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23rd February 2012
Drawing attention
Title of film: Kahānikār - The Storyteller
Director: Nandita Jain
New Director: Nandita Jain

It was a serendipitous moment for Amazing Spectacles, the animation arm of Prime Focus which has its roots in India, when they saw Nandita Jain’s MA graduation film from the NFTS, and immediately signed her. A clever move indeed for Jain’s short film Kahanikar (The Storyteller) based on Indian mythology went on to win Best Animation award at the LA Shorts Fest and is now a hot ticket on the film festival circuit. We catch up with the young animator in London where she is currently based.

Tell us about your background – and what led you to animation.

Like most children, I loved doodling on walls and as I grew up I think I found various canvases for this unstoppable urge to draw and create things – school textbooks, old cards and letters, pieces of scrap paper. I was also always hungry for stories, old and new, and wouldn’t go to sleep until I had had my fill much to the consternation of my grandparents. There is no dearth of myths, legends and fantastic creatures in Indian folklore but my grandfather would also make up tales of his own adventures in Africa that were equally spellbinding. I think it is from a combination of the pleasure derived from seeing your drawings move and talk and this magical power of being able to tell stories to others that really drew me to animation.

What was your favourite part of making the film?

All of it! Kahanikar was a first for me in many respects. It has been a very enjoyable and rewarding journey right from coming up with the idea, creating characters, designs and backgrounds, translating words into storyboards to working with actors, especially Nishi, who plays Nirmala and really brought the character to life. It was also the first time I was working closely with an actual team wherein each one of us specialized in a certain aspect of filmmaking. Everyone’s creative ideas and enthusiasm really enriched the film. We also got to mix sound on big Euphonix consoles – it was absolutely astonishing to see how much sound changes and adds to our perception of visual imagery.

Please tell us about the animation process and what this involved. Late nights obviously but we’d love to know how you drew it.

The film is a mix of various animation techniques, which were worked together to tell the story effectively. We had three layers of animation – first, the live action backgrounds followed by the hut, which was a scaled tabletop set and then the characters and their imaginations that were entirely digitally drawn. I discovered a pen and tablet when I made my first client film in India in 2006 and have never looked back since. It’s a great tool especially if you like drawing but want to save time on endless hours of scanning and it also saves paper! The animation process, being 2D hand drawn was lengthy, of course, but quite straightforward – I drew frames as separate layers on Photoshop and then put them together on an After Effects timeline.

Your film is rooted in Indian mythology but is accessible by all cultures. Can you imagine working on other animations that have other cultural sensibilities.  Like an English or American commercial? 

Storytelling is part of our innate human nature and it is through stories that we learn about each other. An engaging storyteller is one who has a strong grasp of the narrative, understands the characters and knows how to breathe life into the story. What I find particularly interesting is how storytelling changes from culture to culture and yet stories retain an inherent sense of universality which all of us can connect with. The world is full of stories waiting to be discovered – I want to travel more to learn and create work (commercials, short films, illustrations, features) that speaks across cultures.

Now that you’ve graduated what are your plans? What are you currently up to?

My immediate plan, of course, is to do what I enjoy doing and make a living of it. I have been very lucky that my graduation film, Kahanikar (The Storyteller) has been received very well in the festival circuit and won the Best Animation award at LA Shorts which got it longlisted for the Academy Awards.

I am currently working on a short children’s animation film with Nickelodeon UK about a little tortoise that wants to fly. I would like to work on more short films and commercials in the future and would love to direct a feature film some day.