"In this industry, very few people are actually doing original animation": Vaibhav Studios founder and animator Vaibhav Kumaresh

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Creativity now has a new address and it's settled amidst the serene Raheja Estate in Goregaon, a Mumbai suburb. It is madness all right, but there is a method by which the passionate bunch of people are giving life to a character. Vaibhav Kumaresh and his team of designers are running against time to complete their latest assignment, an animation packaging for the brand launch of UTV's children and youth channel Hungama TV.

A Bachelor of Fine Arts from Mysore University, Kumaresh went on to pursue a three-year diploma in animation from the National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad.

Regarding his best known creation, Kumaresh has not only conceptualised and designed the Channel [V] mascot - Professor Sodhi aka Simpoo - he is also responsible for Simpoo's voiceover.

Kumaresh's repertoire includes the clay animated Poga, a series created for MTV which spoofs alternative healing therapies in vogue, and the Amaron ad featuring the clay figures of a hare and a tortoise. Clay animation and two-dimensional animations are Kumaresh's specialty.

Having quit Famous Studio where he cut his teeth almost a year ago, Kumaresh has now set up shop on his own as Vaibhav Studio. His co-production animation film titled Friend for the Children Film Society of India alongwith Narayan Shi is ready for release.

Indiantelevision.com's Anand Gurnani and Trupti Ghag met the animator to know more about his craft.

As a nation, we aren't perhaps very clued in as to what is animation. What according to you is the essential difference between animation and cartooning?

Cartoon, probably, was a term given to 2D drawings. Even the films that were created were known as cartoon films. It is a generic term- an adjective- being used for a funny creature. Even if you see a slightly wonky person, you call him a cartoon character. Primarily, the term Cartoon was used for the static, hand-drawn characters but even after they became animated films they were known as cartoon films. But animation is lot a more than that. We at India have not been exposed to animation as a medium.

 

Are lay people aware and educated as to what is animation? Are viewers as consumers aware of the industry?

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 entertainment biz. While doctors try to help people live healthier, we also give life to characters (laughs). But yes, the awareness is definitely building up.

When I was finishing my Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) from Mysore, I did not have a clue about animation as a career. I had taken up applied ads and I my destination was ad agencies, working on advertising campaigns. But when I heard about National Institute of Design's (NID) course in animation, I knew it was where I wanted to be. I obviously had interest in the drawing, but unlike others my drawings were never still paintings that told a story. I always used multiple images to narrating the flow of a story - a storyboard kind imagery.

 
"All the hype around the Indian animation boom is just due to the rise in foreign outsourcing"

What is an essential requisite to become an animator?

It is not enough that you learn technical know-hows of animation and have an aptitude for art. As an animator, you have to create a character. It is all in your imagination. At NID a student is expected to make a film all by himself. The institute helps you to become a complete filmmaker.

What was your first project for industry?

It was my third film, for my final diploma project. My client was an NGO called Action Aid India - it works in rural India. Their company Practice sponsored my diploma project. I made a seven-minute film for them, which they use in their workshops.

How did your stint with Famous begin?

When I was finishing my diploma project, my senior Suresh, who was already with Famous, suggested I join him. The studio was then in process of being set up. So I would have been a part of the inception team, which was quite a big thing and I agreed.

While we were working on original content, we needed some fillers to support us financially. We had friends at Channel [V] and MTV and we decided to pitch ideas to the music channels. Cyrus was looking out for someone to execute his Poga idea, and we fit in the picture. But Poga wasn't really our first experience with claymation. Even before Poga, we had designed a Kathakali dancer for [V]. After that followed a series of ads like Amaron Batteries, Nissin Top Ramen.

Television is a slick and sophisticated medium? How do then crude characters like Poga, Kathakali dancers become so popular?

I think the story is more important than anything else. The characters should be able to take the story forward, keep the audience enthused. The slick production is not the first criteria. Of course, it will come down to production quality later on. But as long as the audience is kept engaged and the basics of filmmaking are strong its ok. For example, Lion King is as interesting as Shrek. That is despite Lion King being hand drawn and Shrek being a computer generated animation. Our Kathakali model was a very crude thermocal model but yet he could emote and entertain.

It is said that animation in India is an individual effort. Comment:

In this industry, very few people are actually doing original animation. You hear about the Indian animation boom - all the hype is just due to the rise in outsourcing by foreign companies. All the studios that have sprouted in recent times are nothing but sweat shops. From the point of view of making money, it is a lucrative business. A majority of such companies have been formed by businessmen, who have collaborated with creative people and found a money-making business.

While the makers have to realise that making creative original work, even for the advertising industry is not as lucrative but it will improve. Look at UTV Toons, it has collapsed. There are so many studios that have shut down. To sustain the foreign work, we need to have a factory setup that churns five seconds of animation every day. Even to churn out half an hour of content a week you need 400 odd workers working in shifts and the investment is very high. We are as service providers, much cheaper and the talent is much better. Plus English is a language that is used, but it is just so long that you can do it.

But is there a scope for creating original content for overseas market?

Amaron gave us an excuse to use our clay animation. We did a tortoise and hare story but it is a culture specific ad. It won't work abroad. It is very crucial to adopt that milieu.



The Vaibhav Stuidos team
"The characters should be able to take the story forward, keep the audience glued"

Is there encouragement from the television industry?

Animation is not a very easy thing to do. It is very expensive. While everyone would love to make original content, the channels pay less money and they are not yet sure whether animation will work.

But the animation situation is improving. Earlier it was MTV that used a lot of animation, and then it was [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 the next big thing, they are resorting to animation.

Even the advertising industry has upped its demands. If we create a better product then it is easier for other people to understand the value of a good product. I believe we are churning barely 10 per cent of what we are capable of. Indian animation as an industry is very young. Overseas, animation started before Disney. It has had 80 years of experience; we have a long way to go. But at least the opportunities to showcase talent are growing.

How far are we from a 'Final Fantasy' kind of project?

Animation has to mature. You can't really specify time, because we have to make films and learn. You need at least ten movies to learn filmmaking. There have been Pandavas and Sinbad but none as good as Nemo or Shrek. I am very glad that with Tenali Raman, Chotta Birbal, at least the process has begun.

Why are there so many Tenali's in the market?

I think it is sheer coincidence. You have a readymade cartoon guy. He was the court jester, so it makes sense.

What size task force would be required for a feature film?

Can't really comment because it has not been done. Ditto for the production costs.

Are you approached to make an ad film or do you have to pitch? Are you also involved in the creative aspect of ad production?

Either a client can contact the ad agency and they contact us or it is the ad agency that suggests. But it is always a collaborative effort.

Television is known as stingy medium. Are you told to compromise quality to cut costs any time?

It is a business like any other. So they would always want some discount. But no one has actually asked to compromise on quality.

"Amaron gave us an excuse to use our clay animation"

What are the projects that you are handling currently?

We finished the 14-minute film for the children's film project. After that we created Videocon Anit germ ads. Apsara pencils' three piglets and wolf ad, Kotak Mutual Funds' Cat, dog and mouse-2D ad and Channel [V]'s The Chase with Rhythm and Hues.

How did The Chase come about?

While Rythm and Hue's first came to India, they contacted me. They suggested that I work on some mock film. Instead I suggested we do Channel ids and then approach channels. So that is how we did a Channel [V]. Right now we are working on Hungama, we have animated the logo H. We have proposed it be used as a mascot. Something like what we did with Simpoo and Peta.

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