[dropcap]I[/dropcap] like my films to look like paintings that move to tell stories,” says award-winning animator Gitanjali Rao. Her film Printed Rainbow premiered at Cannes 2006 and won three awards for the Best Short film. The filmmaker who has several acclaimed animated commercials to her credit, has also been in the jury at various International Film Festivals including the Cannes Critics’ Week jury for short films in 2011.

The ingenious filmmaker speaks to Pandolin about her latest film, TrueLoveStory, which was selected for the prestigious Cannes Critics’ Week this year and the nuances involved in the making of an animated film.

Gitanjali Rao

You are a self-taught animator. How has the journey been? How would you describe your animation technique?

I studied Art from Sir JJ Inst. Of Applied Art in 1994 and started working at Ram Mohan Biographics where we were trained on the job. The animation was principally conventional but I did get quite a few chances to experiment on different styles and methods of animation through commercial jobs. At this pre-internet and computer age, we animated on celluloid sheets and shot on 35mm film with an Oxberry camera. The process was long and tedious but it taught me the principles and techniques of the medium. I would attend film festivals to learn about film and story. I often acted in student’s films at FTII to be able to watch the films at the archives. I would watch the VHS cassettes of animation films from NFBC (National Film Board of Canada) to learn and understand about experimental and personal animation films. I was fortunate to be able to attend a workshop during the Bombay Film Festval for Shorts, by a Polish animation film maker and teacher, Jerzy Kucia. I proceeded to continue the workshop in Poland a year later. Thus began my journey to evolving my own style and tell stories close to me, through frame by frame painted animation.

Your films deal with very unusual concepts. Is it a conscious decision to go the unconventional way?

My stories deal with things that concern me as a person. Being born and brought up in Bombay, the uncontrolled growth of the city, the large scale migration and its repercussions have played a very important part in my thoughts. These form the stories and concepts of my films where I like the intentions of documentary, live action and animation to fuse together. The medium I use is unconventional I would say, the concepts though are the same as you see in documentaries or fiction in live action.

With your earlier film Printed Rainbow winning international accolades, did things get easier for your other projects?

I thought it would; but no, it hasn’t. I found a lot of interest in my work from producers but they all backed out for different reasons; so although I did start two feature films, I completed none. My next film TrueLoveStory too was self funded, just like Printed Rainbow.

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Still from TrueLoveStory

TrueLoveStory is your second film that went to Cannes. How different was the experience this time around?

I felt the same thrill because the entire selection committee was new and had not seen my earlier work. It’s a great encouragement when you work mostly alone. I felt more experienced this time. I now also understand and can take advantage of the fact that the Critic’s Week selection does not just end with the festival, they help us structure and find finance for our first features. I understand co-production better over the years so I feel more equipped to take full advantage of the selection.

Tell us about the TrueLoveStory

TrueLoveStory  is a glimpse into the influence of Bollywood on real life in Bombay told through animation. Bollywood is a religion in India. People go to the cinemas to forget reality and Bollywood offers that fantasy for a few hours that becomes a religion. Yet, when the same fantasy can be mistakenly believed for reality, the balance is lost. This film is an attempt at demystifying what Bollywood means to many a 17-year-old in love on the streets of Bombay. The film is made using 2D Animation. Painted frame by frame. The film has been styled more like a live action film. The movement of traffic, lights, dust, crowds is used to create the different moods of love, excitement, anxiety, grief and death.

There are no dialogs in your films. Doesn’t it get tougher to convey emotions? What role does sound play in your films?

I choose to not have dialogues in my films. I like them to look like paintings that move to tell stories. It is more challenging, not really difficult, for me to convey emotion without words. Sound is almost as important as the visual in my films. My friend and sound designer PM Satheesh and me share a similar sensibility of sound and he takes over where I cannot, to complete the film. In animation, it is as much sound that starts from silence, as the visual which starts from a blank page, to be transformed into a story.

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Still from TrueLoveStory

As an animator what are the essential elements you have to keep in mind while animating a subject? Which softwares do you work on?

You need to know and understand the movement of every character and object before you start animating. That takes years of practice and experience and a hell of a lot of drawing and painting and observation. Computers and softwares can never aid in gathering or creating this movement in your mind. I need to see every expression and movement before I start drawing or painting. Every color, every light, every shadow. I start with a painting that best describes the mood, emotion and movement of the character and then complete the movement by adding paintings frame by frame. I use Corel Painter for the animation frames. In TrueLoveStory I have used Adobe After Effects for the composite.

On an average how long does it take you to conceptualize and animate a film?

About a year and a half for TrueLoveStory with a team of five, and three years for Printed Rainbow which I made alone.

Can you tell us about the budgets involved in the making of an animated film? 

It’s different for the medium of animation – 2D, 3D . And further upon the style and technique used. It’s impossible to generalize, it’s like asking what is the general budget of making a Bollywood feature film.


Still from Painted Rainbow

You are a one-woman show – writer, director & producer. Does it give you more creative freedom over a project? Have you considered animating stories by other filmmakers?

I haven’t chosen to be this, I have simply had to do everything myself for lack of funds. I am currently developing a film for a French opera from the 19th century, so yes I do work on other authors’ stories whenever I get the chance and if it interests me as well as pays me.

Your film Orange did not clear Censor board regulations but received international acclaim. Does it bother you?

Not in the least. Animation Shorts don’t have a life on the public screen so it has made no difference to me, like not getting a release etc.

The animation industry in India is still in a nascent stage. How does this influence you as an animator/ animation filmmaker?

It doesn’t. I belong to it and yet I feel like an outsider by the nature of my filmmaking. It appears to me like a nascent child in too much of a hurry to grow up and be like big brother Bollywood or Hollywood. We will never get there. Their history is older, they are bigger and better, period. We need to charter our own original Indian way.