Animator par excellence : Vaibhav Kumaresh

“When you love your work there is no question of burnout !”

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Animator par excellence : Vaibhav Kumaresh
It’s the Mumbai monsoons at their charming best. Overlooking Mumbai’s National Park and situated amidst a beautiful colony, the breeze at Vaibhav Studios and its sorroundings is lilting.The atmosphere is conducive to creativity, a very apppropriate place for a guy like Vaibhav Kumaresh to set up shop in. For those in the know, Kumaresh’s work speaks volumes for his talent. Remember that Amaron ad or the Poga character on MTV and Simpoo on Channel V. There’s been many more of late, like The Chase that he’s worked on for Rhythm & Hues’ Channel V filler. The NID alumnus swears by the grooming he went through at his alma mater and likes taking things as they come. Animation is something he loves doing and he took some time off it, to speak to Animation ‘xpress’ Anand Gurnani and Indiantelevision.com’s Trupti Ghag. Going by that basket full of crumpled papers, you sure must love doodling? I love to draw. Is’nt that expected of an animator. (We raise our eyes sarcastically…kumaresh gets the message…… and that sets the ball rolling for the ‘Interview) Excerpts Yes nowadays they’d (referring to the animator in 3 months classes) like to make you believe that it is possible to be a good animator without being good at drawing, but take my word for it, it’s not possible. So what’s the sharpest arrow in an animator’s quiver? Is it drawing? See for an animator, he has to be proficient in his drawing skills. For an animation film maker, he has to be comfortable with drawing but it’s more about the idea or the thing in his head. It’s on how he uses the drawings, the story and comes up with something. That vital quality is something which I would call an animation film maker’s instinct. Is Vaibhav Kumaresh better at story telling than he is at drawing? Is he a claymation expert? Or is it his insticts? Let’s put it this way, I am a story teller who loves drawing characters. I have obviously always had an interest in drawing, but unlike others, my drawings have never been still paintings that told a story. I always use multiple images to narrate the flow of a story- a story board kind. It’s been like that right since my BFA and throughout my grooming at NID. As far as the claymation expert tag is concerned, I personally am at ease with working on all kinds of animation projects. It’s just been that there have been more stop motion projects that have come my way. But you have’nt answered my question, what’s your USP? Describe yourself in animator’s terms? I love animation, I am at ease in all kinds of animation and it’s my personal instinct as an animator that eggs me on.

“That vital quality is something which I would call an animation film maker’s instinct.”

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Vaibhav at work, checking out some character sketches
How did you think of taking up animation as a career and how did your parents react? I have already mentioned that I had a tendency to draw images. Right since I was a schoolboy I used to draw a lot of them – in a string of motion. Before I knew it or even realised, my dad applied for me at the Chamarajandra Academy of visual arts (CAVA) Mysore. Your Dad? So your parents were ok to the idea of you taking up animation as a career? Didn’t they want their son to be an engineer or a doctor? As a profession, animation is very new and a very specialised subject. And there is certainly less awareness. It is a hobby that has become a profession. Not every one has that make-up for a studious engineer, scientist or doctor….But I guess, the work put in to become an ace animator must be as much as you would to become an engineer. We take care of the entertainment business. While doctors try to help live healthier, we also give life to characters (laughs). But yes, the awareness is definitely building up. My parents have always been supportive of my decisions. passed my SSC in 1990 and had applied for JC as well, but when the BFA option came my way, I chose it over the traditional one. The course was for five years and is equivalent to 2+3 and plus you are in a specialized field. At BFA first two years are like foundation so you learn drawing painting, photography, photojournalism and there is wood cut., etching litho-imo, printing print making sculpture, wood cutting, clay wood and applied art and then next three years you specialise. As far as a career in animation goes, I myself did’nt have much of a hint about it. Even when I was finishing my BFA – Bachelor of fine arts from Mysore, I did did not have a clue about Animation as a career. I had taken up applied ads and was looking forward to working with ad agencies, on advertising campaigns. In my campaign for a television ad, it was always like a story. But I never knew it would result in an animation.We know animation through Disney and feature films and that was the only link with animation. Film division films and all those things were very interesting but I did not know about that as career. Then? How did animation happen? When I visited NID I came to know that there is an educational course called animation. And I knew then and there that’s where I wanted to be. It was the summer holidays and most students barring a few working on projects, were visiting their homes. The workplaces were empty but the soft boards were stuffed with projects. One look and it was clear that this place was buzzing with creativity. How was the experience at NID? There’s so many different fields, you are sorrounded by creative people with ideas, working, collaborating on projects. The exposure that I got was wonderful and very enriching. There are loads of other academic and extra curricular activities too. In animation it is not just that you study your own subject. When you have to create something you have to draw from your head and create. There is no actor, no set world, you need to create all that from your imagination. One has to look around, observe, develop an eye and a way of looking at things.

“While doctors try to help us live healthier, we animators also give life to characters “

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A still from - 'The Freedom Song'
At NID students are expected to make films all by themselves. It is definitely a better place to learn for a student. Plus they give you all facilties. As you know in animation there are many processes, Every department has its share of duties. There’s key drawing, clean ups, in betweens, digital ink and paint and right up till compositing, animatics and final video output. But at the university (NID), you have to do all of it by yourself. — make a story board, book the studio, conceptualise the music , the look and you have a time frame. And doing three projects, you would have gone over the processes so many times that you become a complete film maker. What projects did you work on at NID? The first was a hypothetical filler for DD. If you remember the good old days of Doordarshan, you probably would clearly remember the ‘Rukavat ke liye khed hain’ type of messages.The idea was to make those DD messages entertaining by using animation. The character I had thought of did all kind of non-sense. Then next we did a seven minute film of teasing the animals in the Zoo. This was Clay animation, the puppets were made of Armature, wire frame and all that goes into it. The third film, for my final diploma project, it was by that time that we have one foot in college and one foot in Industry. My client was an NGO called Action aid India -it works in rural India with the local people. They have a company called Practice, they sponsored my diploma project. I made a seven minute film for them, which they use in their workshops. For that I was based in Patna during my diploma project. And during my diploma project I was a part of their team. They were a bunch of social workers, who had the local villagers in their team. The basic idea that I was trying to communicate was that the local people know the best about their sorroundings. As an outsider you cannot just jump in and decide what’s best for them. What form of animation was that? That was 2-D. Was it on celluloid? Although cellulioid sheets are no more used, it is all digital now. But the term cell has stuck on part of it was done. And then began your professional life… Yes … Where did it begin? When I was finishing my diploma project, my senior Suresh was already with famous which was just about being set up. The owner of Famous, Mr Rungta wanted to set up his own animation studio and initially Suresh started working on an animated series on Shivaji which was canned later on. I had just completed NID and Suresh invited me onboard.The work at famous was just begining, so I would have been a part of the inception team which was quite a big thing and I agreed to join. How was it like then? This was in 1998. We were looking at many options but we had one thing very clear in mind, we would do only original work. We started talking with the ad guys, we used to do the pitches ourselves. Then we spoke with the music channel guys. In fact quite a few of my NID friends and seniors were in both V and Mtv. It was through our contacts with them that we got our early inroads. Arnab Chaudhari from V is an NID senior. New age entertainment is all about slickness, style and sophistication. Does animation too need to be slicker in order to compete with other audio visual media? I think the first point is the story and the characters who take the story forward. Lion King is as interesting as Shrek. Lion King was hand drawn while Shrek is computer generated. The medium doesn’t really matter. Our Kathakali model for MTV was very crude thermacol model. The fun of it is that you know it is a crude lump of thermacol but it has eyes and it is performing like a real actor. That’s when people associate themselves with it. It has to be convincing. As long as the audience is kept engaged, you are on the right track. it can be the way the colour is used, … there are many things that can capitvate the audience. Basics of film making.

“In India, Music channels started the trend of using animation for TV”

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MTV Poga
So you mean it’s the story telling? There are quite a few instances when the fillers on Channel V and MTV dont have a story. Like in the Kathakali films there is no story. It’s something more basic than that, it’s the idea. Whats your view on the following few… Animation is an Individual art vs Animation is a collaborative process? I agree with both. As a film maker’s medium it is an indivdual art. But at the same time it is labor intensive. Commercial animation is always laced with deadlines and it is of course a very very collaborative effort so much so that there are people whose jobs are simply to check and maintain uniformity on content being produced across countries by people with different mindsets and inclinations.
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Animation: A collaborative process - The team at Vaibhav Studios
Original animation vs production work for overseas clients? In the industry very few pwople are actually doing original animation. The thing that you hear about Indian animation boom, and Indian animaton industry being worth so and so … You are not creating your own content, you are executing work for a 3rd party which amongst things provides reference materials to the minutest of details. All the studios that have sprouted in the recent times are nothing but sweat shops. no body wants to do that. Priority of no studio will be to do sweatshop work, but from the point of view of making money it is a lucrative business. So a majority of such companies have been formed by business men, who have collaborated with creative people and found a money making solution. Although , the advertising industry is not as lucrative as the BPO model, there is lesser amount of risk in it. Because to sustain such kind of work you have to have a factory set up and churn out five seconds of animation every day per animator, Even to churn out half an hour of content you need a week and 400 odd workers working in shifts. Any ways the investment is very high. The issue of TV channels not commisioning animation shows? Every one would love to make original content, but channels pay les money and they are not yet sure that animation will work.They know that if you are making another Kyunki Saas bhi Kabhie Bahu thi they will invest because it is a tried and test formula, but animation hasn’t worked that kind of a magic yet. Still I’d say that the animation situation is improving . Eaier it was MTV that used a lot of animation, then it was channel V that used animation. Most of the music channels started using it because they are youth oriented, now with the kids market being identified as huge they are resorting to animation. I must say that people like Kireet khurana who did Chota Birbal and the folks at Toonz and whoever’s been doing original work for TV deserve a lot of credit for their effort. The quality of Indian animation as compared to international standards? Indian animation is very young, in US it was there even before Disney. Some of the work which gets done here and is appreicated the world over is only 10 % of what we are capable of. People like me are not as experineced yet. But the good thing is At least we get the opportunities to showcase our talent. UTV Toons, Pentamedia, Crest, Toonz Animation India all have made Tenali Ramas. Why are there so many Tenalis? I think it is sheer coincidence. Here you have a ready made cartoon guy. He was the court jester so it makes sense. But obviously, they wll be made since already these characters being from the public domain have a certain familiarity about them which makes it less risky a proposition for studios. What’s your take on the recent animation training packages being offered? The only thing I feel which is lacking is that while students are taught all the techical know how. they need to be encouraged to have creative thought processes John Lecitor, founder of Pixar is a classical 2-D aniamtor. Your characters can’t act until you know the basics of movement. Like for example you can’t tell a claymation characters to do a ‘Jhatka Dance’ you need to know that for yourself.” You have to know fundamentals of movement. There is no software called dance.

“You have to know fundamentals of movement. There is no software called dance”

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A still from the smirnoff ad
When did you leave Famous? I left it almost a year ago, there was this project that Narayan Shi (of The Freedom Song fame) was working on titled Friend. He was talking to many studios and animators but no one was willing to back him on his project. I found his concept to be amazing and volunteered to work with him on it. The contract at Famous was such that I could’nt freelance for anyone. Your working time would have been divided and …. No. I would have done it in my spare time, I am a professional and would’nt have let the project affect my output or involvement at Famous. Anyway I had to opt for either of the 2 and I decided that it was time I took the solo route. How has the going been? I am loaded with work. I have said no to so many assignments, some clients have even volunteered to wait for me. Every day there are new projects. It’s been a new experience, dealing with the studio guys, the sound recordists, everything, it’s just like at NID where one had to do everything. I am totally involved in each creative process. What’s the projects that you did after parting ways with Famous? I have recently founded my company Vaibhav Studios. We finished the 14 minute film for the Children film project with Narayan Shi, this was followed by the Videocon anti germ refrigerator. We also did Apsara pencils which had 3 piglets and a wolf, it had a very cute storyline. Then there was Kotak mutual funds which has a Cat, dog and mouse -2D. They had posters we animated the posters in flash.

“The Apsara sequence is very cute”

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The wicked wolf has a change of heart - Apsara commercial -
There’s also Chase with Rythm and Hues. I suggested that since we were doing something original we might as well do channel ids. I like the team at Rhythm & Hues they are fine arts graduates. I was very happy with the project. It is very rare that the 3D animators in industry are from fine arts background. What are the latest projects that you have been working on? Right now we are working on Hungama. We have animated the logo… the H we are supposed to use it as Mascot. Which animators have influenced you? Which books would you recommend to aspiring readers? The animators that have influenced me are Paul Drissen, Fredrick Bach and Bill Plympton.The pwoplw at NID who influenced me the most were Nina Sabnani and Anand Mistry. One last question. In media there is a very high burn out rate. The same is also said of animation. Please comment? It is not about media or animation. It is simple, When you love your work, there is no chance of a burnout. connect@animationxpress.com
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