ANIFEST India 2015: Dhimant Vyas On Animation In India And 'Shaun The Sheep'!

By Yash Thakur. Posted on September 07, 2015

For any Indian animation enthusiast, the past couple of months has given one to reason and squeal with fangirl/boy delight. The fire-breathing dragons of HBO's megahit series Game of Thrones were born in Goregaon, Mumbai, developed by an Indian subsidiary of an LA-based company Prana Studios. Then there is SS Rajamouli's staggeringly successful Baahubali, whose special effects were created by Hyderabad-based Makuta that generated serious buzz among both critics and audiences. At this year's ANIFEST India, organised by The Animation Society of India (TASI), we spoke to animator Dhimant Vyas, who, among a slew of great work, has worked on Shaun The Sheep series, the opening sequence of Taare Zameen Par and was also the Creative Director at Zynga Games India.

The 11th edition of ANIFEST India, a two day festival took off on the 29th of August. This year's edition with its key-note sessions and films augmented its reputation of being the biggest annual animation festival in the Indian subcontinent. Conducted by TASI every year, the event saw various eminent personalities from the entertainment industry such as illustrator Aditya Chari, production designer Vandana Kataria (Shanghai, Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!) and visual effects designer Srinivas Mohan (Robot, Baahubali).

Scroll down to read Dhimant Vyas talk about the Indian animation industry, his career and his tips for asipiring animators.

1. Could you tell us  bit about your work?

I graduated from NID (National Institute of Design) Ahmedabad in Animation in 1995. After that I freelanced a lot, worked with many studios, including a lot of companies- Tata, Tooz Animation, Zynga etc. Most recently I worked with Aadrman Studio, a multiple Oscar winning animation studio. I was there working on the Creature Comfort series and the popular Shaun The Sheep serial (season 2). Couple of weeks back they released Shaun The Sheep movie, worldwide, in which they cast me as an Indian doctor. As a tribute, they modeled a character after me for which I sent a voice-over too.

2. How did you get into animation?

From the beginning I was very fascinated by animation films and used to watch a lot of them. But I didn't know how to get into it. There were these Walter Foster books on animation that I had which I used to refer to and make my own little animations. One time, when I was still completing my education and our financial status was not-so-good, I borrowed a copy of a Walter Foster book from my teacher and copied it all down in my own book since I didn't have money for xeroxing it (smiles). I continued this practice till I found out that here in my own country itself there's a course for animation!

After college (NID) I learnt stop motion animation, a new technique for me when Joan Ashworth and Catherine Greenhalgh from the UK to conduct a workshop at the campus. After that I got a lot of opportunities to work with stop-motion like for Taare Zameen Par I worked on the dream sequence and the opening credits. This is also where for the first time Claymation (clay animation) was introduced for the first time in Bollywood. Aamir (Khan) was very impressed with the work. The thing with animation if there isn't perfect planning and perfection, you can't go forward. With Aamir it went really well since he gave me a lot of creative freedom.

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3. Tell us about your work with Aardman Studios. How did it begin?

In 2005-06 I had gone to Belfast for a project with another studio where I was introduced to Aardman Studio. They saw my profile and really liked my work. They were working on this show Creature Comfort, which is about animals sound-biting on a specific topic each episode, such as creatures' sporting adventures, Christmas, and visits to veterinarians, featuring the voices of the British public "spoken" by the animals. I worked on this project as an animator for 6 months.

Then they called me on board again for Shaun The Sheep series, on which I worked on for about one and a half years. On Shaun The Sheep I worked on the pre-production, including storyboarding and animation.

4. Why didn't you work on Shaun The Sheep Movie?

The director told me that there's a limited budget and hence there was a small team working on it. Even their local animators from Bristol weren't taken in the team; only the permanent members were selected. But the director remembered that I was highly interested in the project and I got a surprise mail. In the mail, the director told me that there is a character modeled after me and asked me if they could use it. He also found my voice unique so they used that too. I was very happy to get that mail.

The Indian doctor (cameo) is basically me!

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5. Compared to the animation from the rest of the world, Indian animation still slacks a lot. We barely have any memorable animated characters today, barring maybe the likes of Chota Bheem. What do you think is the reason?

There should have been more support from the government and a chain of studios that are passionate about production of animation. We started off with outsourced work, doing work for clients abroad; creative vision would come from there and we would just package it and send it back again. It became like a factory work. Industry just became a money making machine. There were no funds or financial support if we wanted to work on a solo creative project. It's like when you make a film, you need a lot of money and investors. The investors must be one who knows that his/her money will not be recovered immediately. Creativity is a long term game.

For a long time the government also neglected the animation industry. Not many people knew much about it. We get more support from Bollywood than the government. It's all a money minting process. If you look at the top studios around the world: Pixar, Disney, Aardman, Laika Inc. all of them have a creative person as the head, but at the same time, they have a sense of business too. They strive for quality and know that money will come only with quality. Here the mindset is totally different.

6. It was announced that the government will put in 10 crore in the Indian animation industry and that TASI will be funded by the Maharashtra government next year.

It is a great step! I think it will help the subsidies, the effects and DI teams, smaller technicians to a great level. Finally, after TASI, people are seriously thinking about animation. But not just TASI; help will be provided to studios, grants in production in not just animation but other categories as well like gaming, VFX etc.

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7. How's a day in the life of an animator?

Animation is a tough medium. Even if I just close my eyes, all I can see is images. If you are not prepared for it then you are going to have a tough time. After a point your mindset becomes such that whatever you can imagine can come to life. You are like a God. One can make as many fantasy worlds as he/she wants. You never know when you are working and when you are relaxing; it all seems the same! (laughs). During Taare Zameen Par we used to work for almost 18-20 hours a day for 2 months everyday, all for a 3 min sequence. But it never felt like it was a burden, or I wanted to get away from it.

In the morning when I wake up I start with warm-up drawings. Here you can sketch anything, keep doodling just to get oneself into the zone.

8. Tips for young and aspiring animators

Mainly, one should focus on expanding their imagination. The industry, as an induvidual requires a lot of hard work, so be prepared for that. Don't dive into work with only thoughts about the money. Making good films and watching great films is a must. More importantly, be observant. It's the main tool for animation. No matter where you're sitting, a bus stand or a restaurant, with your observation, you can bring it alive on the screen. Finally, appreciate all art, because all art is important and India has way too many varieties to miss it.

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9. What are you currently working on? What is in the pipeline?

Last year there was an exhibition of my paintings in the Jehangir Art Gallery, Mumbai. Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra and Nandita Das inaugurated it and that is where I found out that he is making a film titled Mirziya. He told me that he really like my style of painting and he decided to use it in his film. I have done some visualizations for the film and his artists did the paintings.

In September, there will be another painting exhibition, which is essentially a series of paintings. It will be showcased in Indian Art Festival, Nehru Centre Art Gallery from 26th-29th November and after that in other art galleries.


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