How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and interesting career?

As a kid I always liked reading and telling stories. I liked drawing a lot and I also used to illustrate my own comics. I figured that I liked telling stories through images. After class ten I did my graduation in Fine Arts from CAVA, Mysore. That’s when I learnt of a course in animation at the National Institute of Design (NID) in Ahmedabad. A visit to the institute made it clear to me that this is what I wanted to do. Since then I’ve been in animation.

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My parents have always been supportive of my decisions. passed my SSC in 1990 and had applied for JC as well, but when the BFA option came my way, I chose it over the traditional one. The course was for five years and is equivalent to 2+3 and plus you are in a specialized field.

At BFA first two years are like foundation so you learn drawing painting, photography, photojournalism and there is wood cut., etching litho-imo, printing print making sculpture, wood cutting, clay wood and applied art and then next three years you specialise.

As far as a career in animation goes, I myself did’nt have much of a hint about it. Even when I was finishing my BFA, Bachelor of fine arts from Mysore, I did did not have a clue about Animation as a career. I had taken up applied ads and was looking forward to working with ad agencies, on advertising campaigns.

In my campaign for a television ad, it was always like a story. But I never knew it would result in an animation.We know animation through Disney and feature films and that was the only link with animation. Film division films and all those things were very interesting but I did not know about that as career.

Tell us the story behind Vaibhav studios? How and when did it start and what made you foray into the animation space?

I finished my animation course from NID, Ahmedabad and joined Famous house of Animation in Mumbai in 1998. We produced lots of short animation films for TV commercials, TV channel promos, music videos etc. These were very short films ranging between 10 seconds to a minute max. It was good fun but over the 5 years at Famous, I felt a strong urge to tell longer stories. Then I got an opportunity to work on a 10 min film that a friend of mine was producing but I had to choose between my job and the film. I chose the film as I was pretty clear I wanted to work on it. It was an overnight decision but it is so far my happiest. When my clients from Famous Studios got to know I had quit, they came back to me with their future projects and that felt really good! I think that was the start of Vaibhav Studios.

How did NID happen and how was the experience at NID?

When I visited NID I came to know that there is an educational course called animation. And I knew then and there that’s where I wanted to be. It was the summer holidays and most students barring a few working on projects, were visiting their homes.

The workplaces were empty but the soft boards were stuffed with projects. One look and it was clear that this place was buzzing with creativity.

There’s so many different fields, you are sorrounded by creative people with ideas, working, collaborating on projects. The exposure that I got was wonderful and very enriching. There are loads of other academic and extra curricular activities too.

In animation it is not just that you study your own subject. When you have to create something you have to draw from your head and create. There is no actor, no set world, you need to create all that from your imagination. One has to look around, observe, develop an eye and a way of looking at things.

At NID students are expected to make films all by themselves. It is definitely a better place to learn for a student. Plus they give you all facilties.

As you know in animation there are many processes, Every department has its share of duties. There’s key drawing, clean ups, in betweens, digital ink and paint and right up till compositing, animatics and final video output. But at the university (NID), you have to do all of it by yourself. — make a story board, book the studio, conceptualise the music , the look and you have a time frame. And doing three projects, you would have gone over the processes so many times that you become a complete film maker.

What projects did you work on at NID?

The first was a hypothetical filler for DD. If you remember the good old days of Doordarshan, you probably would clearly remember the ‘Rukavat ke liye khed hain’ type of messages.The idea was to make those DD messages entertaining by using animation. The character I had thought of did all kind of non-sense.

Then next we did a seven minute film of teasing the animals in the Zoo. This was Clay animation, the puppets were made of Armature, wire frame and all that goes into it.

The third film, for my final diploma project, it was by that time that we have one foot in college and one foot in Industry.

My client was an NGO called Action aid India -it works in rural India with the local people. They have a company called Practice, they sponsored my diploma project. I made a seven minute film for them, which they use in their workshops. For that I was based in Patna during my diploma project. And during my diploma project I was a part of their team. They were a bunch of social workers, who had the local villagers in their team. The basic idea that I was trying to communicate was that the local people know the best about their sorroundings. As an outsider you cannot just jump in and decide what’s best for them.

How did your career begin?
When I was finishing my diploma project, my senior Suresh was already with famous which was just about being set up. The owner of Famous, Mr Rungta wanted to set up his own animation studio and initially Suresh started working on an animated series on Shivaji which was canned later on.

I had just completed NID and Suresh invited me onboard.The work at famous was just begining, so I would have been a part of the inception team which was quite a big thing and I agreed to join.

How was it like then?

This was in 1998. We were looking at many options but we had one thing very clear in mind, we would do only original work. We started talking with the ad guys, we used to do the pitches ourselves. Then we spoke with the music channel guys. In fact quite a few of my NID friends and seniors were in both V and Mtv. It was through our contacts with them that we got our early inroads. Arnab Chaudhari from V is an NID senior.

Even today parents are wary about letting their children explore the creative space. What is your piece of advice to parents about children joining the creative space?

Today I am doing what I really love thanks to the complete support and encouragement from my parents. In fact it was my father who found out that there’s a degree course in fine arts. He had even applied on my behalf and I didn’t even know about it! As a parent now I would love to do the same for my kids. When you really enjoy what you’re doing, you will do it really well. And when you do stuff really well you are bound to succeed. I feel today if you have the passion for something you can easily make it a profession. If you like to cook you can become a great chef, if you like sports you have so many avenues, if you like cutting hair you can be a great stylist, if you sing or dance well you have so many platforms to exhibit your talent. Therefore as a parent I feel one must simply make way for our children’s brilliance to flow out in full force!

Animation in India is still in its infancy. What do you think is the future of animation in India? Do you think we will reach a point where our films/ videos will be as successful as something like ‘Frozen’?

Animation films in India have huge potential. It’s a unique medium that everyone has grown up watching. I feel as an industry we have been too busy just making a living by catering to outsourced animation projects for foreign clients. As a result we haven’t invested enough time and energies into telling our own stories to our audiences. We know how to produce high quality animation but we have a long way to go on the storytelling, film distribution and exhibition front. However I strongly believe that a well told, well made ‘desi’ animation story can definitely connect and go global. Half the globe is filled with Asian Indians and that’s a huge market!

Animation is a unique magical medium. If combined with beautiful storytelling it can entertain, educate and inspire audiences across all ages. Not just kids. 

I think animated videos are the best way to hold a child’s attention. Tell us your thoughts about using cartoons as an education medium.

Animation is a unique magical medium. If combined with beautiful storytelling it can entertain, educate and inspire audiences across all ages. Not just kids. 

What are your favorite animated movies and why?

My favorite is The Lion King – brilliant storytelling, characters, animation and performances. I also love Mulan and Father & Daughter (a short animated film).