Thank you very much Lavanya Naidu for this interview, we would like to start with you by telling us about yourself. Where are you from, and can you give us a summary of your growing up stage?

I was born and raised in Kolkata, India. Growing up, I was always inclined to drawing how I felt. I would scribble on newspapers, draw on walls, draw with chalk, crayons and even stones (much to my parents’ horror). I loved reading as well. And books with great stories accompanied by beautiful illustrations was my ultimate hook. I had a sizeable collection of childrens books with some of the most charming illustrations. I was always attracted to telling stories through images. Even to this day, I collect children’s illustrated books, as there are some amazing artists out there giving wings to the storytellers imagination. Apart from this, I have some wonderfully crazy family members and friends who have made for some great memories and stories from a personal perspective as well.

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Interview with Animator and Illustrator Lavanya Naidu

Did you draw a lot while growing up? What style did you like the most? Why?

Yes, I have always been passionate about drawing. My family and relatives often dropped off some delightful books from their trips, so there was greater exposure to all kinds of art. I love hand drawn illustrations, with a slightly sketchy feel to it. Even today, with my digital work, I try to maintain that look and feel as much as I can.

Did you go to an art school when you decided to learn animation? If so, which one was it? How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and cool career?

After I finished my schooling I was inclined to become a doctor. But thank goodness for my parents, they persuaded me to apply to Art school. Considering that I grew up drawing, it was bewildering to them that I hadn’t considered it. I on the other hand was apprehensive of making my passion my profession. Although when I eventually appeared for the admissions test, I wound up thoroughly enjoying myself. Of course, there’s been no looking back ever since. And now I can safely say, that if you love what you do, you don’t really consider it as work. I studied Animation Film Design at the Nation Institute of Design (Ahmedabad, India). The course was 4.5 years long and I am lucky to have been taught by some amazing professors and studied with some crazy talented batch mates.

After my graduation, I was eager to travel and learn and work with artists from different parts of the world. The first opportunity I got, was TBS Digicon Japan. My final year film won the regionals in India and was nominated for the South Asian awards. That was my first exposure to immensely talented artists, their work and their professional experience.

A year after that, I attended summer school at Gobelins, L’école De L’image, Paris, France. The course was focused on character animation, which I am passionate about. This was an absolutely inspiring journey for me, I was both humbled and in awe of my peers and teachers. I had spent much of my time in my college years, drooling over their short films and Annecy promotional videos. It was truly incredible.

How and when did you realize that you wanted to become an illustrator and animator?

I’ve always loved to draw and tell stories, but hadn’t really put two and two together until college. During our first year at college, we were exposed to various courses, from wood workshops to textiles to storytelling etc. This was to help us make a better decision as to what we would like to specialize in, going forward. The courses I enjoyed the most were all visual and storytelling based. I realized then, that I wanted to be an animator. I was always curious as a child how cartoons on tv were made. Now I had answers. And of course immense respect for the people in this field for the patience and passion you need, to be a good animator. As for Illustration, I think I always assumed I would want to pursue that as a hobby. I dreamed of illustrating kids books ever since I can remember.

What was your first work you ever worked on? What did you feel and how did you get it at first?

My first big project, was a Cartoon Network (USA) Summer Promotional animation video. It was on one hand a dream come true and on the other, I was a bag of nothing but nerves. The brief was very straightforward and I had full creative freedom. Initially I was nervous, but once I started animating, it was just a lot of fun.
I had approached their Hong Kong office and after having a look at my blog they got me connected to the US office, and I was offered the project. I was thrilled!

Most of your artworks are in childlike theme. Is this your personal choice that reflects to your personality? Why or why not?

I think that that is a style that I have developed over the years, but I do make an attempt to keep my work diverse. So you will find variation. I do however love the idea of childlike innocence. I think as adults, we tend to drift away from keeping things simple. I think it can sometimes be a challenge to portray a complex thought in a simple way.

What is the most difficult part for you about being in the illustration and animation business?

After graduation, I started work as a freelancer. I enjoy this as I can take up varied projects and have a certain amount of freedom with how I allot my time. For me it’s important to be disciplined when freelancing. It’s very easy to fall off the grid. So it’s important to stay inspired and motivated, as your growth as a professional depends completely on self initiative. Keeping communication fluid with clients and also keeping a steady flow of work out there, is definitely challenging.

Lastly, can you tell our readers and us a little bit about your latest projects, what are you working on as for this year 2015?

I am presently freelancing in the capacity of a lead animator for a Swiss startup App company. We are working on some exciting projects for kids this year, and though I can’t really share the content at the moment, I am really stoked and eagerly waiting for the release. In my free time, I illustrate. I just completed an illustrated childrens’ book with Penguin India that is now on stands, Malgudi Schooldays (by RK Narayan). I’ve also recently worked on a very interesting project illustrating medical essays, an-arts-meets-anatomy kind of series. That should be out sometime this year as well.

She replies, “I was presented with the opportunity by the Penguin team, to re-illustrate the book in colour. Aside from being at a complete loss for words to express how happy I was to be working on one of India’s favourite children’s books, I was also extremely nervous about the expectations that came with it. But then again, I was attracted to the challenge, and simply had to do this! It’s an honour to be even associated with the legend in some small way.”

As for how she dealt with the whole thing, from starting line to finish, she explains, “The publishers had a clear vision; they wanted something new. Yet, there was the need to retain the old charm and simplicity, with more illustrations and colour! As a child, I read Malgudi Schooldays over and over again and fondly remember it being my go-to book. So, it was like revisiting an old friend.” The first step was to re-read the book, mark out the potential areas to visualise and illustrate, and get down to creating rough sketches. “We tried to select areas that are vivid in description, and sometimes areas that could possibly be made more exciting if visualised,” she points out, “Once the rough sketches were complete and approved, I got down to the final artwork. There were a lot of new ideas along the process, which we integrated into the final book, like the map of Malgudi on the flipside of the sleeve, more double page spreads, etc.”

Which character did she enjoy working on the most?

She says, “That would most definitely be Swami! I think when you’ve read the book so many times, you feel like you know the character. He’s like a friend and you already have an image of him in your mind; so it’s even more exciting to get that down on paper.”

R K Laxman passed away mere days after the book was launched. Did he get the chance to see the book? “That (his passing away) was immensely sad news. I don’t really know for sure if he had a chance to see it, and all I can hope was that if he did, he liked it.”