awe for the magical Disney features reached to a stage where he wasn’t satisfied by simply watching, he wanted to know how it was done.The more he learnt, the more intrigued he got, leaving him with only one choice, that of diving headlong into animation. It was quite a struggle to give up his family business, his education in a completely different discipline and to start afresh in this very demanding field. After researching on the qualifications required to get into animation, he learnt that an art background was really important. Before he could appear any entrance tests for art colleges, Kushal decided to opt for some initial coaching. He started looking out for people who would teach him the basics of art and sketching, but got discouraged with the kind of response he got. Getting into animation required strong art orientation and getting into a fine arts college in India required some basic art skills. Kushal had none. That made him opt for the ‘Basics of art fundamentals’ course at Sheridan where he had the option of starting from scratch. Today he thanks his stars that he got to go there Excerpts from a conversation with Kushal… nullWhy did you invest one year of your time studying art fundamentals in Sheridan? Why not begin directly with animation class? When I decided that I want to pursue a career in animation, the first step towards it would be a good hand in drawing and other basics like sketching, life drawing, study of anatomy, color theory etc as all these mark the basics of the visual language. Without a good art portfolio I didn’t feel confident about applying to any schools of animation. The one year in basic art fundamentals gave me a good level of confidence and it was also a self realization process in knowing my potential and capability in animation. What was the next step after completing art fundamentals? After completing a year in art fundamentals I applied to the Sheridan school of animation. I got admitted but between completion of my art fundamentals and beginning of the animation course, I had one year in hand. I came back to India. Because I wanted to keep my hand busy in drawing and not lose touch, I joined a short term animation program offered by one of the institutes in Mumbai. The only amazing thing about that course was the time, the experience and the knowledge shared by Ram Mohan Sir, the father of Indian animation. Other than that the course was a complete disaster. There were times where I had to fight for something as basic as classes in life drawing and justify it. After the Sheridan experience sadly this was a complete contrast. Did you have any encounters with industry professionals? Yes I did. In fact the encounter was a very encouraging one. I worked at 2nZ, under Kireet Khurana for a month. Kireet was very encouraging and his open door policy helped me gain some amount of confidence as I did my very first assignment of animation there. Do you think encouragement and help from an industry professional can help in the growth of animation education? Definitely. Every industry professional can help out at least one or two artists by training them and giving them space to unleash their talent. Having said that, I also understand why they can be picky in choosing the right talent, the well deserving and passionate ones, who demonstrate the required skill level. Why did you return to Sheridan when you already had a job in animation here? Well I had already enrolled and I had set my goal to study in Sheridan. Though I had good experience working at 2nZ for a month it also made me realize how much I needed to train myself in this field. What was the curriculum in Sheridan like? It was a three year course in classical animation. Every great institution has its own strengths. Sheridan’s emphasis in life drawing and story telling made it classical in the true sense. Life drawing was a predominant feature in the first year. You could actually flunk a year if you didn’t have good grades in Life drawing. The other important topics were perspective, layout, character development, story boarding, color theory, background theory, story structure, analysis of films, live action and animation. Basic animation principles like stretch and squash, anticipation, follow through, timing and spacing were taught and several assignments applying all these principles were given. Different kinds of walk cycles were introduced. Second year was an advance level of all the subjects in the first year. Much more complicated assignments were demonstrated applying all the principles. Visual problem solving, scene planning were some of the topics discussed. Third year involved us drawing in on all that we had learnt during the first and the second year, and applying it in making our own short film. Through this short film we also learnt the entire process and pipe line of animation which would help us in the industry. How important do you think is a formal training in animation? Nothing can beat a school. It’s not that after graduating you directly become an animator. It’s only after the application of what you have learnt and only after an experience of 8-10 years that you can call yourself a real animator. A school does not have a magic wand or a secret door through which you become a professional. It depends on the student, his inclination and passion towards animation. More than the course, it’s the environment that educates you. Not only the teachers but all the students coming from various cultures have their own interpretations and are extremely talented. A healthy competitive atmosphere is created where we listen, share and grow with each other. What do you think is the problem in Indian animation education? Well I think the problem is quite deep rooted, the society needs to start respecting a career in an art form. Till the time that something as basic as this doesn’t change, nothing great can happen to Indian animation. As it is the last and alien art form to India. If the government decides to recognize animation as a degree course and increase the demand then probably things could change. Encouragement from the government could have a direct impact on the society. I think the other problem is institutes claiming to teach animation, actually just teach the software giving animation education a bad name. I think most 3D animators are afraid to hold the pencil and probably that’s why not concentrating on developing their art skills. Comment? Frankly, If I can draw, then anyone can draw. You don’t have to be a Picasso to animate. In fact the legendary Frank Thomas was struggling with his drawing skills initially, but was an amazing animator. I think most animators are quite uptight, do you think letting themselves loose would help? Being an animator I think you need to be a little whacky. Drawing a film frame by frame is quite a stupid thought. So a person with logic and who is quite practical will definitely lose it. In a way you have to be every Spielberg, every Amitabh Bachhan and every Picasso possible. Making your characters perform is quite a task. You need to be extremely expressive as a person as it helps you somewhere in animating. ‘Animation is not about people moving drawings, but it’s about drawings moving people ‘. The big hue and cry of 2D dying is somewhere responsible for students not enrolling in a 2D program but instead directly jumping in 3D. Comment? ‘Learn to add before you use the calculator’. The same goes for animation. Computer is merely a tool just like the calculator. It’s animation which is of core importance. 2D cannot die just because some executive in the west decides to pass the buck onto 2D for their own executive decision, which led to commercial failures. So 2D is just a victim, which will survive in one way or the other. What would you suggest to a students/beginners in animation who do not have funds to invest in education, how can they grow their skill sets? Well it’s true that studying animation is an expensive affair. My advice to them would be keep drawing, only from observation you can develop your visual power. Drawing two-three hours every day would help. Thirty seconds and one minute poses capturing the right emotions are a must. Being an animator or a director, study and analysis of films is a must. These basic skills set a flow and animation becomes easier. Also the internet is an invaluable source of knowledge. There are message boards and blogs where you can put up your work and get feed back from people all around the world. And keep a sketch book with you 24/7.
Emotion Sketch from Kushal's short film 'Moments'
Which are the projects you worked on after coming back from Sheridan? It’s just been one and half year since the time I have come back, but have been quite fortunate in-terms of projects. I started working in 2nZ, as an assistant director on development of the TV series Trikaya. Kireet gave me lot of space and I had complete freedom in taking decisions. We shared a good creative connection. Though the resources available were quite raw and it was a struggle to get things started, the one thing which really helped was each one’s passion on the project and their eagerness to learn. Overall it was a great experience. Next I worked on a music video, In the air with Simi Nallaseth. I worked as the animation director on the project. I think the team was extremely talented and very energetic. I had a blast working on it. Simi is a great artist and a great human being to know. Currently I am working on a self- produced film with a small team of artists. The short film is around 7 minutes long. It should be ready till December. I have already enrolled in the computer animation program at Sheridan and will be leaving in January. After a good start in the Indian animation industry, and after already spendig quite a lot of time studying 2D animation abroad, do you still felt the need to go back and study computer animation? Being a director, I need to be equipped with thorough understanding and knowledge of computer animation and also because I plan to start my own studio in the future. Yes, I could have studied at a stretch but I wanted to come out in the real world and apply everything I knew. Now I feel more confident. To be honest I am really glad I came back, no regrets at all.
Concept art from Kushal's short film 'Moments'
Endnote… Kushal has two aspiring animators working on his film. As described by them, Kushal’s workplace is mini Sheridan. He’s almost running a school of international standards, trickling down his knowledge and sharing his experiences. They have access to all his resources like DVDs, books and art materials. They had worked with many professionals earlier but none of them have educated them the way Kushal did. Kushal has kept his doors open for other aspiring animators. It’s quite overwhelming to see someone investing so much time in studying animation. One year of art fundamentals, 3 years of classical animation, one and a half year of work experience and now 2 years of computer animation. One thing is for sure, a formal education with an ideal curriculum makes one more rounded and complete, more confident and ready for the industry. Schools are some of the few places in which you will have the time to experiment and see what you are best at and what you enjoy doing. Education helps in shaping up the three main aspects, knowledge, attitude and skills. It is the environment and the interaction with fellow artists and colleagues which help you grow and explore, learning from each other. However it’s true that creative industries do not hire talent on the basis of their education, but on their skills, competence and credits. Most of the talentpool in the industry are not formally trained animators, but have hands-on experience, which is an alternate way of learning, this requires a lot of dedication and patience as one has a lot of pressures to deal with at the same time. One hopes that steps are taken in developing animation education in India because studying animation abroad is an expensive affair and not all can afford it. That said, a lot of international quality resources for learning are available in India in the form of books, DVDs etc and the largest resource of them all is of course the world wide web. So keep the mantra in mind and get ready with a sketch book. Even if we don’t have the international medium, we have a strong mind to understand from the available source.

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