The Animation Society of India (TASI) which has been in existence since 2001 has been tirelessly working towards educating and helping the animation community and creating awareness of the medium of animation among the youth. The society – which is registered as non-profit organization – has been organizing for the past 11 years an animation festival like no other in the country ‘Anifest India’, which is an annual festival where students as well as professionals come, attend and exchange knowledge and ideas with one another.
This year Anifest India took place on 29 and 30 August at IES Manik Sabhagriha, Mumbai and TheGraphicSlate.com team got the opportunity to witness the works and processes of the brilliant creative minds from the industry up close and personal. The fest witnessed a turnout of over 450 people over 2 days, where students travelled all the way from Bangalore, Nagpur, Vadodara and Pune to attend and gain insights of the industry from the professionals. There were many sessions lined up. On the first day Dhimant Vyas was seen giving insights about behind-the-scenes of Shaun The Sheep Movie. Vandana Kataria, a renowned production designer discussed the work that went into Detective Byomkesh Bakshi’s production design process and Chetan Sashital, who’s been a voice artist for several iconic Disney characters and lent his voice for numerous ad films, enthralled the audience with his boundless voices. Whereas on day 2 a sketching session was conducted by Aditya Chari; Nitin Kalra from AI Licensing spoke about the importance of understanding licensing & merchandising for characters. YouTube India’s Aman Dayal & Satya Raghavan shared insights on YouTube as an alternate distribution platform and the special attraction was the pre-visualisation and VFX of the blockbuster ‘Baahubali’ – with Srinivas Mohan and Firefly Creative Studio’s Sanath PC.
Initially Pixar’s Sanjay Patel was going to release his short animation film called ‘Sanjay’s Super Team’ as the opener for the brilliantly planned festival, but due to some issues he couldn’t make it and instead Dhimant Vyas obliged to the last-minute request by TASI to share the technical details and further insights into the making of Shaun The Sheep Movie’s clay animation by Aardman Studios based in Bristol, England. Kaka (as he’s fondly called) is a veteran animation film designer and has worked on Shaun The Sheep TV series. Though he didn’t work on the movie, a character has been ‘inspired’ by his look. The character of a medical consultant was modeled after him with his original voice in the animated film.
There were many aspects that were revealed revolving around the movie Shaun the Sheep. Firstly, clay animation technique was used in this animated film and was done by Aardman studios. To bring the animated story to life, it involves many stages beginning with the script initially, followed by a storyboard – where in black and white sketches were made to get the exact emotions and expressions of the characters, live action reference were also taken to better understand how the characters would react in real time situations, since they were being taken to the city from their natural environment. Next the animation scene is recorded and finally graded, which gives the final output. Before the animation starts certain aspects are covered before-hand like the animatics, sound and live action as well.
The film took 2 years to get completed where the scripting took most of the time. Having a restricted budget led to a limited team. About 70 to 80 people team were there and 250 people were shooting the series. Each day only one second shots could be recorded as opposed to 6 to 8 seconds that are shot for the TV series revealed Kaka. The models were made using clay for hands, fibre for teeth, silicon for the body, and foam & wool for hair. Also mouth replacements were used and were merged with the skin. To ease up the process of animating, separate body parts were used. Ball and socket joints and wireframe were used and the magnets were attached at the base of the characters and objects which made it easier to control them. Rigging was used for mid-air actions and later were digitally removed.
This session helped students realise the kind of efforts that go into making of a clay animation project. The amount of energy and time that goes into making is something many weren’t aware of earlier.
Up next was the TVCA Screening and Voting for the Independent Professional Films, where out of the 15 shorts the winner was DJI Death Sails (Moldova) by Dmitri Voloshin and runner-up was Golden Bird (India) by Debraj Sarkar. The Golden Bird was a beautifully animated movie using the traditional technique of animation where sketching and water colours have been used, whereas DJI Death Sails was made digitally and had a funny storyline and peppy music.
After that came the Production Design process session by Vandana Kataria, a petite yet confident woman who showcased her work that went into making of Dibakar Banerjee’s Detective Byomkesh Bakshi.
What does a production designer deal with? Basically he/she is in-charge of the look and feel of the entire film. It’s more like storytelling where the look and feel of the set and the character is looked after. One year’s time was allotted to Vandana to complete the research part as the era seen in the film is 1940s and to give justice to that era’s feel, a lot of research had to be conducted. The period specific research was conducted and the areas covered were crime, weapons, architecture, vehicles, literature, films, occupation among many others. Internet, family interviews, archives, literature and films were used as research tools. Directories were made with the help of Calcutta based students as archives are easily available to them and they are much cheaper and are voracious diggers for news. Newspapers and Bengali magazines were another medium which helped her a lot. To understand the kind of tone spoken back then police case files were referred to and newsreels were watched as well.
The inspiration for the film’s design and look were taken from many films of the past including: The Godfather series. As the director Dibakar Banerjee wanted the film to feel like a 1943 documentary, the dark world of Kolkata had to be shown and so a restricted colour palette had to be used.
After the research, script, locations and technical recee is done, a proper budget is fixed by the executive producer and production designs. It took about 32 days to build the set and 300 artists worked on the 300 feet x 300 feet square feet set at Naigaon. Prana Studios took care of the post production and VFX for the feature, where 2D & 2.5D matte painting were done and there were many CGI and crowd multiplications done to create the grandeur look.
Next up we had the TVCA Screening and Voting for Students’ films, where out of the 12 films showcased Chhaya (India) by Debanjan Nandy came first and Nebula (France) by Camille Andre, Marion Bulot, Clement Doranlo, Myriam Fourati, Jonghyun Jungboix, Alexis Kerjosse, and Sarah Simon came as runner-up. Nebula was a fantasy based story and undoubtedly had a very crisp and clear animation style. The animation style was on the lines of anime. Chhaya had a story, which was weaved well and executed beautifully in 3D animation. The story revolved around a widower who missed his wife tremendously.
Three short films were showcased as well, which were made by children and out of the 3, 2 were done by the kids from Toon Club, which is based in Mumbai and Tehzeeb Khurana (Creative Head) came in along with the kids – who were presented with a certificate and goody bag by TASI to further encourage more kids to take up animation more seriously. The titles of the film were The Coolest Magician (India), Eraser Dude (India) and Little Attic (Russia). It was good to see the kids getting exposed to the animation field from such a young age.
After the screening, a surprise was kept in store for all of us and that was none other than Chetan Shashital, the Big C of the voice acting industry in India. He is one of the most prominent voice artists of India and has been giving voices to animation for local Indian productions. He has also performed Hindi-dubbing for foreign productions such as Baloo the Bear and The Jungle Book 2 and also for Genie from Disney’s Aladdin that was dubbed and aired on Disney Channel India.
He spoke about how important it is for a voice artist to know how to control his breathing as that’s the key to voice acting. He further went onto explain how he has had chats with doctors as well to explain the importance of breathing from the diaphragm for better voice control. He has worked in over 30,000 commercials and we got to witness numerous voices that he performed live. He also gave tit bits on the voices of Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy, among others. When asked about the most challenging voice he has ever dubbed, he said the voice of Darth Vader from Star Wars is the ultimate achievement for him, as it has a very peculiar voice. In the end he showed few of his voiceovers done in advertisements like in the Amaron battery ads and Colgate’s famous ‘Kya aap close-up karte hai’.
Day 2 began on an ‘arty’ note with Aditya Chari, who made the audience take their ideas and thoughts and put them on the canvas. Interestingly, Chari has also worked on the storyboards and character sketches of SS Rajamouli’s Baahubali. Next up Nitin Kalra took the audience through the journey of many characters that have travelled across platforms to finally make it into merchandise. This was followed by the final TVCA Screening and Voting for Commissioned films, where out of the 12 films showcased Lonely Sound (India) by Sandhya Prabhat bagged the award and the runner up was My Nature (India) by Mukund Bhaleghare and Bhaskar Shinde.
The session by YouTube on using the video streaming website as an Alternate Distribution Platform session was conducted by Aman Dayal & Satya Raghavan where they shared insights about how it functions as a new platform and everyone wants to explore it. They talked about the various YouTube channels that are attracting large number of viewers especially in the kids’ genre. In the animation field, Simons Cat (2D), Pocoyo (3D), Michael Hickox (Stopmotion) and Morph (Clay animation) were shown. The Curious Engineer channel started by a student from Mumbai who’s doing engineering came up with this animation channel where with help of animation, engineering concepts are explained. Other channels that are based out in India are Epified (mythology based but currently not doing well), Mania Ki Duniya, Shudh Desi Ending, Graphic India (comic based now seen in motion comic format) among many others were also spoken about.
They also mentioned that YouTube content creators like collaborating with one another which helps their channel also grow. As for creators who want to learn or shoot for their channel, they can go to Whistling Woods as they have begun a YouTube Space there. In this session, many youngsters were seen being optimistic and open to coming up with their own channels though the session could have elaborated a lot more on optimum monetisation and how one can earn via YouTube.
Now came the time for the most awaited session of the fest; it was none other than Pre-visualisation and VFX of the blockbuster film Baahubali, where Srinivas Mohan and Firefly Studio’s Sanath PC came to discuss about it. Before starting off the session both of them were thankful that the director SS Rajamouli was very cooperative and took the efforts to understand the time needed for the design and conceptualization for such a large project. The session started off with Sanath talking about the pre-visualization/pre-production stage, which took about a year’s time. What made this project interesting were the concept and the massiveness of the film, where Rajamouli wanted the film to have an Indian look and not a southern/northern Indian look. Everything had to be original right form arrows, weapons to costumes and set design. Sanath stressed that ‘originality’ is the key to success. The wars were strategically planned and tested using animatics. He showcased the various breakdowns for the war scenes and the character sketches as well. Production people got the technical measurements where it was decided what all should be made in life-form and what all to be left for digital recreation.
Srinivas took the topic further by giving information about the various VFX seen in the film. He said that 90 per cent of the VFX has been done in India: 14 Indian studios and 3 studios abroad worked on the film and overall 600 VFX artists have contributed to this magnum opus. The film was shot using Alexa camera, which records the metadata that helps in VFX. Two techniques were used for the first time in Indian film; Photogrammic scan that generates 3D mesh with help of photos given and Ladder scanning that gives exact measurements capturing entire set and turning it into 3D environment.
The 2,000 feet high waterfall which was the highpoint of the movie was done by Makuta VFX studio. 2D maps were used for waterfall transition and 3D model was based on actions. The Bison’s previz was done by Firefly and Arena concept where three types of rigs and two witness camera shots were used. The avalanche scene was very challenging and shot in Bulgaria. It took about three months to execute it after the shoot and the shot was completed just a day prior to the film’s release. Extensive stimulation work had to be done on it to bring the photorealistic effect. The mammoth 20 minutes war sequence was done by Firefly Creative Studio and Prasad EFX Studio. It was shot by having 300 feet x 300 feet high Green Screen and Blue Screen against a 1,200 feet chroma screen. Per day only three shots could be shot due to the massiveness of the scene with about 1,000 junior artists needing coordination by 400 technical artists. For this scene, previz wasn’t done earlier. (For more in depth details about the scenes refer to previous articles on TheGraphicSlate.com)
This film has set a bar for the future projects which will be using a lot more VFX and animation elements. Sanath and Srinivas mentioned that it’s not that Indians can’t make movies like Life of Pi; it’s just that we lack the creative talent and the buyers don’t understand the VFX industry and their workflow entirely. India has better tools as compared to the western world, what we lack is the realism and passion to strive for that finish.
That brings us to the end of the 11th Anifest India, where there was immense share of knowledge through eye-opening and thought provoking sessions for freshers and giving a fresh perspective on the animation, VFX and film industry to the veterans in attendance as well. It also worked well as a good interactive platform to meet budding as well as professional artists and exchange ideas for envisioning a bright future for the AVGC industry in India.