“Wherever you are and whatever you may be doing, keep telling stories”
What made you decide Art was your calling? How did you further move into Animation?
Art and drawing came quite naturally to me as a kid. It’s one of those things I just knew how to do and had fun doing as well. The 90’s era Disney movies and Cartoon Network were my first exposure to animation and I was fascinated by he medium. I remember watching ‘The Little Mermaid’ when I was about 6 or 8 years old and deciding that this is what I want to do. I didn’t know it was called animation, but it felt like it was something I needed to be involved in. When I draw, I get a creator’s buzz and that doesn’t happen with anything else. I think better when I am drawing, it helps me when I go about my other day-to-day activities. Animation felt like an extension of drawing. My style of animation is making movement one drawing at a time, so it was like a match made in heaven. My parents were very supportive when it came to me pursuing a career in the field, my dad was especially excited about it and supported my decision.
How was your journey at National Institute of Design? What was your biggest learning?
In a word, tough. It wasn’t like anything I was expecting. It was three years of intense learning and being out of my comfort zone. I wish I could say it was all enlightening and wonderful, but it was one of the most difficult times of my life. There was a particular instance when we had a course on creative writing. I can draw very well, but when it came to putting words on paper I couldn’t think of anything ‘good’ or creative. This setback hit me hard and it was difficult to shake off for a long time. Facing your short-comings is never a pleasant experience and NID throws quite a lot of these situations your way. These can really dent your self-esteem, if you let them. However, the environment, teachers and students all helped with one thing – adapting to these shortcomings. These challenges helped me grow and this is what I think sets NID apart from other institutes. We all had the basic skills to animate, we just needed the push to go further than technical skills and grow as thinkers and creators.
Did you undertake any formal training to become an Animator? How much important do you feel it is to gain international experience in this field?
Yes, I studied classical animation for two years under the tutelage of a wonderful animator and individual, the late Pallavi Apte. She taught us the real roots of animation and gave me the confidence in my skills. It was also the first time I understood the importance of a great teacher. Then at NID, had the good fortune to meet and interact with other wonderful teachers. Mad men like Sekhar Mukherjee and Prakash Moorthy showed me how to tell stories and Isabel Herguera taught us through her fierce dedication to animation and solid work ethic. In the mad business of animation, such experiences are valuable.
International experience can help you look at animation and storytelling in a different light, their culture and aesthetic being greatly different than ours. I grew up on a healthy dose of American and European art and animation, which has in turn influenced my personal style. However, I have realised that more importance should be given to learning from or working with creatives from within the country. NID provided great platforms to meet and interact with artists, designers and illustrators who have developed a style that is a reflection of their roots and we need more of this in our books and on our screens. One such event is the student animation festival hosted by the institute since 2007, Chitrakatha. It brought together professionals from all over the country as well as from abroad and the one thing that stood out in the festival is the importance of telling stories in your own voice, through a unique set of eyes and imagination. It’s only been over the last few years that my art has gone through a slight change where my Malayalee culture plays a more important role. It influences the subject matter of my drawings and studying more Malayalam cinema has morphed my style accordingly. International exposure is good to learn from but, cultivating a unique style that derives from within the country is more important.
What is the process that you follow while executing any project and the tools that you use?
It all starts with a brief or even just an idea. There are basically three rounds in any animation process, each as intensive as the other. First, there is pre-production, which includes the story development, concept art, sound design and music, character design and production design. A lot of the decisions are made during this stage before we begin the animation process. That can take a few weeks, to a couple of months to a solid year depending on style of animation and people involved. The last stage, is where the animation is refined, edited and final touches put in.
I started animating on paper and usually all my ideas start out there but when it comes to actual animation, I favour digital media like Photoshop animation and use a Wacom IntuosPro pen tablet for the same. I enjoy digital painting and have been using the software for the last 10 years, so I am quite proficient with it.
Tell us about your most memorable/challenging piece of work that you have created. Can you give us a brief description about it ?
It’s definitely a project I completed in 2014 – a short film about a boy and a tea-obsessed gorilla. There are two reasons why this project meant a lot to me. One was that it encapsulated all the learning from NID. My three years training was put to the test and it was very happy with the result. It was the reward to all that struggle and confusion.The other exciting part was that the story was inspired by and co-created by my husband. He doesn’t have any training or particular interest in animation but can tell a good story and the minute that goofy, gorilla character came into our heads, the pieces fell into place and we had a funny yet charming animation in our hands.
Which aspect of animation do you enjoy the most?
Easily the pre-production phase. It’s the starting stages of a project when anything is possible, and so it’s very exciting. Things start falling into place, but not completely. So, while it gives a good direction to were a project is going, there is still room for the story/characters to change and I feel that it adds more depth to my work.
Who or what keeps you motivated to generate new ideas?
Ideas always come and go, there is really no formula for ensuring that they happen. I do feel that you should never stop learning, any subject or skill. It need not even be related to your line of work. Just keeping discovering new things and keep your mind refreshed.There are certain people whose passion for their craft never fails to motivate me. Actor Robin Williams, comedian Stephen Fry and naturalist David Attenborough. As you can see, these folks have nothing to do with animation, but their dedication and hard work are great motivators to improve my own skills and do my best.
What is the entry point for a career as a Animation artist? What are some of the technical skills should one possess to excel in this field?
I’ve myself not had any conventional entry points into the industry, especially the animation industry. My first job was as an in-house animator at a graphic design studio, Ray+Keshavan | The Brand Union, Bangalore and I got the job purely because of my portfolio. So having a good body of work is essential. Grades and ranks aren’t of any use in this field. People need to see how you can contribute creatively to their business or even their lives.
My advice is to put work out there more, make your presence felt. Regular updates of work generates interest in what you can do. Whatever be your strength, whether it is drawing or making clay models, or working with paper cut-outs, keep making things and show it. It’s not enough to have great work and hide it. The internet provides a great platform for independent creatives with a variety of places for sharing work and networking. This can be intimidating when you discover just the wealth of and range of artists, animators and illustrators out there so you need to work harder to be noticed. This is why it is crucial to have a unique identity that is influenced by your roots rather than something generic from the West.
What message would you like to give to the aspiring animators?
Never stop creating! It can be a silly sketch or a beautiful piece of art but never stop making things. And wherever you are and whatever you may be doing, keep telling stories. That’s the best piece of advice I ever got. All the good movies and short films started with a single idea and you never know when the next great story might be told. It may even be in a little doodle that you are yet to make.
To see more of Jemma’s work, click here