Zenya Garcias, 19, Mumbai
Mumbai: By the time she was 13 years old, Zenya Garcias had made up her mind. The moment the restless tomboy discovered Marvel comics and Batman, the prospect of spending hours hunched over school and college books became painful; her father’s suggestion that she follow in his footsteps become a food and beverage manager on a cruise liner held even less allure.
So, instead of conforming with the expectations of her Goan-born Catholic parents, and teachers, after she left St Andrews School in north Mumbai,Zenya went straight to join the make-believe world of animation.
Now a diminutive 19-year-old, with a tattoo of a dragon snaking over a shoulder and up her neck, and with earrings bearing the image of Che Guevara, Zenya was raised on a diet of television and the graphic novels of Neil Gaiman and Grant Morrison. A graphic novel is a form of comic book, often with a lengthy and complex storyline Zenya started out with cartoons and soaps before graduating to movies and epics.
Soon, she was watching programmes about the making of Warner Bros. cartoons, including Looney Tunes, and with increasing fascination, learnt how each figure was formed in painstaking detail and projected multiple times in quick succession to form an animated sequence.
Her interest caught, Zenya moved fast to work out her options and last year, enrolled herself in an animation degree course at Whistling Woods International, the Mumbai-based film school founded by film-maker Subhash Ghai. "I picked up animation when I was 13 years old, when I would see all the movies and then the films on how they were made," explains Zenya, kitted out in baggy combat trousers and trainers, and sitting cross-legged on a chair at the school’s outdoor cafeteria during a break in lectures. "I thought if I had to pick one profession I would pick this. I wanted to be an astronaut, but I didn’t like studying. I had a lot of options, I thought cinematography was also interesting but I love drawing and I love art."
ERA OF OPENNESS
Garcias is the archetypal product of new India, with all the ambition, savvy and enthusiasm of a teenager raised in an era of openness, new technology and access to information. She is part of a generation of young people in the country who are on the verge of availing themselves of opportunities created by a raft of reforms introduced during the post-1991 era of economic liberalization, including choosing a career as an animator.
Currently estimated to be worth Rs1,740 crore in India, the animation industry is tipped to grow in size to Rs3,900 crore by the end of 2013, according to projections by industry lobby Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry and audit and consulting firm KPMG. India’s animation industry has grown 20.1% a year since 2006, driven by outsourcing from abroad and increased domestic opportunities. Industry experts have also pointed to a dearth of trained and skilled animators in India, with the ability to meet the growing needs of the entertainment industry, and have called for investment in time and resources to better equip it to compete on a global basis. Keen to exploit these opportunities, a determined Zenya gave her reluctant parents an ultimatum: to let her study animation, or have her stay home and do nothing at all. "My parents wanted me to take something that helps me get a job," she says. "They were totally against animation in the beginning. Now my mum is cool but my dad is a little...," she trails off. She adds: "My dad actually wanted me to join the cruise liner business because he thinks you meet a lot of people and you can make a lot of money. He is very orthodox actually. But I wanted to do something I love."
Won over to some degree by her persistence and tenacity, her parents are now increasingly intrigued by her choice of profession, says Zenya, as is her 11-year-old brother, although she adds: "I come home tired. I tell them a little about what I do. But they still don’t really understand what I do."
CYNICAL ABOUT POLITICS
Zenya was educated at Mary Immaculate Girls High School, a strict convent school in Mumbai, and lives in Borivali West with her mother and brother, while her father spends most of his time away on ship. Despite being raised a Catholic by her church-going parents, she describes herself as an atheist.
"My parents go to church every Sunday and they ask me to come but it depends on if I feel like going," she says, explaining that most of her contemporaries at the film school similarly shun religion and rarely discuss it, unless they are trying to ascertain the reasons for another’s dietary habits.
Similarly, she is cynical about politics and suspects that like many of her friends and peers, she will not vote in the elections, not because she is politically apathetic, but because she does not want to vote for a criminal and cannot guarantee that her candidate won’t have a criminal record. She adds, however, that she doesn’t know who will be standing for election from the various parties as the lists have not been published yet (they weren’t at the time this reporter met her). "We don’t talk much about Indian politics," she begins. "But we are aware of it. People don’t want to vote for anyone with a criminal background and when a politician comes up they check his criminal record first. Once a criminal, always a criminal. The politicians should also have basic education and if someone has some idea of what they are going to do and if they are most probably going to do it, then I would vote for them." In contrast, interest in global politics at the school reached fever pitch during the American elections last year. More recently, conversations over lunch were about whether the attacks on Mumbai in November were linked to the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians.
Though she flicks through newspapers including The Times of India and the Mumbai Mirror, she says she prefers celebrity journalism and still reads graphic novels because that is where stories for animation films have been coming from these days.
LIVING LIFE TO THE FULL
In addition, she is addicted to gaming, enjoys drawing, plays basketball, watches football on television, but hates cricket.
Aware that her choice, enabled by India’s emergence as a global leader in outsourcing and technology while increasingly becoming known for its back-office animation expertise, has broken new ground in her family, she pauses to marvel at how she ended up on a path so far from her parents’ small-town roots in the conservative and Catholic heartland of Goa. She is equally amazed by her conviction and decision to become an animator, given her insular convent education and the decision of many of her peers to work in the retail or service industries after school. As a result, Zenya, who is seemingly fulfilled by the degree course and the level of teaching, appears to be on a mission to live her life to the full at Whistling Woods.
"I like being here, but spare time is hard to come by," she explains. "Saturday and Sunday are sometimes better and we all party together. I finish my assignments and do my reading and studying. I haven’t watched television for six months. We have the best people in the animation field here. They have good contacts and they give us state-of-the-art equipment." She has no regrets about having to turn down the offer of a place at the California Institute of Arts, as the fees were too steep. Gesturing around her at the facilities, she says: "This is as good as being there. It exposes students to various other fields like cinematography, screenwriting and direction. We start this right in the freshman semester. We have screenwriting in the morning, and acting in the evening. Everyone has film appreciation because that is really important. Recently they got us the latest Macs to work on."
THINKING OUT OF THE BOX
Kumar Chandrashekhar, mentor to Zenya at Whistling Woods, says although she is one of the youngest in her batch, she is mature and focused on her career choice and has taken to the course with enthusiasm, while forming a close circle of friends. "She thinks outside the box, in a lateral way, and she attracts people who think in a similar way," says Chandrashekhar. "She will face a steep learning curve and have to make decisions as her career choices widen, but she is very focused for her age."
Clenching her hand into a fist to emphasize her determination, Zenya says her ambition is to work in Europe for a few years after she graduates, and then return to India as part of a new wave of animators who will restore the industry to basics.
"There is a lot of room for improvement in animation in India. Have you seen the movie Roadside Romeo?" she asks, referring to the animated Yash Raj Films and Walt Disney Pictures collaboration that was released last year. "I remember wondering how Walt Disney could make such a movie. I feel that if you have less money, then make a short animated film but make it good.
"Also, in India the stories are very mythological. They don’t create their own stories. Everyone here is concentrating on 3-D but there is not a good enough base of 2-D. They are not interested in their drawing skills but more in software skills and they need to improve basics." Her passion evident, Zenya explains that the most satisfying part of animation comes at the end. After working on a project through days and nights, and having to get every detail right, she says the pleasure of accomplishment when a project is finally complete and correct, is "huge".
"That is what I love about animation. You start from scratch with a pen and paper and then you make it 3-D. When it is finally done you get a huge pleasure of accomplishing something. At the moment we are learning to draw each and every muscle in the human body. We study the movements when you walk. We study animal movements and how they walk—frame by frame. They don’t usually teach this in so much detail at other schools."
She continues: "I would like to work for a big company like Dreamworks or something after I graduate. Or DC and Marvel (the graphic novel companies behind the superheroes Superman and Batman), but it is really hard to get in there. I would like to work abroad for the experience, because people here are not backed by experience and then I would like to come back here and do something. There is a lot of room for improvement here. So, I want to come back and I want to get the industry back to basics with 2- D at the forefront."
Her gaze firmly fixed on the future, complete with all its possibilities, Zenya says she is too busy for romance, although she does enjoy "partying hard" with her friends. Intent on living her life to the full and not squandering a moment of her freedom, she is disbelieving that her 21-year-old cousin recently accepted an arranged marriage to a man who works on a cruise liner.
"My family are very close-minded and orthodox," she says. "I am the black sheep of my entire family. They think it is a great thing that my cousin is marrying someone who is working abroad and she is happy about it and I don’t know why. And I wonder sometimes, don’t they want to do anything? Don’t they want to make a mark?"