Visual Branding and Beyond: In conversation with Debanjan Nandy

Visual Branding and Beyond: In conversation with Debanjan Nandy
“When I had just started my career, it was rather easy to describe who I am, and what I do for a living but today it's a bit tricky.” says Debanjan.
Debanjan Nandy, is a veteran creative with over 18 years of experience in the animation industry. Although he wears many hats, today, he heads the Visual Branding and Creative Communications at Hotstar.
Debanjans’ love for art started in the small city of Jamshedpur, far away from today’s world of Internet and mobile phones.
He heard of design through a school alumnus who talked about a place where you learn by doing. While she explained many aspects of the design ecosystem, it was the prospect of never having to take an exam again that drew young Debanjan in.
Among the various engineering college forms was also the entrance exam form for NID, earned after a tough tussle with his parents.
Nandy says,”One summer afternoon, we received a postal letter from NID about the result. I was too tense to open it and asked my elder sister to have a look. To my surprise, I had cleared the first round and was summoned to attend a workshop and interview in the institute campus in Ahmedabad ”.
An eventful journey followed; a missed train, an entire night of waiting for a seat, and the scorching Ahmedabad sun.
I saw camel carts, sandy dry weather and the sun still up in the sky at 7.30pm. It was confirmed this was the west.
Debanjan joined NID in 2001 and he saw a world quite distant from the simple backdrop of his hometown.
I was overwhelmed by it and wanted to seep in as much learning as possible. Being from academics over the years made me very analytical. My approach was methodical. I had to learn how to be more emotional, a bit more loose in approach for the spark to happen.
Debanjan joined Animation Film Design and explored different mediums like paper animation, stop motion clay animation, 2D classical animation, 3D animation; helping him understand the strength and limitations of the different mediums.
For his final project at NID, Debanjan worked on a self-initiated series about a pencil and eraser called ‘Rite and Rub’. He says, “I was always fascinated by pre-production of any given piece, as there, all the planning and strategy went. I even created a bible for 13 episodes with stories.“
For me planning a film- its pre-production- always felt like the place where it is sculpted.
Soon he got an opportunity to work with E.Suresh at Famous House of Animation in Mumbai. Starting as a compositing artist, he worked his way up to the role of an animator. He was involved in various commercials, like ICICI, Kelvinator, Oriental Insurance, Cadbury, Sony Pix and more, working alongside Nikhil Joshi, Arun Rane, and many more. Here, he also got a chance to explore the preproduction of TV Adverts.
Debanjan says, “In one of the pitches for a series, my character designs were shortlisted and I ended up in the team for pre-production. We did model sheets, expression sheets, storyboards, animatics, backgrounds for 26 x 21 minute episodes. I even got to work on Johnny Bravo. That was exciting!”
Soon, he started his freelance practice; directing Childrens web series, pre-producing for animated features while also pitching to bring new business. This proved to be an essential time for Debanjan to learn the importance of building a business and understanding the commerce of communication design.
Impressed by Debanjan’s understanding of design and motion, a team from Star TV approached him to work on relaunching Star Plus with the tagline “Rishte Wahi, Soch Nayi” and assist in shifting their graphic work from Hong Kong to Mumbai. He worked alongside a large team to develop the visual design for the launch and ensured a smooth handover.
Branding television was quite a new territory. Both, design process and motion design experience helped me quite a lot. Visual Branding is quite similar to an animation project, but the expression of the output is more abstract. It is important for the identity design to stand alongside its vision and mission of the channel, and acts as a north star for the motion design as well.
During this time Debanjan worked on launching Life OK (now Star Bharat), relaunching Star Jalsa, Star Pravah, rebranding Star movies and working with International design agencies to learn the process.
In the sidelines, Debanjan was also working on his next animated short film “In Pursuit of a Dream” for over 3 years when he realized his love for storytelling and decided to learn the craft further.
He says,” NFTS curriculum really took my attention as it focused on various aspects of animation film making. Hence, I applied for Masters in Animation Direction in National Film and Television School, UK.”
In Pursuit of a Dream follows one man’s pursuit of his Dream. It asks us what happens to us when we achieve that dream?
After clearing a two-part intake process, which included portfolio and showreel reviews, a weeklong workshop followed by an interview, Debanjan was finally pursuing an extensive 2-year course at National Film and Television School in UK.
I learnt that the approach to filmmaking are many and there is no need to take the same path every time. See what surprises you and just go with the flow.
During his time in UK, he created films that allowed him to explore various mediums and styles.
One of his film,”Mango Boy” is a sand animation project. Under the guidance of the legendary sand animator Caroline Leaf, he explored the fluidity of the medium and how it can moulded to one's purpose. Talking about Caroline Leaf, he says, “She explained to us the property of the sand and what it does. How its a destructive animation process, where you go forward and can't turn back.”
For the film, Debanjan reflected on the time from his childhood, where he fell on a cactus while plucking a mango from the neighbors tree.
Another one of his films is,”Sugarflower”, a film that focuses on a middle-aged Murgan trying to woo a woman at the bar. This film explores the characters, their development and interactions.
“Reflection” is a stop motion animation of the environmental damages caused by the festivities of Ganesh Visarajan using oil paint on glass. The project was given sound first and the narrative was visualized on listening to the track.
Debanjan says,” It was scary and freeing at the same time. The medium was so loose that I couldn’t control it much. All I could do was just move forward, taking one step at a time. The output was something I still adore till date and to my surprise, it went on to a couple of festivals as well.”
A film that is close to Debanjans heart, is his Graduation Fim, Chhaya. The film explores the life of a widower living with the shadow of his late wife. Teaming up with students of editing, cinematography, sound design and various other departments, Chhaya- directed by Debanjan- was a hectic yet rewarding project.
I wanted it to be like a treated painting but fluid in animation. So as a team, we planned to make miniature oil painted sets, shoot the plates, and then animated the characters in 3D and then composite it. All effects were with oil paint on glass.
Within 18 months of developing the concept frames, the film was readycompleted with an excellent background score of the sitar, santoor, flutes and tabla.
He says,” I was very lucky to have some of the finest tutors in NFTS, from Caroline Leaf, Marjut Rimminen, Robert Bradbrook, Late Paul Bush, Late Jo Ann Kaplen. NFTS Masterclasses with few of the world-renowned filmmakers like Edgar Wright, Bernardo Bertolucci, Joe Wright, Alfonso Curzon, Rian Jonson and many more, were truly rewarding in itself with the sharing of their process and thoughts. Each conversation with them felt like a mirror as they help me to be more aware of my own identity.”
A project with French documentary filmmaker Benjamin Hugue to to warn people about radio waste sites in future and its radiation through cultural significance. This project was featured on The Guardian as well.
Whether it was the vada-paav or the taxing freelance life that bought Debanjan back to Mumbai working with Tata Interactive Systems, we do not know. But, during this course he worked on e-learning projects and game designs collaborating with fellow coders, working on strategy and animation for non-linear stories.
As OTT’s were just beginning to bloom, Debanjan found himself at Hotstar, an OTT outlet for Star Sports at that time.
Bringing his expertise into his role as the Design head at Hotstar, he worked on promoting cricket and other sports, spreading awareness about the platform. Soon, they were involved in the promotions for Olympics 2016, IPL, and even the Game of Thrones campaigns. Over time, they started Hotstar Specials- a platform for new content and newer connections. He says,” Each content was so different and unique and gave me the opportunity to work with different industry veterans like Ram Madhwani, Neeraj Pandey, Homi Adjania and many more on creating promotional assets like show identity, key visuals and static art along with my team.”
Soon, Debanjan built an in-house team working on brand identity, show identity, content promotion, performance design across various verticals.
He says, “Over the years, the thing that helps me the most is asking questions as much as possible and communicating more rather than less. The more clarity you seek, the better you are prepared.”
I have always been a sucker for processes. While collaborating, the methodical approach always comes in handy. But with time, one learns to improvise as well. We don't need to stick to the process. But having some method to the madness is always helpful.
With the rampant pace at which technologies are evolving, the end users being more aware and firmer with their choices, Debanjan believes the only way to survive is to make art that seeps deeper; staying true to ones work while also experimenting with unique techniques can bring meaningful and entertaining pieces to life.
The various human emotion are not going to change. All that will change are the ways moving image will help us get there. So make your roots strong and that will always help you grow more.
On that note, we come to the end of this feature with Debanjan Nandy. We thank him for sharing his journey and insights with us, and wish him all the best for the future.
You can find his work on the links below:
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Debanjan Nandy