Monday, November 2, 2009

Animation at NID: A brief History

Chitrakatha 2009 and the memories from NID's animation journeys

Prof. M P Ranjan

With the CNBC TV18 bestowing a singular honor by recognizing Sekhar Mukherjee as India’s animation teacher of excellence through their Golden Cursor Excellence in Animation Awards conferred on him 8 May 2009 at a glittering function in Mumbai we get an opportunity to look back at the stirrings of animation in India and how it set roots at NID.

Image01: The CNBC TV 18 award to Sekhar Mukherjee has finally brought some recognition to NID teachers in Animation Design discipline. We can review this in the backdrop of the Chitrakatha 2009 events at NID over the past three days.

This is a brief but incomplete history of the valiant efforts made at NID over the years to establish an animation based profession in India, the first institute to take up this challenge. Jayanthi Sen in her article in Animation World Network ion 19 October 1999 maps the origins of animation in India with the arrival of the Cartoon Film Unit at the Films Division set up buy the Government of India. In the mid 50’s they brought Disney Studio maestro, Claire Weeks to train the first batch of trained animators for the Indian scene. The story of NID’s contribution to Indian animation has not been written and I do hope that some serious research scholar will take up this challenge and articulate the epic journey from its origins in 1963 when the Oxbury camera came to NID to the Chitrakatha 2009 and beyond.

Image02: Animation heros seen at the Chitrakatha 2009 event on the NID campus at Paldi. Each of them a leader in the field and with many successful films to their credit.

However in 1961 NID was set up at Ahmedabad and very early in its development the Visual Communication programmes were established with the offering of the first Post Graduate Programme that started in 1963. Amongst the first batch was Ishu Patel who having joined the programme to study Graphic Design gravitated to learning animation after a foundation in Graphics from the master Armin Hoffman. While he was a student at NID two animators came to NID and made a great little film in the mid 60’s called Swimmy. Leo Leonni and Gulio Gianini were assisted by Ishu Patel, Mahendra C Patel, Vikas Satwalekar and I S Mathur, all first generation students at NID in the Visual Communication programme.

Image03: Chitrakatha 2007 showcased NID animation and set the stage for a broader recognition of NID’s contributions to the field of animation film making in India over the years.

Ishu Patel studied Graphics at Basel under Armin Hoffman and in 1970 was deputed to the National Film Board of Canada to study animation. This started a life long passion for animation and a long string of great experimental films made both at NID as well as at the NFBC which he joined full time in 1972. He returned to India each year to share his work at the Institute and many NFBC films came into the NID archives most notable of which are the fine collection from Norman McLaren and later from Ishu Patel himself. Saul Bass and Charles and Ray Eames too were highly influential in the early years in shaping the directions of animation at NID through screenings of their work on a regular basis in the NID auditorium.

Ishu Patel on Wikipedia
Leo Leoni on Wikipedia
Gulio Gianini on Wikipedia
Charles and Ray Eames on Wikipedia
Saul Bass on Wikipedia
National Film Board of Canada on Wikipedia

Image04: Scenes from Chitrakatha 2009 at NID campus between 29th and 31st October 2009.

The next generation of NID students included R L Mistry and Narayanbhai Patel who took to animation and illustration through their long career as student and later teachers NID. Narayanbhai experimented with paper sculpture based animations while R L Mistry explored many styles of illusrtration and developed his art to a very high level of perfection and achieved the distinction of getting the National Award for his film the national Highway from the President of India. After Ishu Patel left NID in 1972 it was R L Mistry who took up the major responsibility of teaching animation to students at NID and there were a steady stream of interested candidates who loved the medium and wished to explore but the funding was limited and hard to find and the Oxbury camera was available only in limited periods due to cost of operation. NID’s exhibition design projects brought in many opportunities for the animation activity and the education programme too legitimized the periodic use of the medium for basic exercises that were many.

R L Mistry on NID website : A book by Prakash Moorthy

Image05: Additional scenes from Chitrakatha 2009 at NID campus between 29th and 31st October 2009.

The next batch of NID animators included Nina Sabnani, Binita Desai and Chitra Sarathy who joined NID as informal learners in short term programmes offered by the department and International consultants were present to conduct some of the programmes for these students at NID. The trio spent a period of experimental work in Calcutta with the Graphic Designer Raghunath Goswami who experimented with the medium for social communication tasks as part of his studio in the Eastern India. NID produced a intermediate technology animation stand for use with a stop frame movie camera and this stand was shifted to Calcutta for use by the NID animators in Goswami’s office. Late 70’s and the early 80’s found Ashoke Chatterjee at the helm of NID as its Director and he insisted on the use of animation for developmental comminication of a variety of types. He managed to get the Ministry of Health to invest in NID animation abilities and Nina Sabnani produced a series of films on the subject of maturation of the girl child and child birth and the associated health issues. In the 80’s and 90’s animation was used extensively for making many short instructional films for screening at the NID designed theme exhibitions such as the Energy pavilion in 1983 that was headed by Vikas Satwalekar. However in spite of these successful demonstrations funding from Government sources was hard to come by and it was back to education assignments to keep the Oxbury camera busy through the year.

Binita Desai made a presentation about 20 years of NID animation at Chitrakatha 2007 and the link here shows her talk in summary on the blog All About Animation:

The UNDP programme of support for the Institute in late 80’s saw the arrival of some support for the animation programme at NID by way of international consultants and travel and study opportunities for NID faculty. Nina and Binny having joined the faculty were deputed to the UK to study animation under Roger Noake while their initial training was provided by Claire Weeks at NID. After their return Nina and Binny got involved in animation education and in making occasional demonstration films and work on a variety of projects that included animation skills such as the animated symbols for the Doordarshan TV channels. The next generation of students included both those in the Post Graduate programme as well as students for the Under Graduate programme at NID. With the arrival of digital technology in the 90’s the field of animation received a great deal of interest in India and the spread of Television across India also brought in new opportunities for the NID animation students. The music channels provided internship opportunities and soon a flood of employment opportunities came their way and Bombay studios gave many of our students professional placement. The other major employer was the IT interactive media industry that took students for gaming and new media product applications and numerous diploma projects were sponsored by industry and these gave a new edge to the animation activity at the institute. I hope that some of these stories will be documented and shared in the days ahead and I am happy that the two Chitrakatha episodes of 2007 and 2009 have given our alumni a platform to share their journeys.

Image06: Stills from the trailer of “Arjun” an animated feature film being directed and produced in Mumbai by Arnab Choudhury and Pavan Buragohain for the UTV Productions due for release early in 2010.

The NID animation department has produced many champions of Indian animation and their story too needs to be told at some length, hopefully after a good deal of research since there is much to be said here. However I am aware of some of these cases since these students have been in touch with me over the years and I have been watching their progress as young professionals and now as accomplished animators that India has to offer to the world. This group includes many individuals and here I can only mention a few that I am aware of in some detail. They include Prakash Moorthy, Umesh Shukla, Dhimant Vyas, Vaibhav Kumaresh, E Suresh, Arnab Choudhury and Pavan Buragohain. I do hope that the others will share what they are up to these days and tell us about the exciting projects that they have on hand, a bit of which we were able to glimpse during the Chitrakatha 2009 that just concluded at NID between 29th to 31st October 2009. Besides the international presenters from Mexico and China we had some from experts from industry and education from Kolkatta, Mumbai and Ahmedabad. However bulk of the presentations were from the NID graduates who are making waves in India across a number of media sectors from advertising, TV entertainment, game design, childrens animation, edutainment, and most exciting of all mainstream feature length animation due to hit the stands shortly. Student animators too showcased their work across many sectors and entries were screened from many nations during the three days as part of the student competition entries that were judged by a panel of jurors and awarded at the end of the event. Others who came to NID for the event include Sheetal Sudhir and Manish Sehrawat of Channel V and Sanjay Jangir, a recent NID graduate showed his Diploma film that was feated at film festivals in Canada, Switzerland and Japan recently.

Pavan Buragohin on the web link:

A note about the making of “Arjun” screening at NID during the Chitrakatha 2009 that appeared in the Ahmedabad Mirror.

Sanjay Jangir web link for Raah:

Image07: An exhibition about Comic Books on the sidelines of the Chitrakatha 2009 at the NID Gallery and other related events exploring the role of Comics in national education of the future.

While the most exciting presentation for me personally was the screening of the making of “Arjun” which promises to be the first ever full length feature animation film to be produced by a group of NID animators and that too as a fully indigenous production effort. This was particularly interesting since Arnab Choudhury shared the design process and the stages through which the film had to be visualized with the use of live action to discover both characters as well as postures and action sequences, dramatization of the theme and scenes, and the followup articulation with sketches and diagrams of key figures, characters and scenes so that these could be passed on to the production stage in a coherent manner involving a vast group of service providers without compromising the quality and intention of the designers involved. This process promises to create a solid foundation for a vibrant animation industry in India that delivers compelling products instead of just BPO type finishing touches to international producers. Further the quality and impact of the presentation was such that many of us left the auditorium feeling that the team had a Oscar quality film in the making, we wish the team all the very best in the days ahead. NID animation has finally arrived at the national stage and that too with a big bang!! Other young designers are in the ranks and they will be able to dream big and have the conviction to take on the Bollywood producers and money bags who have been sitting on the sidelines so far in the days ahead I am sure. Government of India could do well to find and channel venture funding for the young creative animation producers and this will speed up the process of seeding a fantastic industry based on design talent in India of the future.

I was invited by Sekhar Mukherjee to sit in on a panel discussion on the topic of the role Comic Books in Education in India. The discussions were quite stimuilating and there is indeed a role that Comics will and can play in the days ahead. I mentioned the book by Scott McCloud called “Understanding Comics” which I have been reading with great interest for the theory that it provides us and also about TED talks where Scott McCloud gives us an insight into the world of Comics that is both informative as well as entertaining.

Prof. M P Ranjan


  1. Aditi,You,Mr.Mathur, Vikas Satwalekar, Ashoke Chatterjee, Binita, Bina Sabnani, and a host of NID faculty and students that I have come across between 1979 till the present have greatly enriched my vision and expanded my repertorie of blending humour, serious social messages through animation in the work that I do with children and adolescents.
    My children fondly remember Swimmy and a lot of other animation films down the line .
    My hearty congratulations on your and other's efforts in a continuos journey of enriching peoplles lives and their perspectives.
    Congratulations to all of you at NID and my best wishes for this on going effort.
    Dr. D M Rao

  2. MP Ranjan’s history of NID is a laughable exercise. Only the women reading this patriarchal and sexist narrative will realise that the joke, intentionally or otherwise, is on all the women who built design as an imagination in India.

    Ranjan thinks that history is a club; and a visual one at that. He awards membership like CBEs and MBEs were awarded in an earlier era. If one looks at his history of animation, one would think that design was born through parthenogenesis. Autopoetics is a word Ranjan wouldn’t know about anyway. He seems to think history begins in the present, with the current functionaries of the department. He then traces history back to a few male members, as if all the women present in that era were absentee by definition. Nina Sabnani, Chitra Sarathy and Binita Desai are mere hangers-on. Of course, for Ranjan, anyone who dreamt NID, but stood against its authoritarianism is a non-person. But Ranjan-speak is a poor version of Orwell-speak. Orwell knew what literacy was about. There is a difference between Koshy and ‘kosher’.

    Memory is often destroyed by print. Print freezes memory into a simple reductionist narrative. For anyone who recollects that era however, animation was literally provided as woman who experimented, improvised, cajoled; who created design and a world of animation with hope, professionalism and shoe-string. Ranjan’s history is an exercise in amnesia. The history of all the pedagogic experiments in film is non-existent in his account. The search for the language of animation is undoubtedly too tacit for a formal text-book mind like MP Ranjan to grasp. One is faced with a sad choice: Either Ranjan writes a patriarchal wimp’s narrative of those who survived a particular era, or he is particularly devious in presenting a personalised history of biases and omissions as an authoritative version.

    Ranjan’s is not a ‘brief’ history, it is the history of a brief. But in this case, brevity is the soul of a half-wit. We are all for debate and transparency, and washing dirty bamboos in public.

    Cheers, Ranjan. There’s little that you’ve learnt from Sloterdjik and Latour, but a few open discourses might change the tenor of your patriarchy.

    Keep it up, boys! I’ll leave what the ‘it’ means to all of you

  3. Dear Anonymous friend and well-wisher (?) of NID's women designers

    Greetings from the heart. I hope their story is told in full and you may want to contribute here or elsewhere to fill in the gaps that you have researched and realised through your association with us or them.

    However, I may disappoint you in stating that I do know Peter Sloterdjik and Bruno Latour since I met the former in person in Ulm Germany after his lecture that I attended in 2005 and was introduced to the work of Bruno Latour through his lecture to the Design History Society on the 3rd September 2008, very insightful and with deep understanding of design that many others fail to demonstrate, particularly from those coming from a technology or even a social science background. I can send you the paper if you wish to inform yourself about Latour and his view of both design and Sloterdjik since both come together in the title of that paper.

    I do agree that too few lines were assigned to women animators from NID and there are many others here besides the three mentioned specifically in my post above and I will ask my colleagues to fill in the gaps in the discourse when they get down to doing a more detailed and inclusive writing of history that you propose. I do hope it is done in the near future particularly since NID is entering its 50th year since its inception and many stories I hope will be told in the context of the celebrations that are inevitable.

    My own views do not change and I am sure you will enlighten us about your personal role in the animation drama at NID in the days ahead.

    M P Ranjan
    from my office at NID
    5 November 2009 at 8.05 pm IST

  4. Dear Prof. Ranjan,

    While one admires your dedication to NID, your understanding of design is either absent-minded or wilfully neglectful. It is not just the present that you disfigure. Your understanding of the past is miserable. The ancestry of NID goes back a whole matriarchy of women. The roll call includes Pupul Jaykar, Kamla Chaudhary, Girabehn, Kamladevi, Kamlini, Helena, Madhurima Patni (Gitto to you), Aditi Shirali, Krishna Amin. Such an erasure reminds me in fact, of Walter Gropius’(no I did not know him personally), attitude to woman. In the initial years Gropius would not let women study architecture. He felt they were made for weaving. So too at NID. (As an aside, all the women listed above have been associated with weaving! Don’t miss the thread of my argument.) Women were tacitly or not so tacitly prevented from studying product design, with a few sturdy exceptions like Neelam (you would remember her as a collaborator) and Rashmi Korjan. The point I am making is that you are part of a trend that is overtly or absent-mindedly dismissive of the competence of women and their creativity. Sadly, the answer you gave that you have met Sloterdijk is not the answer. Meet who you like, but do read them occasionally. Claims to literacy often disguise a true lack of education.

    Warmly or homely,

    Where history nibbles at its best.

    Since you love recommending readings here is one I saw at the Berkeley Library:

    Hope to see you next when I am that side. OHM is far away from home.

  5. Dear self declared Anonymouse and champion of women at NID and the Bauhaus.

    I am aware that there is a very strong class system that permits only the very qualified to write history and to critique the progress of ideas and events as they unfold. Unfortunately I have no such qualification but I shall brave on in the face of severe criticism from the likes of you. But the web has helped break down the permit Raj to quite an extent and the media is no longer controlled by the owners of the qualifications and by ownership and membership into a particular class.

    I would believe that you are both qualified as well as articulate to complete a balanced and inclusive history of NID and its champions and I would urge you to disclose what you know and state the "facts" as you know it. I am yet to write a distinctive history of NID's women on this blog but that does not mean that I have been selectively deriding them as you seem to be suggesting and insinuating. Let us hear what you have to say.

    By the way my knowledge is mostly from the field and reading is a second line of defence. I prefer direct field work and meeting face to face is as valuable for me as reading a book. Try and listen to some one speak and you will understand many nuances from the words as well as from the gesture and the intonation that cold words in a book fail to invoke. However I do love reading and I must get a list of childrens text book on the subjects that you advocate so that I can work my way up from there to reading the original texts which I am sure will be beyond me if there is no introduction.


    M P Ranjan
    from my office at 3.33 pm on 12 November 2009

    By the way, I just got back from beautiful Kovalam beach resort in Kerala from a seminar on design and about the setting up of the KSID (Kerala State Institute of Design), the men sat on one side and women on the other, some crossed the ranks and things seem to be changing there as well. This is the subject of another post.

  6. Excellent Post!! Wonderful history!! Thanks for sharing with us!! Congrates!!

  7. I have been visiting various blogs for my term papers writing research. I have found your blog to be quite useful. Keep updating your blog with in valuable information... Regards


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