In your demo reel, a large portion is dedicated to work on Legend of Oz. A famous line from the original movie is that ''there is no place like home''. My question to you, is where is home and what makes it special?
Being in the animation field, I spend most of my day time in the studio. And then some night work cannot be avoided as the industry demands it. After a tiresome day I get back to my den, and I ring the bell and I see my wife open the door , and then I walk inside and see my 4 year old son sleeping. Now I get this amazing feeling and all of a sudden my den becomes a beautiful home. Now I call it a den because when they are not around me I feel it’s just an empty shell without any soul. Having them around me makes it home and makes it special. Having said all of this I must add, the next day morning I just can’t wait to go to my studio.
If you met the Wizard, what would you ask him for?
I would like to know, what is it to be a Wizard; how does it feel? The inside truth, like the real positive and negative feelings of being a Wizard.
You have ten years’ experience. How did this journey begin? What inspired you?
After my B.F.A (Visual Communication and Design) I wanted to do cinematography because I had developed this interest for the camera and taking pictures during my college days. Photography was part of the curriculum. So now after my Graduation I joined as an assistant to a beginner Cinematographer. I was one of the five assistants, actually number five. I was not really doing good. That’s when I a got call from my father about an animation school in Mumbai. That was it. I moved to Mumbai from Chennai and I went to this Institute and for the first time I really felt this is what I want do. It was fascinating, and even today after twelve years (including my two years in my Institute) I am still fascinated by this beautiful thing called animation.
Can you tell us a little about the Indian animation scene?
I think currently we are doing pretty good as the quality of the artists is much better compared to what was there when I started. We are doing some great work I guess. Let's not forget animation became well known in India only in the last two decades. Keeping that in mind I feel proud about where we are today.
I notice that many of your recent projects have been for Western audiences. In terms of acting decisions and language, how have you found the challenge?
Yes. I feel I am lucky to have had the opportunity to work with Western clients. I learned a lot from them. Each project is a great learning experience which helped me in improving my skills. In terms of acting decisions I never had many problems as I watch lots of movies made in the West. I think being an animator one should be able to do any kind of acting or at least be able to learn quickly and keep oneself ready for the production challenges. Being self- updated helps us to survive long in this industry. I guess English is a modern-day universal language.
Your 'Brain Camp' piece is 32 seconds long, across a single shot. What advice would you give for producing a sustained character performance over such a large scene?
I love to challenge myself. Doing a big shot is always a challenge. It is like a full meal to me. Brain Camp was a test given to me by myself on subtle acting. According to me each shot is a small story. Whether it is 32 seconds shot or a 1 second shot. What is important here is to engage the audience. So the acting choice you make has to be really interesting.
Focusing on your winning piece, ''what the heck'', please can you tell us about your animation process?
To me it’s all about the idea. Once the idea is clear then there is no stopping. When I listen to a dialogue I think about the best possible natural way to convey it. When I say the best possible way it does not have to be some complex action all the time. It can be simple and must be suitable for the dialogue. It should give life to the character involved and the most important thing is it should be believable. Then I act it out and shoot it only if necessary. While doing “what the heck” I did not have to shoot a live reference as I was clear with the idea and I knew what I was going to do. Then I quickly keyposed it and then the final animation. I could not do the final finesse pass as I ran out of time, because I had to finish the whole thing in the last four days of that month as I heard the interesting audio clip only then. I never expected to win, I just wanted to participate.
I love the spin off the couch, the character having to catch her balance while in the mood to party. Where did this idea come from?
Some times ideas just pop up just like that. Before starting a shot I just close my eyes and brain storm myself saying the dialogue again and again . When I started “what the heck” that was the first acting choice that came in mind and I found it very interesting.
A few changes have been applied since winning the competition. For example, the decision to use a close up at the start of the shot. Please can you talk a bit about these changes?
After finishing the shot and after uploading it to 11sec Club, I felt that the secondary character is over powering the main character in the initial few frames. I could not do much about it as it was already uploaded, and actually by the time I realized it, it was too late even to update it. Then, luckily I won the contest and when I received my prize which is the Animation Mentor Expert’s Ecritique he made the same point and he suggested some ideas to fix it. Now I decided I had to fix it.
After making some changes, I was still not satisfied. Then, I got this idea of going for a close up and to reveal what is happening by zooming out. I thought this may be more interesting and at the same time it might solve the problem as well. Luckily it worked. Then I made a few changes as per the Animation mentor expert’s (Jean-Denis Haas) advice and these were really helpful in improving my shot. Now I feel the shot looks much better. Thank you Animation mentor.
Please can you talk a bit about your approach to animating female characters?
Animating a female character is always fun because women are very expressive and they give you lots of options for facial expressions. I don’t have any special approach but it is very important to understand their body language and behavior as an Animator. It can be achieved only by observing them, I guess. Today we can just shoot reference of any action we want to animate. But what is important is to understand what is really happening in that action, not just physically but mentally also. If you just roto the live reference without a deeper understanding it doesn’t make much sense . It is like reading a book which can give you lots of knowledge, but you do not care about understanding the words because you are superficial.
In finding the best way to ask the question, I did a little research about acting drunk. Readers may find this link useful: http://www.backstage.com/advice-for-actors/acting-teachers/playing-drunk/
It comments how playing drunk is a difficult thing. How did you pull it off?
Thank you. But again as I said observation is very important. Then making it interesting in animation is another challenge. It is applying the knowledge you have gathered exactly to the point, but also improvising to make your shot interesting. This is a great challenge and I love this challenge very much. That’s the fun part.
When working out movement, I just act to myself or sometimes look in the mirror. That’s all I did in this case. The important thing is realizing the balance when you are drunk. It is always your upper body that leads and then your legs catch up. That’s how you go out of control just swing the upper body and catch up with the legs right at the time and by the time your legs catch up your upper body swings the other way. That’s the principle I stick to. I go with the rhythm of the dialogue.
First I decided the story telling layout with the story telling pose of the drunken atmosphere, what I felt was the best. Once that's done my next step was to key pose. Now I decide the poses as per the rhythm of the dialogue. In this case the dialogue was "I am excited and I feel relaxed and I am ready to party with the best of them''.
Now I feel this dialogue can be divided into five parts. So we need five important story telling key poses with three anticipations to sell the action.
1. I am excited (KEY) and I feel(Anticipation)
2. Relaxed (KEY) and I am(Anticipation)
3. Rrreadyyyyyyyyy (KEY) Tooo (Anticipation)
4. PAAHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARTYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY (KEY)
5. With the best of them (KEY)
The only rule for the facial expression which I had set was to keep it believable at the same time natural. Not necessarily you need to have a twisted mouth to play drunk all the time. As for as the spin is concerned I had neither used any references nor did I research on it. I just tried what comes to me naturally that’s the truth.
You are the first winner using the Mery rig. In comparison to other rigs, what advice would you give for an artist animating her?
Mery is a great rig. The character is very beautiful. So what I would try to do while animating her is to keep her facials look pleasant. The expressions can be pushed which is very important but I wouldn’t make her look ugly or off model.
What type of characters do you enjoy bringing to life?
Nothing specific. I love animating any kind of character. To me what is more important is how challenging the action is. If the action is something very new and at the same time if I had not attempted in the past then nothing like it.
Facial Animation is what audiences get connected to. Normally when we talk to someone or watch a movie the emotional connect happens through the expressions. Good expression is always a big plus for the Animation. But anything is possible in animation.
According to me, how you time the action is very important. With good timing we can even sell the emotions of a sphere or a cube.
To finish off, I wish to leave you with a look at M Gokul's reel. Thank you for your time. Enjoy!
(Animation reel, showcasing edits to winning entry)