Interview with an animation expert: Ram Mohan
Called the father of Indian animation, Ram Mohan, 76, joined the profession in 1956 and worked at India's first animation studio. He later set up UTV Toonz and designed the character Ram in the movie Ramayana. Now chairman of Graphiti Multimedia. He speaks to
What do you look for when recruiting people?
They need to be able to use the 3D software, but more than that, we judge them on their portfolio of work - which would be a CD disc -- showing characters they have modelled and rigged (put bones on characters).
Do you need to be able to draw?
It is an advantage if you can draw but it's not absolutely essential if you are going to work with a computer. You don't have to come from an arty background and there are people that don't that can do the job just as well. But if you are designing characters, then normally, you should be able to sketch them first before drawing them on the computer. And people who can draw do handle animation better than those who can't as they can visualise movement and gestures and expressions better. We do find that people who have studied sculpture tend to be good at modelling. Although you don't need artistic skills you need to know what looks good aesthetically.
Is it like working in a call centre?
No. It is not as boring as that. Animation is about performance and imagining oneself in a situation. Often, we do plays at work with the staff, and we encourage them to go to concerts and dances. Some of them are in it just because they can earn a good livelihood from it, but we try to show them it is not just that and they should try and have fun creating their own animations.
How do you get to the top in this industry?
You need to learn how to handle more and more complex jobs. For example, if you were a texturing artist, then you would learn how to create new textures that express a character and a model better, or if you are a rigger (the person who puts the bones in the character), you would rig a character better so that the animator can handle it better. It's about mastering the software even more. There are lots of things you are not taught about the software at schools, and there is a skill to mastering it better and better. You also need to be adaptable and be able to learn new software other than the one you learnt at school and be able to handle more complex characters and perhaps even specialise in more than one area, like being able to be a hair and a texture artist. That would help you get noticed and go up the ladder.
How do you find scriptwriters?
We use people already working as scriptwriters for TV serials and film. We need to get them to meet animators so that more specialist animation scriptwriters emerge.
Where is the biggest shortage right now?
At Graphiti, it is animators. Animation is much more than mastering 3D software, it's about understanding acting and acting through the characters. The problem is we train people and then they get poached, and what we teach them is not something you can learn on a course.
Where does the future of animation lie in India?
Bollywood and financiers had been indifferent to animation in India and thought it was not worth investing in until Hanuman (2005) made them realise it could be profitable. Now more financiers and producers are interested in animation. Hanuman was the first animated feature film completely made in India with Indian artists. Now there is not much future in outsourced work because so many other Asian markets, like Vietnam, are getting into animation now, and the margins have shrunk. It will be more profitable in the future to get into intellectual property and design original characters and stories. India is not producing films of an international standard yet, but we will soon as India has some talented animators.
What is the biggest challenge?
There's a shortage of professionals. We don't have enough trained animators. We need more schools and Indian universities to teach animation at the undergraduate and graduate levels. I think it has taken the training institutes by surprise because until recently, animation was not seen as a viable profession. We also need more original scriptwriters. To be really successful we will need to create films that appeal to a global market because a domestic market will not sustain them. We still don't have good writers. That's why so many films are based on Indian mythology. The other problem is that Hanuman was made with a low budget and many production houses need more, yet the film has set the benchmark of what financiers will provide.
Are animation studios sweatshops?
People used to look upon India as a place to outsource animation services. People here just needed to know the software and how to handle it. They were not expected to design anything or innovate. Some studios were sweatshops initially, but now they are starting to change because more and more studios are looking for something else to do and many are producing their own films.
Is Graphiti a sweatshop?
No, we don't accept outsourced work at all. We have a few co-productions. Right now, we are working on an animated film about the character Fido Dido. The character has been designed overseas, but we are developing the script and storyboard.