Developing Animation 1
Frame by Frame
ANIMATION DESIGN: STATUS AND ISSUES
"India is a geographical and economic entity, a cultural entity, a cultural unity amidst diversity, a bundle of contradictions held together by strong but invisible threads" - Jawaharlal Nehru
From ancient times, India has known highly developed systems of art - dance, music, drama, literature, architecture, and painting - which has left us with a rich heritage. As it has often been said, perhaps these preoccupations made us neglect the practical needs of our defence! Many a conqueror returned time and again but with our knack of absorbing, we took more from them than they took from us. Whether it is the English language or cinema , food or dress, ours is a proudly cross-bred civilisation, synthesised from many strains.
Animation too is not indigenous to India. However, it has existed in a primitive form in various kinds of story scrolls, carried by the story tellers whom we may call the film makers of yesteryear. They would unroll the scroll, revealing it frame by frame, to narrate the story in verse and song. There was enough animation in their gestures. We can still find some of these storytellers or bards in the villages of Bengal and Rajasthan.
Animation as we know it today, was introduced for the first time in 1956 at the Government of India's Film Division in Bombay, for its potential as medium of mass communication. Here, short films with social messages and a small number of children's films were developed for release through the official network of compulsory showing for Government newsreels and documentaries in cinema theatres. Animators trained at Films Division were the first to set themselves up as independent film-makers. Their principal opportunities came through the needs of short commercials for advertisers as well as occasional sponsored films for India's Children's Film Society.
Yet in a country the size of India, with its inherent problem of sixteen major languages and innumerable dialects, the potential of animation for mass communication to address urgent needs of population control, the environment, illiteracy, social malpractices etc., has hardly been explored. The national television network, which began to reach out to the remotest corners of the country from the 1970's is yet to fully realise its power to inform and educate. Equipped with computerised animation facilities, it is still to reveal the potential of animation to the enormous audience which it commands. It has however demonstrated the scope which remains to be tapped, for educational and entertainment applications of animated films.
For most Indians, the word "animation" does not conjure up any image at all, It is like an empty thought bubble. Most know it as cartoons, associated with children and therefore considered suitable for such consumption only. Most of all, it is associated with Walt Disney, because in India there has been very little exposure to animation films other than Disney whose work has been popular throughout India since the 1930s.
It is only as recently as this year, that an International Film Festival in India has devoted an exclusive section to animation films. At a well-attended seminar at this Festival, entitled "Mickey Versus Mouse," several issues pertaining to computer animation were discussed. The main concern was whether computer animation going to replace what was termed "conventional" animation. The exposure to animation at this Festival has generated a lot of interest in the profession and hopefully , will lead to a demand far more trained animators.
At present, training happens in two ways. One is in the form of apprenticeship to practising animators in the industry, and the other is through the formal programme offered at the National Institute of Design, Ahemedabad.
Students applying for admission to NID, come with portfolios bulging with imitation Disney characters. Deschooling that mindset requires time and perseverance. Some students have a pre-conceived notion of what the market demands and are often not willing to risk the adventure of experimentation with the form itself.
Therefore the market continues to get what is safe and tried. Trapped in this vicious circle, resignation sets in and ideologies go abegging. There are no readily available grants that support the making of experimental animation films. Myths also prevail with respect to the time and money involved in the production of animation film. The Children's Film Society produces some animation films, but not everyone wants to make films for children.
About seven hundred feature films are made in India each year. Yet the infrastructure of laboratories and studios for shooting and post-production are abysmal for short films. Every studio is equipped for 35mm. Facilities for 16mm are few and therefore expensive. Short films are often shot in 35mm and then transferred to video. The entire post production is subsequently done on video.
Any development in the West has far reaching implications, economic or otherwise, for a country like India. The reverse is rare. The rapid pace of change in Indian industry's use of computers for design and development has resulted in several sectors demanding computer competence from design professionals. Animation is one such sector, as its major impact has been in advertising, especially with the advent of satellite networks and cable television. Vast investments are being make by the industry in state-of-the-art facilities for computer animation to service this need - which is also prohibitively expensive. The output is essentially slick adaptations or blatant plagiarism of international models.
As India's internationally renowned film maker, Shyman Benegal observed in NID recently: "When sudden intervention by a new technology or industry takes place in a traditional society, the first casualty is cultural literacy."
There are continuing debates regarding "style" and the "Indian identity." While for some, "Indianness" constitutes blindly following traditional forms of representation, for others, the appropriate adaptation of such forms to address contemporary issues assumes far greater importance.
In our experience, visual literacy is also something that has to be acquired. Each culture has its own particular graphic idioms - people from different social groups identify with different visual symbols and read them differently. The human head without the whole body, for example, is perceived by the adult illiterate as violent or simply funny. Numerous anecdotes tell of the dismay faced by animators when they discover their films do not communicate the message they thought was quite communicative. For instance, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare asked us to make a series of four animated films which would deal with sex education. This enormously challenging assignment, linked to India's Family and Women's Welfare Programme, selected animation because of its potential to adapt its visual language to the needs of a subject as sensitive and vital as the human reproductive system. As the project progressed, the challenge as well as animation's ability to respond became a major learning for NID, and a powerful demonstration of what animation can do, to the client.
As several films in the past have been made using what Bob Godfrey calls "Rubenesque" animation, we thought we would do it differently. We chose to photocopy photographs, work over them with colour pencils and animate them using a series of multiple dissolves. There is really nothing novel about such a technique, but for the health workers whom we consulted for its acceptability, it only spelt anxiety! To them the characters looked as if they were suffering from measles. This is because a photocopy does have a fair amount of grain which we thought was the high point of our technique. Therefore, we had to change our approach. If it could confuse a literate audience so completely, the effect on the intended audience was unimaginable!!
In other usages, NID animation films have utilised tribal folk forms, the idiom of contemporary Indian artists and humorists, as well as drawing from classical Indian art and particular the tradition of miniature painting.
Despite the odds, animation films are being produced in India for diverse needs, but in limited number. A major bottle-neck remains our exhibition and distribution opportunities, even for films that are specially commissioned. The popular joke among animators in India is that their films seem to be permanently entered for the "Cans Festival"!
Some films from the NID archives:
_ NID Symbol - Student Project
_ Swimmy - Leo Leonni & Guilio Giannini
_ Doordarshan Signature Tune - RL Mistry
_ Sonal Garasini - N.N. Patel
_ The Hunt - Narenra Patel
_ Sakhi aur Mukhi - Student Diploma Project
_ Hakim ki Hank - Student Project
_ Curiosity Killed - Student Project
_ Cirrus Skies - Student Project
_ Patang - Binita Desai
_ Energy from the Atom - Nina Sabnani
_ Energy Merry Go Round - Narenda Patel
_ Barter -Student Project
_ National Highway - RL Mistry
_ Uncle's Marvel Machine - Chitra Sarathy
_ Shubh Vivah - Nina Sabnani
_ A Summer Story - Nina Sabnani
_ The Protagonist - Student Project
_ Jungle King - Student Diploma Project
_ Pregnancy and Labour - Nina Sabnani
_ A Monkey and Two Crocodiles - Student Project
_ Computer Animation - Student Diploma Project
_ Animation for Pre-school Television - Student Diploma Project
_ One Day in Fatehpur Sikr - Nina Sabnani & Prakash Moorthy
_ All About Nothing - Nina Sabnani