As a child, Ajay Nair knew he was good at sketching.
He began working as a graphic designer while pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in science at Punjab University. After doing this for eight years, he came to Mumbai and joined Whistling Woods International, Goregaon, for an advanced diploma in animation.
Before he knew it, the 28-year-old was at a podium accepting an award in ‘The Best Animation Film’ category for his diploma film, Almost There.
It was a risk Nair took purely out of love for animation, despite the risks associated with entering a nascent field.
“Very few artists in India wanted to join the animation industry,” Nair says. “That’s changing. Colleges offering technical courses in 2D and 3D animation are popping up at every corner, and many more filmmakers are using animation.”
Earlier this year, Ambika Soni, the union minister for information and broadcasting, said the government had allocated Rs 52 crore for a National Centre for Animation and Gaming, to boost this segment of the media and entertainment industry.
With the animation industry expected to grow at a compound annual rate of 18.7 per cent over the next five years, professionals like Nair are sure to be in demand.
Nair now works with Irock, which is affiliated to filmmaker Manmohan Shetty’s production house, Walk Water Films. His job is to use his animation skills to create storyboards for Bollywood films. “Animation starts on paper,” Nair explains. “What I’m doing in storyboarding is drawing the exact shot that the director of photography will take after the director approves it.”
Mastery over the art of graphic designing made it easier for Nair to work in the animation industry. He
is also working as chief assistant director with Irock Media on two films. “It’s a good place to be at, until I get a story I want to work on.”
A typical day in Nair’s life begins with meetings with the film’s director. There are creative decisions to be taken before storyboarding begins. He and the director discuss the shots and Nair replicates them on paper.
He is now waiting for that one bright spark of a storyline. “It’s the lack of originality in this medium that bothers me,” he says, when asked why he is not working on a full-fledged animation film. “There is nothing new in the storylines of the animation movies and mythological films that keep coming up. I don’t want to be part of just any film.”
He recommends that those who want to explore this industry come in with some knowledge of related fields such as graphic designing.
“Students often think they’ll enter this new industry immediately after school. But I learnt that this was the wrong route to take. Some expertise or knowledge in supporting fields helps,” says Nair, who has interned with Shah Rukh Khan’s Red Chillies Entertainment.
Indian audiences are warming up to animation films because international studios such have exposed them to the genre.
Pete Doctor’s Up (2009), for instance, became the first animation film to open the Cannes Film Festival, in 2010. “These films have begun to prove to Indian audiences, or at least to viewers in the metros, that animation films are not cartoons and definitely not child’s play,” says Nair. “It takes three to four years to make one animation film and the budget usually exceeds that of a big-budget Bollywood flick.”
It costs between Rs 25 crore and Rs 45 crore to make an animation film.
“How is that small-scale?” Nair asks, smiling.