The Indian animation industry has completed close to 60 years now, since Disney Studios animator Clair Weeks came down to the country in 1956 after he was invited by the Films Division of India in Mumbai to not only establish, but also train the country’s first animation studio as part of the American Technical Co-Operation mission. He trained a core group of Indian animators, whose first production was a film called ‘The Banyan Deer’ (1957), given the fact that Weeks had worked on ‘Bambi’.
A lot of progress has been made in terms of the kind of work that the industry has produced in the space of animation, but the success ratio has been a bare minimum and only a few Indian studios and IPs have managed to taste some success over so many years.
We have always heard many a times at many a conferences and forums that the industry needs to come together and work collaboratively to produce something that can stand the test of times as well as be recognised as something world class, now there is one man who is actually ‘walking the talk’ and has initiated India’s first ever crowdsourced Sanskrit Animation feature film called ‘Punyakoti’. The man in question is Ravi Shankar, who has prior experience in animation script writing and is leading a team of artists to make his dream project come alive.
Speaking exclusively to TheGraphicSlate.com, Ravi opens up on the project and how did he manage to rope in the maestro music composer Ilaiyaraaja to support this initiative.
What made you think of creating an animated feature film? Why not live action?
The story of ‘Punyakoti’ is about a cow that speaks the truth at all times. The story was ideally suited for animation storytelling and I am an animation script writer, so most of the time I look for stories suitable for this medium. Even the team that’s on board is not familiar with live action movie making and more comfortable in animation.
We are creating the movie in 2D Flash, although there are portions in the story where 3D is also being used. The reason for this is that most of core team have a certain type of expression and storytelling in mind that is more suited for 2D. The duration of the movie is about 95 minutes and currently about 30 per cent of the movie has been produced.
Please explain why did you think of crowdsourcing the movie? How many people are working on it?
The primary reason for choosing to crowdsource it from the word go was because of the nature of the movie, we knew that a single animation studio cannot possibly take the risk of making a movie like this. Our thought was – if 100 passionate animators contribute one minute of the movie in their spare time, we can make it. So we designed the movie for crowdsourced production. This is an experiment in Indian animation cinema and its success can empower a lot of animators to dream big.
About 30 animators are currently working on the project. This number will go up to probably 40, each contributing to about 3-5 minutes of the movie or one specialised area. We also have animation interns and have requested animation schools to be part of the project. We have a core team of leads. And then there are scene leads who manage a certain set of scenes.
The core team has a Character Designer, Storyboard Artist, Layout Designer, BG Lead, Animation Supervisor, Compositor, VFX specialist.
We have been working on the project for about one and half years now. Most of the first year was in designing the script and putting together a model for collaboration for crowdsorucing; work in right earnest started in November of 2014.
You are also crowdfunding this project? How much are you targeting to raise through the medium?
We could not find a producer who was willing to invest in an animation movie, let alone in Sanskrit. So we thought of asking people who are interested in our culture to contribute to the effort. Our target is to collect Rs 1 crore; now we have launched a campaign to raise Rs 40 lacs in the first round to do the animatics and also release the music album.
The project cost is between Rs 1-2 crores. This includes the pre-production, animation and the post production. It does not involve the marketing costs. As many of the talent participating in the movie are working for sheer passion towards animation, the project cost is very optimal and our initial budgets have come down in pre-production to a large extent.
What is the thought process that has gone into scripting? How much research was involved in understanding the history of Punyakoti?
The story is based on a book that I had published last year. We spent a whole year designing the script in such a way that it brings out the message in the most entertaining way. We also had a panel of children and children’s writers who approved the script before it went in for production.
Punyakoti is an episode from the Mahabharata and has been prevalent as a folksong in many parts of South India. The story of the movie is about an imaginary drought in the village of Karunadu where the story of Punyakoti takes place. As the story is imaginary, we did not have to do a lot of research into the history of Punyakoti.
We have taken a lot of local hues and inspiration from puppetry and folk art to create the characters. In fact, the musical grammar is entirely left to the genius of Shri Ilaiyaraaja.
How much importance has been given to the character development and storyboarding processes?
The characters are developed by Rakesh P Nair, who designed the National Games Mascot. He has over 25 years of experience and has been teaching animation to youngsters.
Once the thumbnails were ready, the storyboards for different scenes are being done by different people. Then the core team reviews the scene and assembles it together into the ethos of the movie. 24 of the 31 scenes that will make the complete film are boarded and 12 are now being developed as animatics. The layout and BG styles are firmed up as well as the palette. By August, the scenes will roll into production.
Currently we are doing the boards in paper. And use freeware image editing tools. Eventually we will make the animation in Flash and industry standard VFX /Compositing tools. The idea is to explore freeware tools to the extent possible to optimise resources.
Samskrita Bharathi, which has been promoting Sanskrit as a spoken language all around the world for over 30 years is supporting us. We are reaching out to Government agencies that promote culture and media as well and currently working with a Channapatna Toy designer to bring out the characters as toys, which will give exposure to the traditional toy making industry in Karnataka.
We are not making Punyakoti to educate anyone in particular. We are making the movie because the story inspires us and we thought that the subject will lend itself to good storytelling using animation as a medium.
Was there any scene that was tough to execute or took the longest time?
In the climax of the movie, we have a bridge collapsing. Its execution is still not to our satisfaction. We are planning to redo the boards in the end when the rest of the movie is under production. The title sequence is inspired by traditional leather puppetry. We still are not satisfied with the results and are exploring different options for it.
Why choose Sanskrit as the language to make the film? Who is your audience?
200 years of British education system has made us forgot our roots to a large extent. Sanskrit has over 5,000 years of collective wisdom of our ancestors. The West is now discovering our wisdom; Yoga and Ayurveda are researched upon seriously; already lots of good people are doing a lot in this area and we are making a very small contribution towards that.
The movie is international in nature and treatment, and most of the support for the movie has come from people outside India. We will take the movie internationally as an Indian product. If the movie is good it will be accepted and it will gain respect from an international audience for our effort. If the product is not good, it will spoil India’s name. So I request every animation professional in India to get involved in this project and help us make the first Sanskrit movie also the best animated movie from India so far. Even if we get the support of 100 passionate animators from the thousands of animators, we will be able to reach our goal.
What has been Shri Illaiyaraaja’s contribution towards the film, how has it helped? And when can we expect to see the final product?
Shri Ilaiyaraaja is doing the music of the movie. He can take a scene to a whole new level with his music. The movie is expected to be completed in August 2016. For meeting this date, we will need money and talent from across the world to participate.