The creative highlights of animator and production designer Upasana Nattoji Roy

Animation is an ever evolving art form. In India, the medium is not only affected by trends and tectonic shifts in culture, but also by the technology available in the country to produce it. Despite shortcomings, this artistic tool is gaining propulsion with every passing day in the country. 
Now, with the help of animation, India is going to experience its first immersive film, Nadam, on Indian Music which is a part of the Indian Music Experience Museum in Bengaluru. Designed and animated by Switch Studios, Nadam, that was launched today, 27 July, in Bengaluru, is designed to play in a massive immersive circular enclosed space, over multiple projectors. The story depicts the origin and evolution of Indian music and its told by a mother to her child.  Switch Studio founder director, animation director, visualiser and producer of Nadam, Upasana Nattoji Roy said, “Once I knew the space it was going to be experienced in and read the script, I knew I wanted this to be a seamless film without cuts. I did not have any reference of music or sound. The visualisation and storyboard was first created without considering the production process. This gave me the freedom to visualise and led to the multiple visual styles used within the film. After we had locked the story flow visually, I further detailed the storyboard and built a unique workflow to make it possible. I was very clear that neither live action nor 2D character animation will work. So, I built a unique style that was layered helped stitch this vast narrative together.” Written and directed by Indrajit Nattoji, Roy’s brother, Nadam is surely one of a kind. Such an exciting and experimental project is sure to have its share of challenges. Unlike regular films, it is not possible to see the entire screen in a circular place while seated. The pixel ratio of the film is 6990 x 1200 that is close to four times the size of HD. Roy mentioned, “The visualisation posed a tremendous technical challenge for me as it had to be done in a new and unique way keeping in mind the audiences’ experience. I had no prior example to refer to in India and the only film in a similar screen size was a film in Australia. The scale of the story was the other challenge, we needed to tell a vast narrative in five minutes. We oscillated between the narrative and the non narrative. Layering meaning, colours and multiple styles of animation within it – including motion graphics, 2D animation, CD4 files and artistic rotoscopy. But at the same time, it was extremely exciting as well.”
Upasana Nattoji Roy
An alumnus of the National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad with specialisation in Animation Film Design, Roy has been a producer and broadcast designer in Ten Sports and Dubai One and won Promax Gold there. She has been profiled on ‘Art of the Title’ as the Top 10 women in title design, along with being a finalist in SXSW excellence in title design. Her presentation in ADI talked about her evolution from broadcast design to creation of art in motion. Her films have been selected in  many international short film festivals. She is also trained in classical music and dance which has helped her in designing Nadam the way it is. Roy set up Switch Studio nine years ago which operates at the intersection of art, culture and business. They provide services in brand film, broadcast design, advertising, title design and performance design. She thrives in a wide spectrum of visual styles and what lies in the core of it all is a story and experience that moves people. Apart from Nadam, her credits include – the title design for Netflix’s dystopian original, Leila that premiered on 14 June;  a brand film, Bharat, Flooring and Tiles, for the 100 year old company Bharat Tiles; Performance Art for TedX Gateway – Maati Baani and others.  “[For Leila], we proposed two directions for the visual language and story. One was a direct approach building straight off the overpowering propaganda seen across the series. The other was a visually simple but intellectually layered approach of juxtaposing a single shot of a wall that holds it all. The first approach was selected and we created the whole lineup halfway through the production we got feedback that it needed the simplified one shot approach. We got it all together and worked backwards from the timelines we had available. The idea was now to build on this ominous and overwhelming power of AryaVarta and juxtapose all responses – in agreement and of dissent,” commented Roy. Leila is produced by Open Air Films and is co-written and co-directed by Deepa Mehta. The film for Bharat Tiles was primarily meant to be used in their events, website and across their social media. A 100 year old handcrafted tile company, Bharat Tiles’ origin was linked to the Swaraj Movement in India and had a lot of archival stories that could be told. The film focused on the company’s heritage and history and the process which is handmade and unique. “The design language of the film was created based on the story we needed to tell. The film was designed using actual vintage photographs and the cement tiles themselves – so that the treatment itself had a deep connection with the brand. All my films are more about the impact and the look and feel we set out to achieve. We used live action, motion graphics, 3D from Cinema 4D as well as frame by frame animation. The film was meant to be primarily consumed on social media – including instagram – so it was designed to work even if the sides got cropped in a 1:1 ratio,” noted she. TedxGateway is a fantastic experience that brings together some of the most inspiring speakers. While most of the engagement is through talks, and the screens were used as fragmented units – Switch Studio provided performance visuals for Maati Baani’s performance that unified the experience and led to a standing ovation. Roy informed, “The scale of the event that was held in NSCI Dome was intense. Maati Baani performed a 20 minute set and in their unique collaborative style, they brought together musicians from across the globe and disparate musicality on one stage. My aim was to create visuals to hold them all together as one entity. They performed four pieces which were totally different in terms of origin and stories. I created visuals that I saw in my head on hearing a scratch track. One piece was predominantly inspired by the ‘morin khuur’ (Mongolian: морин хуур), also known as the horsehead fiddle which is a traditional Mongolian bowed stringed instrument. This was layered with the beautiful melody by Nirali’s voice.  When I create visuals for performance – the medium is totally irrelevant. What is relevant is the experience I want the viewer to feel and have. All of these visuals were created using a combination of frame by frame animation, motion graphics and SFX overlaid with stock and shot footage.”
Maati Baani visuals
With such amazing work in her kitty, Roy is spearheading the studio and the quality of animated content they are producing. Being asked about the current position of the animation industry in the country, Roy concluded, “I cannot speak of the ‘industry’ as I exist in the periphery. However I can share what I have experienced in terms of looking for talent. I feel some artists and animators are doing fantastic work but on the other hand the ready templatisation and software driven work is affecting the visualisation and the stories themselves. Experimentation and unique stories seem to be occurring in pockets and are mostly self funded – and hence not sustainable. Like all art forms to grow and develop it – animation needs a surge of experimentation and patronage to truly grow. Animation in India was born too late to ever have patronage. As an artist and experiential designer I piggyback on our brand films and performance videos to challenge myself and my team to keep growing. Right now the trend points towards animation – mostly motion graphics, as the most sought after medium in digital advertising.” Animation is a tool for communication and at Switch artists like Roy are constantly looking to experiment, creating their own challenges and outdoing them.