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Guest Column: Animation allows you to play God: Creative Director, Illumination Production

21-April-2018
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Guest Column: Animation allows you to play God: Creative Director, Illumination Production

The art of animation is still a kind of an art which is shrouded with mystery for many clients and advertising professionals. Lack of real understanding of the process results into untrue preconceived assumptions about it.
Many people still think of animation films primarily when they are catering to kid’s products.
Also, because a computer is instrumental to create animation it is popularly believed that this is a cheap and fast process for magically delivering a film with limited budget and tight deadlines. I have many a time, come across this statement and found myself inadequate to explain that this is not the case.
An animator needs to go through many long excruciating years come to his full potential and master the specific section of the art.
Richard Williams, the multi award winning animator, animation director of ‘Who framed Roger Rabbit’ shares this story in his introductory chapter of his seminal book called ‘The animator’s survival kit’.
Richard had won almost hundred awards when he was around 40. Warner brothers asked him to join their animation department. There he met old Ken Harris, one of the Zen masters of animation from the golden era.
When Ken saw Richard’s work he commented that if Richard can learn how to draw then he might be very good. Award winning, then most sought-after animator, Richard did not take the comment kindly but he wanted to impress the old bird and continue to work hard on improving his animation skills. After almost a year, Ken Harris exclaimed one day looking at his animation, “wow you have started drawing!” Couple of year later Ken commented “I am happy that finally you have started animating! “
After 13 years one day Richard finished an animation shot of Ken while he was taking a nap. When Ken got up and found Richard sitting on his table had finished his shot. Ken went through the shot and appreciated good drawings but then pointed out few flaws. Richard, though frustrated realised Ken was right about the mistakes but he could not hide his frustration and blurted out, “If after 13 long years I cannot master your level of animation then may be the skill should go with you to your grave.”
Through this cautionary tale, Richard warns the future animation students that you have to be crazy to try to become an animator.
Though many might think this example talks about 2D hand drawn animation but today in the world of 3D animation the same skill set might not be required. But all the major studios and animation colleges first teaches the basics of 2D animation. To succeed and excel in 3D animation you need to understand the principles of 2D animation. All the great 3D animated movies we love are based on these same principles.
Animation is a super creative tool which can be used effectively and creatively for a large number of products and services other than kid specific products.
Who can forget the wonderful example of NSPCC’s ‘Real children don’t bounce back’ Campaign? In the commercial you see a young dad comes home in a foul mood and is livid with the kid (a funny looking cartoony animated character). He throttles the kid, punches him and the kid bounces back in a cartoony way. He throws the kid on the wall he slides down like a cartoon character. At the end of the film the angry father finally throws him down the staircase and the cartoony kid bounces down the staircase like a bouncy ball and goes out of frame. After a beat, camera pans down and you discover a real beaten unconscious kid is lying on the steps. The super fades in saying “Real children don’t bounce back”. This chilling film on domestic violence became so effective by the judicious choice of using animated character in the film. 
It takes time to play God.
Animation is a medium which allows you to play God in the truest sense. From every pebble on the road, every leaf on the tree to every stand of the character’s hair have to pre-visualised, created, to create the world where your story will take place. How a character would emote, how to stage a story point each and everything is in your hand.
Imagining breathing life to wire-mesh character with whom the audience would identify, resonate and go through different kind of emotions. It is a laborius proess with a discerning eye for detail. So neither it is easy nor can it be done at a breakneck speed especially if you are looking for a high quality film.
However, animation in advertising provides that special thing which every piece of advertising work wants to attain. 
Attention and high recall. This is for very simple reason.
In animation be it inanimate objects, animals and even human characters, tell the story through magic realism.
We look at Simba, a lion cub in Lion King but see young, innocent loveable kid. We see at Woody in Toy Story and find a man scared whether he would remain the boy’s favourite person. This window of imagination of looking at something but the mind connecting to a human insight inevitably captures audience attention. If the script is well designed with great magic moments then it would get embedded in the memory of the viewer creating the desired ‘high recall.’
I did the first few commercials of Louie for Mortein and instantly it caught on to the imagination of people because it personified a mosquito. It established the brand with great success within a short period of time.
To write for animation requires a certain mindset and certain sensibilities. One needs to have a deeper understanding of magic realism, animation conducive staging and actions that would take the film into a higher level when executed.
Indian animation industry has gone through a sea change in last 10 years.
Unknown too many people who still ventures abroad for better quality of animation are unaware few of the most successful, high quality, ambitious international animation feature films partly are done in India. The Life of Pi, Tinkerbell, the recent 3D Jungle Book, Troll Hunters (one of the most viewed animation web series in the world) was created in India. Dreamworks, Disney and many international animation companies are sourcing out jobs that are getting created in India. To meet the international standards there are score and score of animators have been trained to deliver the internationally accepted quality.
The overall skill set of Indian animation professionals have touched a new high.
So all the toolset and skill sets are teeming with brilliance and for a truly great future all that is required is to take the next leap to create great original content for animation feature films for the international market. But I do not think that day is far away.
For the Indian advertising fraternity it is great news, this is time to test your path-breaking ideas for animation TVCs with these talent powerhouses waiting for you just next door.
(The author is Creative Director, Illumination Productions)
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not in any way represent the views of exchange4media.com.

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