Monday 7 May 2012

Vaibhav Studios Interview

Character Design Hello guys and gals,
Recently the animation community caught site of the trailer of India's new feature film, Arjun. It tells the story of India's greatest warrior. We would like to wish it every good fortune, with many hope its success will pave the way to finance future feature releases for the country.

In celebration of its release, we hope to publish an interview with another of India's leading animation companies Vaibhav studios. I had the privilege to chat with its founder, Vaibhav Kumaresh. The studio's work is as vast as it is colourful, injecting the beauty of story into each of their projects. Please have a browse.

Growing up in India, what were the influences that got you interested in animation? 
 My father was in the India army. He would get posted from one place to the other quite frequently. As a result I grew up all over the country. I guess that was the start point for developing a rich cultural, audio visual vocabulary. My parents introduced me to Amar Chitra Katha comics (one of the most popular amd successful Indian comic) at an early age and I was simply addicted to it. That was my introduction to Indian mythology, folk tales and most important: story telling.

My school encouraged a lot of extra curricular activities like music, drama, dance, fine arts and sports and I enjoyed participating in all of them. I always loved to draw. I told my stories through my drawings. After my schooling I knew I wanted to do something where I could use both drawing as well as storytelling. During my graduation in Fine Arts, I got to know that the National institute of Design in Ahmedabad offered a course in animation. That sounded intriguing. A visit to the institute and it was clear to me that animation was my next step.
Behind every great animator is his family. Is art something that is shared through your household? No. My father was an army officer and an excellent sportsman. My mother was a maths and science teacher!! She was also a beautiful singer! I am glad that I inherited a bit of all these qualities. ‘Art’ I guess would be my introduction to our family!! Having said that I received tremendous support and encouragement from my parents and sister when I decided to pursue fine arts and animation. My wife has now joined the gang! So yes I owe it all to my family.

Please talk a bit about forming Vaibhav Studios.
It was an overnight decision (and one of our happiest) to start on our own. I quit my job to work on a short animated children’s film. I had no clue what I was going to do after that. However the response from my old clients was so strong and encouraging that we decided to build our own studio and work culture. My wife Suranjana and I set up Vaibhav Studios in 2003. A variety of exciting and challenging work came our way. We learnt a lot in a very short span and soon grew into a small little team.

As head of Vaibhav studios, please share some thoughts on keeping an open mind to team contributions while also having to make the final decisions.
As an artist the greatest pleasure is to work with other inspiring artists and collectively discover and create exciting work. As a filmmaker I have a certain style/ flavour of working. Over a period of time, that flavour tends to get a bit monotonous. Therefore working with different artists with different flavours is the best way to constantly refresh yourself. When directing a film, our team mates play the audience. I like to share every stage of work with everyone and seek their instant reactions. It allows me to see my work from different perspectives. Finally I work on the critical feedback that I agree with and ignore the ones I don’t.

What values do you look for when recruiting a new animator?
They should be madly and sincerely in love with what they want to do. And yes they should also be good at what they want to do! These two are the basic values on which we associate ourselves with new members. Beyond that we give them time to show their true colours and revisit employment terms accordingly.

Vaibhav Studios has a wide portfolio of work in 2d, 3d and stop motion. What factors help determine which medium a project is made in?
In most cases we can see the film and its medium in our heads when we work out/ read the script. At times budgets and timelines also affect the medium of animation.

The 11 Second Club celebrates diversity in creative talent. However, many animators have trouble in building a reel that reflects their individual voice. This can sometimes be seen on a larger scale. With studios attempting to replicate the financial success of the larger studios, their own identity can be forgotten. Please share some thoughts on this.
When you truy love something it finds its own unique way of expression. There is extreme clarity and very little doubt. It’s the same with your work. When you love your work, your way of perception and expression is bound to show through. It is this very quality that sets every individual artist or studio apart. Therefore its very important to discover and nurture what you love doing the way you love doing it. Some of the best studios in the world manage to retain this flavour in their work: be it Pixar, Studio Ghibli or Aardman.

Our studio is currently too small to replicate the financial success of a big studio. Hence I may not be experienced enough to answer this too well.

Ooga Booga
I really like how character and story are at the core of your commercial work for Vodafone, Neo Sports and Sagar Cement, as well as others. Please talk a bit about this.

We all know that story is king. And in most stories it’s the characters that take the plot forward by drawing the audiences into their own world. I like observing people a lot. Maybe its got something to do with the population of our country or something in my head!! I see a variety of ‘characters’ all around me everyday!! Many a times stories are born out of it.

(Please click here to check out their Ooga Booga advert)

When introduced to Horn Ok Please, I quickly commented on the great use of composition. This can be said of other projects you have worked upon. Please share some advice with the community about composing camera shots.
Characters and situations invariably hog the limelight for conveying the story. However the camera is a silent but highly effective tool. What you ‘show’ and how you show it largely contributes to the flavour of your story/ action. Just like every shot must have a purpose in the ‘telling’ of a story, the composition of the shot and the staging of actions is equally vital.

(Please click to watch, Horn OK Please)

Talk about your importance of preparation and research for each new project.
So far we have mainly worked on very short films: ads, promos etc. I must confess that I do very little or no research on these projects!! At the most we have done treatment tests on projects where we werent very clear. Other than that what I try to do is soak in the story. I play it again and again in my head and try to simplify and strengthen the flow as best as I can.

In India, you are best known for creating Simpu singh Sodhi. For those unfamiliar with the character, please introduce him to our community.
Simpoo the angry, animated maths teacher has been one of the most successful brand ambassadors of Channel [V], (a youth music channel on Indian tv) since 1999. The character has successfully promoted the channel and its various shows through the many films he has featured in. Today he along with his prankster students remains one of the most favourite animated Indian characters on Indian television.

A common style can be seen throughout your 2d portfolio. Are there any artists that have inspired this design?
I am sure there are many artists whose work has sub consciously influenced me. I have thoroughly enjoyed the works of Sergio Aragones & Dean Martin (MAD comics), Ram Waeerkar (Amar Chitra Katha), Paul Dreissen(Animation film maker), Lat (Malaysian cartoonist/ illustrator), and RK Laxman (Indian cartoonist) to name a few.

What do you find most challenging to animate? 
During animation, I feel choosing the right acting choices that strengthen the story telling is most challenging. We invariably get carried away in trying to showcase great locomotion or drawing skills. In the process we sometimes dilute the ‘story’ in the scene.

Every artist faces a mental/creative block at times. How do you overcome it?
Animation film making has many departments. When I get stuck in one, I jump to the other. Many a time that helps. For example if I get stuck while writing a script/ story, I try and doodle the character designs or locations or any other aspect that I am a bit more clear about. Invariably one department gives me clues to the other. However if that doesn’t work, then you have got to face the block!! I always take refuge in the story and let it guide me in every department.

The 11 Second Club has an ambitious community, with its main competition appealing to variety of skill levels. When I first entered the competition, I skipped the basics and leapt into the deep end of producing character animation. I finished close to last place. What advice would you give to animators who share similar stories.
Its indeed very important to polish ones skills but if the basics are not in place, however hard you polish the shine will never come. Observe and sketch from life. Develop YOUR way of seeing, observing and expressing. As animators, as performers our goal is to captivate and make an impression on our audience and it’s the story in the performance that allows us to do that. If your performance strengthens or refreshes your story, that’s the way to go!

Lastly, I hope to leave you all with the promo vid for Vaibhav Studios new production Return of the Jungle. Thank you Vaibhav for your time and I hope you community members have enjoyed!

To follow the latest work from the studio, please check out their Vaibhav Studios facebook page.