Vaanarsena Studios initiates a free of cost gurukul system to enable students to be better skilled animation artists

Bengaluru-based animation studio Vaanarsena Studios, which delivers high-quality animated content and believes in telling Indian mythological stories to the world, recently started a free animation Vaanarsena School where they coach students from various backgrounds to pursue their career and dreams in the field of animation.

Headed by Vivek Ram, the Vaanarsena school is an online school which trains students in the fundamentals of figure drawing, the basics of animation, and professional communication skills. Talking about the inspiration behind the Vaanarsena school Ram told Animation Xpress, “This school was born out of the hunger to learn expressed by many students over the years through emails and meetings. I have been a working professional in the animation industry for the past 20 years and have also been actively teaching and training as time allowed. Over the years I have come across many students who have requested me to train them, either because the courses available were too expensive or because the institutes were unable to meet their expectations. It is also no hidden fact that in India, we don’t have any institute that focuses purely on the skills of the art of animation. Vaanarsena School was started in an attempt to fill this gap. The school is designed purely from a perspective of benefitting the students, where all mentors and teachers are on board purely on a voluntary basis.”

Senapati of Vaanarsena studios and Vaanarsena school
Vivek Ram

The school is open to everyone; it just requires passion and dedication towards art and animation. The objective is to allow free flow of learning, irrespective of the professional, cultural, or economic background that any student comes from. Ram said, “In the school, we believe that anyone can learn to draw and animate and all it takes is discipline and dedication. We also believe that education should be free, as it is the only way to help bring equity and equality in society and provide equal opportunity. Our system is a zero failure system, so no student fails or gets left behind. We cater to the learning abilities of every student and mentor them, no matter how long it takes to grasp the subject. As we progress, we will be bringing in more subjects that students can opt for that will further enhance their skills from beginner to intermediate levels.”

He further added, “The goal is to ensure that every student who moves on from the school will be empowered to get at least a beginner level job in any studio in the country. On a more holistic level, this is also our attempt to ensure that we have a larger talent pool of animators and artists available in the country capable of doing high-quality work, thus improving the overall animation ecosystem in the country.”

On asking how students can join the Vaanarsena School, Ram clarified, “We do have an entrance test for every student. Students email us their portfolios and we have an entrance test conducted every month. This is more of an endurance test than a skill test, as the test is nine days long and requires four to six hours every day to complete. Once the test is cleared, students are enrolled into the next available batch. The base requirement to be in the class is to have a PC/laptop and a decent internet connection as all classes are conducted online.”

Taking inspiration from the old Vedic age’s gurukul system where students were taught various subjects and had to live a cultured and disciplined life, Vaanarsena school started a gurukul initiative where the selected students can live together with the teacher and learn the skills from them. Talking more about the gurukul initiative and sharing the inspiration behind it, he said, “As we trained students online, we realized that there was only so far one could go with online mentoring and training as we had no control or knowledge on the schedules that each student would have. Some subjects needed the students to be around supervision so that the feedback loop on their art is not just once a day.

Vivek Ram with his Gurukul students

Our inspiration for a solution came from our Indian cultural method of learning the gurukul system. Some of the best learning happens not just when the teacher is around but also being in proximity to the teacher and watching the process. I decided to open up my house to a few select students so that they could come, eat with me, live with me and learn in the process. This again is completely free and the cost of lodging and meals is completely borne by me. All that the students need to do is to be present. We have disciplined schedules for all of them with a good mix of hours of work, some extracurricular activities, and long discussions about art and the industry.”

The gurukul system is focused on creating an offline space for the school that runs on the same philosophy, but where the learning can be accelerated. But running gurukul is not as simple as managing an online school. Talking about the implications of running a gurukul system, Ram said, “The entry to the school is fairly simple but the entry to the gurukul has financial implications for us and we are working towards solving them. The hope is to be able to accommodate more students over time and to also have more mentors in the process. This will replicate everything that the Vaanarsena School is doing but offline in a geographical setting, and at zero cost to the students. Over time I’m hoping that this will evolve into a large healthy ecosystem of artists.”

On asking how the students can benefit from this initiative, Ram shared, “Our objective with both the school and the gurukul is to enable artists to be better skilled and to enable people from all economic and cultural backgrounds to find animation and art an accessible professional option with lucrative possibilities in the future. Currently, the awareness of this industry is low and we are hoping to be a part of bringing in a change. Students will also have the added benefit of learning from multiple industry veterans and have the ability to build networks.”

Revealing the future plans of Vaanarsena Studios, Ram concluded, “We are working on a ride film, a documentary and a commercial, all of which will be delivered by December. Our goals are aligned towards content building for sure. We have a short film in the pipeline which is set for a 2022 release and will be the best we’ve done so far. We also have a few shows and features that we are currently on the drawing board stages.”