‘Figures’ by Advait Rajadhyaksha

‘Figures’ by Advait Rajadhyaksha
AG:Tell us about yourself. Your background, journey and what got you to this day.
Hello everyone! I am Advait Rajadhyaksha. I was born, as well as currently reside in Mumbai. I graduated from MIT Institute of Design, Pune in 2020 in the field of Animation Film Design. I usually prefer calling myself an artist rather than an animator or a designer, possibly because I love how vague the term artist is. It encapsulates an infinite amount of fields, a very jack-of-all-trades sort of feeling which I appreciate a lot.
My first art teacher, Leena Teacher, as I referred to her, was a very vital part of my journey. She and her loving family essentially nurtured me into becoming an artist. I still remember, I’d often reach the class an hour late and then bargain with her about the subject of the day. She would want me to try nature drawing or sceneries while I would always want to draw Pokémons. Finally we’d strike a deal where I would first draw a few fruits and then a Charlizard and then the other fruits in the basket. The hours would go well beyond the dedicated timings and then I would sit with her entire family, watching the Adventures of Tintin or Popeye while having breakfast. I always felt like a part of the family. A good teacher is very important in life.
Growing up, I was never good at studies or sports. As a result I neither fit in with the popular crowd nor the nerds. I would just be in my space doodling random things in my books. And while I didn’t have trophies to show for football tournaments or a perfect above ninety percentage on my mark sheet, I always won one of the top three spots in every single art competition I took part in. After passing my 12th in science (thankfully), I was very close to pursuing architecture before I was introduced to design. At that time I was courting the idea of industrial design, with product and transportation as my two main paths. But with foundation, that quickly changed to communication and a year later I found myself in animation. Not a field I was passionate about at the time, but I decided to give it a shot because I was enjoying it. I am glad I did. And a few years later, here we are!
AG:How did this project begin?
Well this year was certainly one of the toughest years I had. My life seemed to have halted, in a sense. One night, feeling overwhelmed with a lot of emotions I set out for a smoke. I found myself on a dark lonely bus stop almost around midnight with nothing to do. I just stared here and there, watching the busy city that never sleeps pass by me. I had been wanting to get back into painting, into something that makes me happy. I even thought of animating something but I was always waiting for a big good story that never came. As time passed I started noticing tiny things like a couple of bats fighting for a spot on a cable, elsewhere a man paced in his room talking loudly on the phone. Somewhere a rat was on a mission to grab a piece of food on the streets while a cat stalked the area. I realised that so many tiny stories are unfolding in front of me every minute, I am just very oblivious to them.
Gia Margaret is an indie American musician from Chicago. I have been following her music for more than a year now. Her music, classified as Sleep / Ambient Rock is meant to be a way of relaxing and being at peace. It has helped heal me emotionally and mentally on many occasions. I always wanted to thank her for it and I always wanted to make a music video. In that moment I knew I had a potential project in front of me. I found out that soon her very first album “There’s Always Glimmer” would complete three years. It all just added up. It all made sense.
AG:What is the story?
-The idea of this music video, much like the song, was to highlight the simple small moments in life. Walking around the house, taking a metro, looking at the city in moonlight might not sound like a sight to behold but they are each made significant and sacred, worthy of examination and preservation. The visuals depict a strange bittersweet spot in our lives, caught in-between a feeling of longing and acceptance. A story of reminiscence and familiarity. A story of being alone in a sea of people told through snippets of a night where one person looks back and remembers someone very close to their heart, almost highlighting an unease in their life with a strangely comforting composition. That someone could be anyone . . . a friend, a family member or a significant other. The vagueness of this entity is a factor that I believe makes this song and music video an interesting and easily relatable piece of art. When we are left alone amidst the shadows and the echoes of our memory, this video exists to fill the darkness and the quiet.
AG:Tell us about the research.
Researching this project was one of the most fun and easy things to do. I had a blueprint of the entire film imprinted in my brain. I knew what I wanted and how I wanted it. Most of my research included long walks at night with my friends where I would stop randomly, clicking pictures of some interesting windows, ones with good building structure or lighting or interior and so on. I also took the metro back and forth for hours, collecting data and visual references of the colours, the way the landscape outside the window moved, how the metro interior looked. I sat with a phone in front of me, recording the people walking by, some sitting in front of me staring at my antics, some sitting there minding their own business. My knowledge in music videos certainly helped planning the aesthetics of the film. Songs like Too Late and Climb On Your Tears by The Paper Kites also proved to be great reference points for me.
AG:Tell us about the style chosen and why did you go with this direction? Tell us about the thought process?
I have for a long time been fascinated by traditional forms of animation, both 2D and 3D. Claymation, Pixilation, Stop Motion, Pencil drawn, Glass Animation, Sand Animation and so on. Prior to this particular project I had been wanting to get back into painting for a while and this seemed like the correct opportunity. I had been dreaming of trying out something inspired by Glass Animation. But another very vital thing about films is the budget, since all of these are my own personal projects, I try to make the best out of the least. Due to monetary reasons, I swapped glass with OHP sheets, which gave me the same translucent feel in the film at a cheaper rate. But that changes the way of animation too. I used acrylic colours on it. My plan was to repaint every scenario five times so as to create a boil using the brush strokes. The whole idea was to have a constant feel of movement and motion in even the stillest of frames and shots. I did succeed in checking my monetary goals as well, having spent less than 5000 Rupees on equipment like colours, OHPs and scans. And as you can see the experiment and the risk turned out to be worth it.
AG:Share with us the production process thoughts and notes?
Well I think the biggest upside of this project was I had the final sound ready even before I started animation. It was a simple schedule. The first step was to prepare the pre-visualizations of each scene. There were three scenes in total, a room seen from a window, the inside of a metro and a cityscape on a starry night. First, I took a couple days to gather as many references as I could, then digitally created the scenes in Adobe Photoshop. Set up an animatic in Adobe After effects. Then I put the brush to the OHP and painted all these scenes, got them scanned, enhanced them visually in Photoshop and animated the whole thing in After Effects. But it definitely wasn’t as simple a process as it sounds.
AG:What were the challenges?
-There were quite a few challenges and hurdles in this project. Minor fears were born from venturing into an unknown territory or the fact that I hadn’t really painted for almost seven years. But I would like to talk about my top four issues.
The first and the biggest of them all was Father Time. I first thought of this project on 22nd June and I actually started working on it by 25th of June. The film was supposed to be a gift to the musician Gia Margaret on the three year anniversary of this album, and the anniversary date was 27th of July. I essentially had a month to make an entire music video from scratch.
My second challenge was to actually sit down and paint. As I have said before, I believe myself to be a decent painter but neither had I ever painted on an OHP sheet, nor had I ever extensively used acrylic colours in my painting. I am more of a watercolour guy. So not only was I racing against time, I was doing so in a relatively unknown territory and that too after seven years. But after a few rage quits and chucking away a few OHPs in frustration, I started to get the hang of it. I also invented new ways of selective painting to strike a perfect balance between raw and digital, so as to save time and effort, but not lose on the feel and the quality.
My third challenge was to get the OHPs scanned. Many of the scanning places were unsure of scanning an OHP and those who did, gave some worrisome outputs. I finally found a place that would scan my work and make it look a bit bearable. It had its own set of setbacks, with sometimes the scans being improper, parts of it cut, sometimes they would scan the wrong side of the OHP, the black had a blue tinge to it and all the texture was lost in it somewhere. After my first scans I gave up for a few hours, everything halted and I didn’t know what to do. But then I put it in Photoshop, chugged some coffee and played around with the levels and colours and I was able to bring out everything that I wanted. Once I figured that out, this problem was quickly dissolved.
My final challenge, something we all are extremely familiar with, Adobe After Effects’ loving and humble habit to crash unexpectedly at the worst possible time. But then again when is it ever a good time to crash? I had a bit of an extreme confrontation with these crashes. They didn’t happen more than once during my animating period. But when I put it to render, it would crash after every 50 frames and on reopening it would glitch around 500 frames near the crashed part. So when after some tearful and painstaking 48 hours of jugaad I finally managed to work my way around it, I lit a diya to all the gods in my home.
AG:How did you manage your time? What were the deadlines?
It was a tight project. I had exactly a month to wrap up a project set in a completely unexplored territory. I took only a couple days to research and collect references. There was no scripting necessary and I chose to work past the whole character design phase primarily because of the use of silhouettes for most of the film. I immediately got into designing the scenes. The backgrounds, the look, the light, everything had to be visually pleasing and calming. I gave it a fair amount of time, a little over a week. But when I had it ready, I had essentially achieved a big part of the visuals. A day after that to fix the animatic and I finally started painting. I would paint one scene and then scan it and animate it before moving onto the next. The start was slow, having to figure out a lot of things including the use of acrylic, the way OHP reacts to the colours, the look of the scans and so on. Initially I would paint 3-5 OHPs per day but once I got the hang of it I churned out up to 15 per day. After painting about a 100 sheets I finally wrapped up my backgrounds with animation on 23rd July. It was a little too tight at that point as I planned to wrap it up by the 25th. I used the next 72 hours to make characters, three silhouettes and one main character, done digitally but mixed with a pre-existing library of acrylic scans. Another 100 or so frames of animation were drawn in total with the characters using straight ahead animation and I managed to wrap the entire film by 26th July noon. And then to render and put it out in the world.
AG:How was the response from the audience?
Completely surreal. Even now when I look back at what all this music video has given me, I ask myself “Is this a dream?” I was not expecting such a good response. I was off social media for half a month, focusing on this project, giving it my all. Only a handful of people had any clue what I was up to. I finished my render and within an hour I put it up on Instagram as the first personal project on my work account Schrödinger’s Studio. I shared it personally with my close ones on WhatsApp and put up a story of it on my Private Account. Within minutes my buddies saw it, liked it and shared it with people they knew and so on.
I really wanted Gia Margaret to see it. It was after all meant as a thank you gift to her. But hers is a verified Instagram account with around 15K followers so it seemed like a stretch to reach her. I didn’t know how to either, so I just tagged her in the post, without being too hopeful of her seeing it. And as if the universe heard my wishes and said here you go! Within an hour of posting it she saw it. She absolutely loved it. She commented on it, “This is so wonderful!” She even shared it on her own Instagram story with the caption “Incredible”. And while I was busy doing a long and fulfilling victory dance she sent me a text and we spoke for a bit. She also requested me to share the video with her and that made my day.
The video even brought me a few connections with like minded artists and a whole lot of positivity and motivation to keep going. And as a cherry on top, here we are with my first ever interview! I always wanted to have an article with AGI. Another small dream made a reality by Figures. This video seems like a gift that just keeps on giving. Completely worth it.
AG:Tell us more about your work.
Well, the Figures Music Video is the first work I have created under the label of Schrödinger’s Studio. Before this I was working as a Communication Designer in Trip Creative Services, a design house based in Mumbai. I was an intern there and then I went on to work full time for two years during which I worked on some very interesting big-scale projects like Car Launch Campaigns, Corporate AVs, TV Content and In-show Graphics, Branding and so on. It was a completely different experience during which I got to see the corporate side of animation and design, and learn about working with clients. I branched out to Graphic Design as well as being an Assistant Director on Set for some Ad Films. A great and fun learning curve. And even though it sounds so different from what I am planning ahead, it is still quite intertwined. For example many of the skills that helped me in making the Figures Music Video stem from whatever I learnt at Trip. A special shoutout here to Arun Kishor for always helping me with After Effects. With Trip though, it didn’t feel like I was completely cut off from the film making world, as I ended up making a couple of digitally animated 2D short films for their passion project, Folktales of India, a YouTube series highlighting the rich culture and art forms of India. The folktales I made hailed from Karnataka and Tamil Nadu and respectively told the stories of a two headed bird lost in anger and a demon being tricked by a smart woman - the former was crowned the Best Animation Film at Calcutta International Cult Film Festival and was also screened across a few film festivals worldwide.
Before Trip, I worked on three short films during my college days. The first was a claymation film called Out Of The Blue, a short gag about two sets of father-son fishermen quarrelling amongst each other. This group project was my first major short film and it went on to win the Bronze Award in Europe’s prestigious A’ Design Awards and was showcased for an event in the MOOD Design Museum in Italy. My second film was another group project, a digitally 2D animated short film about a schoolgirl and the events that transpired in her day, titled Nothing Much. This short film too ended up winning a few awards and got screened at multiple film festivals. My third and final film in college was titled NYCT, a silent stop-motion short film based on nyctophobia, the fear of darkness.
AG:Tell us about upcoming projects.
Well I have some really interesting experiments planned. I have potentially up to seven short films that I have thought of. Many of these stem from an idea. A scene, sometimes. I see something and think I want to create this particular thing in my short film and then weave a story around it. Sometimes I think about a material and how it would look on screen. What if I put some chalk on skin tinted cartridge papers? Stuff like that. So I do have about seven-ish projects in my head, in various stages of scripting. And all kinds of genres and mediums too. I think my next short film which I am scripting as we speak, is a short RomCom based on a true story a friend of mine told me a while ago. And as far as the looks of it are concerned, I take a bus down the nostalgia lane and try out some good old oil pastels on paper, like I did in school.
AG:What sort of stories do you like to tell?
-I absolutely love to tell slice-of-life sort of stories. Very simple and mundane. I believe that every single little thing we do in life is beautiful and deserves that attention, respect and preservation. Just like my materials and my visual form of animation, I feel these small down to earth stories are more real, relatable and tangible. I dabble through different genres but I usually weave a story around the incidents I see, experience or hear. In short, if you ask me to pick between Interstellar and The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty, I’d pick Mitty, because to me it feels tangible.
AG:Tell us about your new studio.
-Schrödinger’s Studio! I am secretly very proud of that name. Back in late 2018 I decided to create an art account for my animations during college time. But I was and still am fairly inactive on social media. So it was always a gamble to create this account. A friend of mine once asked me “You are creating this account but will you actually ever post?” I said “I don’t know! Let’s see. I am creating it now but will it be alive and active or dead and still, who knows! It’s like Schrödinger’s cat. It’s Schrödinger’s Studio!” And that is how the name came to be. And it was dead in the water for almost four years. Until now…
Jokes apart, this studio has taken a very special turn. With this studio I plan to explore the traditional art forms. Experiment with various materials and forms of narratives. I have always believed that we are all storytellers and how we choose to tell our stories can always vary, be it an animated film, a live-action, a still, a painting or even music. If you see the Schrödinger’s Studio logo, you will see a circle around the S. It is a Zen symbol called Enso. It has various meanings but the two meanings I love and I want to use as a motto for this studio is, “A moment when the mind is free to let the body create” and “To find the beauty in the imperfect”. Schrödinger’s studio is a space where I create without any restrictions. In this there is no ‘perfect’ art. The strokes, the shabbiness, the raw feeling of going back to square one is the beauty of being imperfect that I plan to bring out, build on and support.
For now, I only have Figures as our first and only film. But I have plans to release a new film every month, a new experiment every month. But when I explore a material and a visual form / treatment, I don’t just stop with one short film. The plan is to put out something new every week. When I see a good film, I sometimes wonder how it was made. With Schrödinger’s Studio, I release the film then a few videos follow which give insights on the work-in-progress, shot-breakdowns and behind-the-scenes of it. After that, three short and simple reels are released in the same medium, exploring it a bit further. And as I said it’s not just an animation studio, it’s an art studio. Soon it will expand to explore paintings, prints, sculptures, cross-stitching artworks and animation devices like phenakistoscopes, kaleidoscopes, etc. And hopefully as it grows we could open up a small shop and take it forward from there. Fingers crossed. But that is still a long way to go. Excited!
AG:What do you feel about the future (personal, industry, humanity?)
-Personal future? Who knows! Glowing reports I hope. I spent the last two years just wondering about the future and eventually getting nowhere. The way I work now is to just keep making stuff that you feel will make you happy and put it out in the world, sooner or later it will give back to you. The things you do either help you progress or regress but with a greater knowledge of what to do better, and either of those two sound better than just being still and in the same place, going nowhere. My four years of MIT, my two years of job and after, the one thing that I believe in strongly and the one thing that I have noticed to be true time and again is “It all works out in the end”. I guess you can call it my Hakuna Matata. I hope to grow more as an artist and learn more skills and expand my reach. And in the end, just be happy.
For the industry though, I believe the future will be kind to animators in India. I have often heard people talk about Japanese animation, American animation and European animation and so on. But with what my fellow animators and some amazing studios in India are putting out, it won’t be long before India bursts onto the scene. When I look at the work studios like Totem Creative, Trip Creative, Studio Eeksaurus, and Ghost Animation put out there, it is very inspiring and when I look at the creative work some of the standalone Indian artists and animators put up, it is very refreshing. The talent is there, all we need is faith.
Humanity’s future…I believe The Simpsons will be able to predict that one better than me, based on their track record. Very on point.
AG:5 Favourite Animation Artist / Directors / Film makers (Indian + Foreign)
That is a tough question! I would say…
• Jan Švankmajer – He is a retired Czech stopmotion animator whose 1992 short film Lunch is one of my favourites of all time.
• Stoopid Buddy Studios – I love everything they make, from Robot Chicken to Marvel’s Modok, always a great laugh.
• Anna Mantzaris – She isn’t a very famous animator but her use of jute in her puppets give them a beautiful texture and her smooth animation makes it even better. I have loved everything she has put out so far.
• Dorota Kobiela / Hugh Welchman – Loving Vincent was the most refreshing film I have seen in a while.
• Laika Studios – Love every film they have made so far.
AG:5 Favourite Animation Artist / Directors / Film makers (Indian + Foreign)
That is another tough question! It isn’t easy to stop at five, but based purely on the visuals I would say…
• Rhizome by Black Sea Dahu
• Drive Home by Steve Wilson
• Thunder And Lightning / Lanterns by Passenger
• The Writings On The Wall by Ok Go
• Feels Like Summer by Childish Gambino