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Primitive methods of animation had their own charm, says ‘Father of Indian Animation’


Indian audiences may have been introduced to American animation films as early as the early 20th century, but the country took long time to produce its own animation films.

“We started production of animation films really late, to be precise after Independence, even though Prabhat Films, Pune and Gemini Studios, Madras had earlier tried their hand at this genre”, said Ram Mohan, celebrated Indian animator and filmmaker fondly referred to by the epithet ‘Father of Indian Animation.’

Addressing a Master Class on the topic ‘Toon Talk’ at the ongoing International Film Festival of India 2014, Mohan recalled the 12 years during the 1950s and 1960s when he worked in the cartoon films unit of Films Division, his stint at Prasad Pictures that was headed by the filmmaker L V Prasad, and finally, the establishing of Ram Mohan Biographics in 1972, Graphiti Multimedia in 1995, and Graphiti School of Animation in 2006.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the government considered the medium of animation ideal for communicating with the largely illiterate population that was unfamiliar with cinema.

“The government had set up cartoon film unit in the Films Division as a medium of social communication to tackle issues ranging from compost pits to malaria”, Mohan said.

“Fortunately for me, Clair Weeks of Walt Disney Studios arrived in India to train the unit staff in animation techniques and was in India for one-and-a-half year,” he said. What was really unfortunate, Mohan said, was that after Clair, no such expert visited the Films Division.

The octogenarian animator said that during his stay in the coastal town of Mangalore, the local library subscribed to magazines such as ‘Punch’ and ‘The New Yorker’, which carried cartoons, and the same helped him years later when he worked as animator. “During the making of animation films in the Jurassic era of animation in India, we, unlike today, had to use primitive tools including pen, paper and pencil, and had to work painstakingly, frame by frame,” he said, “However, in animation films, hand drawn pictures have their own charm and are much more versatile in terms of line, colour and body proportions.”

Today, since every animator uses the same computer software, like for example Maya, the spirit of innovation and adventure is less, he said.

Mohan, who was honoured with the Padma Shri earlier this year, also said that the process of 3D animation is much more complex, especially in areas like modeling, texturing and rigging.

The doyen of the Indian animation industry said that if animators want to narrate Indian stories to audiences, then the characters would have to subscribe to our sensibilities. “To cite an example, when the characters designed by Japanese team for ‘Ramayana: The Legend of Prince Rama’, the Indo-Japanese animation feature film based on the famous Indian epic, produced in 1992 and co-directed by me, first came to me, they looked like characters from ‘Manga’, the Japanese comic book, and hence had to be redone as per Indian sensibilities.”

Recalling the making of the first short animation film by Films Division – ‘The Banyan Dear’, Mohan said that story telling, designing of characters and finally performances, of which the last was the most difficult, formed the three main aspects of animation filmmaking. He also narrated the memories of his visit to Canada in 1967 for the World Animation Expo where he, for the first time, was exposed to split screen and multiple image techniques of animation.

“And then at the Films Division we had regular Saturday screenings of animation films from Czechoslovakia and East Europe, which taught us a lot, as they used more miming than dialogues”, the senior animator said. He said that all his education came from such experiences, unlike today’s short courses on animation.

The Master Class audiences were also treated to a documentary on the training received by the staff of the Films Division from Clair Weeks, besides animation films by Mohan including ‘Baap re Baap’ (1969) and ‘You Said It’ (1972).

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