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Animation: a profile of animator Akash Karmakar

Today, 24-year-old Akash Karmakar is the head of a team that designs hair, fur and clothes of animated characters and earns a monthly salary that runs into six figures, writes Naomi Canton. (Reporter: Naomi Canton; Photographs: Kunal Patil)Q&A with Akash Karmakar | Rapidfire | Another young star: Anand Bhanushali | Qualifications and Training | Career options | Global opportunities | Pluses & Minuses | Industry Overview | Challenges | An interview with Ram Mohan | Quirky facts | Reporter's blog | An interview with Charles Darby | Ins & Outs of being an animator

india Updated: Mar 15, 2008 02:57 IST
Naomi Canton

Five years ago, Akash Abhishek Karmakar left Bihar with a single suitcase in hand and travelled 36 hours by train to Mumbai. Fresh out of the 12th standard, this 19-year-old knew no one in the city besides his elder brother Gunjan. But he had an ambition - to become an animator.

When he first arrived, he thought he would pursue a fine arts degree. But instead, he did a short stint designing animated educational videos for dental patients for Rs 6,000 per month. Then, he was snapped up by Prana Studios, in Bandra Kurla Complex, reputed to be the best studio in Mumbai.

Now, despite having no university degree, the 24-year-old is the head of a team that designs hair, fur and clothes of animated characters, earns a monthly salary that runs into six figures, goes to trance parties in Nepal and Goa and plans to buy his own flat in five years.

It is a world away from Patna, where his mother, Alpana, is a housewife, and his father, Sushanto, a bank clerk earning Rs 20,000 a month.

"I connected more with computers and art than with people when I was a child," said Akash, dressed in combat trousers and a striped T-shirt, two earrings glinting on either side of his head, oozing coolness in Just Around the Corner, a café in Bandra.

"I was never into sport, and I didn't believe in academia. I taught myself most things. I would draw out lessons or visualise things rather than reading text."

At the age of 15, he taught himself 3D animation on his computer in his bedroom. "I just knew somehow that what I was learning was gold," he said.

Now he works an 11-hour day directing his team, checking if the quality of hair that will be used on various animated characters is up to scratch and coming up with new designs. In his spare time, he sketches imaginary cartoon characters, listens to music and sculpts.

"Animation is really booming," he said. "Loads of jobs are coming up, at least for the next five years. It's like an explosion, like the IT boom was. My job is very varied and dynamic. There is lots of energy at work and lots to learn from other people. That's why I enjoy it."

Eclectic bunch

Animation attracts school leavers, college dropouts and graduates, the last of who tend to come from commerce, software, engineering and fine arts backgrounds. All, however, have studied 3D animation software, which is required to work in production, where most work in India currently is.

Many young animators are migrants -- from Andhra Pradesh, Bengal, Delhi and Orissa. Most are in their 20s and 30s, and live near the studios concentrated in Bandra, Malad and Andheri, where production houses are based.

For instance, Paritosh Bhargava, 30, works in pre-production, i.e. script writing and character conception, higher up the value chain than plain production where much of the animation work in India now is. A migrant from Rajasthan, he has a BA in arts and a 3D animation software course under his belt.

The work culture in the animation sector is informal: the staff might watch videos, play video games or go out for a drink during office hours. It is not unheard of for people to sleep at the office.

Take Maya Entertainment, a growing animation studio in Malad. It is 6 pm, and men in their 20s and 30s, dressed in trendy jeans, wrinkled shirts and trainers are seated at computer desks. The office has contemporary, spherical red and black chairs, the ambience is relaxed and quiet. No one wears a tie.

A software engineer-turned-hair effects specialist draws 100 strands of hair using the mouse and keyboard working on the software Autodesk Maya 8.5. Each strand is in a different position. Then, using a screen grid, he assigns properties to the strand, deciding how thick the root and tip should be, picks a colour, shade and texture and gives it lighting effects. One hairstyle can take a month.

"It is not the same as working in a call centre," explained Virendra Chauhan, executive vice president - creative at Maya, his long hair, cool jeans and sneakers, giving him an air of casual chic. "Animation requires more skills. An artistic person will have an edge over everyone else. A character modeller should be good at sculpting. The texturing artists should be good at painting, the lighting artists good at photography. To do special effects, you need to understand physics -- if you are creating a dessert sandstorm, for example, you need to know how the sand would fall. You have to research this and read up on it. If you are creating a deer, you need to know the anatomy of a deer, how it moves and jumps."

Although Western companies are not yet outsourcing the valuable pre-production work such as conceptualising the characters and creating the story, pre-production work is growing in India because of the rise of domestic animated films. As a result, the demand for fine arts graduates is increasing.

"It's not about earning money," Akash said, now sitting in his simple rented two-bedroom flat in Mahim that he shares with two friends, of his job. "It's like a hobby. A lot of people quit because they can't hack it. It's very hard work, and you need to concentrate really hard and maintain quality. You can't do it just to make money, it has to be a passion."

To contact Akash e-mail

lostanimator@yahoo.com