Fur-st World Problems: In conversation with Ujwal Nair

Fur-st World Problems: In conversation with Ujwal Nair
As animators, we often seek solace in our craft. Channeling the disappointment of being denied a Canadian visa, Ujwal Nair’s 'Lucky Dog' is an entertaining 21-minute animated musical satire about an Indian dogs’ dreams of immigrating to Canada to be reunited with his owner.
The self-taught independent animation filmmaker Ujwal, has written, designed and directed three animated shorts: the latest being Lucky Dog.
Growing up Ujwal drew quite a lot, and his father directed him towards animation. Watching behind-the-scenes of Disney and Pixar, he even started working on rudimentary animation programs making crude little animated videos.
A defining moment in my childhood came when I won a competition that was organised by Cartoon Network and Toonz Animation, Trivandrum, at the age of ten. They invited kids to submit ideas for short films and mine was one of ten ideas that were selected for production.
12-year-old Ujwal
Little Ujwal whose idea got selected to become a film “The Flame who loved to Dance.”
Spending time at Toonz, watching his idea become a film “The Flame who loved to Dance” and its’ airing on Cartoon Network bolstered Ujwal’s dream of pursuing animation. The film also made rounds at the Chicago International Children’s Film Festival.
With a degree in Visual Communication, work experience in a few animation studios, and collaboration with experienced artists and directors, Ujwal grasped the foundations of the craft.
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Lucky Dog sprang from a personal setback. A few years ago, I wanted to immigrate to Canada, but I was denied a visa. I wanted to put the experience behind me and move on but it was hard to do that when everyone I knew was moving to Canada!
As the pandemic hit Ujwal was forced to confront his privilege and the film emerged as an attempt to explore his complicated feelings about immigration and privilege.
The film revolves around an Indian dog named Dice who wants to move to Canada to be reunited with his owner. In Dices’ attempt to get a visa, the film satirizes the national obsession with immigrating to first world countries.
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He says,” One reason I chose Canada was because I had a bone to pick with them! Another reason was that it was a funnier and more surprising choice than, say, the US or Australia, because everyone thinks Canada is friendly and welcoming by comparison.”
When I told a friend of mine about my visa denial he said, ‘I thought Canada was nice!’ and I was like, “Yeah, me too!’ Making Canada the unexpected villain in a story about immigration added to the humorous tone I was going for.
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Drawing from his own experience of the visa application process; the paperwork, the drab visa offices, the forbidding staff and anecdotes from friends and family he started researching for the film.
One of the first rules of screenwriting is ‘Write what you know’ and I took that to heart while writing this film. I wanted it to come across as personal, emotional and raw. For me, the way to do that was to express my feelings as honestly as possible.
Ujwal working at home_Ujwal (left), Thulli (right)
Ujwal working at home_Ujwal (left), Thulli (right)
He says,” To capture the mannerisms of the animals in the film, I watched several dog and cat videos on Instagram. And I have to give a shoutout to my muse- my cat, Thulli. I see a lot of him in Dice, the main character.”
I decided to tell this story as a musical because it was the best way to capture its emotional range. It has humor, moments of joy, moments of sadness and even a bit of darkness. Music has the ability to elevate those emotions. The scope for wordplay was another deciding factor.
Dice lead vocals recording_Aditi (left), Clyde (centre), Ujwal (right)
Dice lead vocals recording Aditi (left), Clyde (centre), Ujwal (right)
Lucky Dog features exceptional sound design and voiceovers. Aditi Ramesh, the composer, was brought on board during pre-production to ensure the songs were ready before the animatic was created.
Brainstorming through the detailed briefs for each song, covering duration, tonal shifts, pace variations, and character emotions, she and her team of singers and instrumentalists elevated the project with their excellent melodies and harmonies.
Sound Design session_Ujwal (left), Dinesh (right)
Sound Design session_Ujwal (left), Dinesh (right)
Similarly, Dinesh Kumar, the sound designer, was tasked with incorporating realistic sound effects to avoid the clichés associated with comedic cartoons.
Ujwal says, “At one point, he used a rattlesnake sound effect for the house lizard but I wanted the clicking sound that house lizards make because it was more effective at evoking an Indian home. He couldn’t find it in his library so he got a friend to record a lizard with a mic and send him the audio file. I think these choices helped ground the film and make the world relatable.”
Creatures Exploration
Dice poses
Copy of Layout Exploration
Character turnarounds
The visual development was inspired by the work of Genndy Tartakovsky on Cartoon Network. Ujwal says,” I wanted the visual design and animation style to be whimsical and production friendly and his aesthetic was minimal, practical and playful.”
AniMela screening_Ujwal (left), Indou (right)
Lucky Dog was produced by Indou Theagrajan and Ujwal Nair
Alongside Indou Theagrajan, Ujwal co-produced the film adhering to the established animation pipeline. While Indou meticulously maintained the tracking sheets, Ujwal onboarded the collaborators and made the crucial story and design decisions.
As with any independently produced film, the biggest challenge was that we didn’t have enough money. And all the money we did spend came from my savings. It forced us to keep the team really small.
Working a day job and wearing multiple hats during the production of Lucky Dog extended the production by a few years. He adds, “Having said that, I’m grateful that I was able to hire and collaborate with really creative musicians and animators on this film."
Lucky Dog is truly a labor of love. Through early mornings, late nights, and weekends, Ujwal devoted four years to shaping this gem, starting from its inception in 2020 and concluding with post-production and sound design by December 2023. Despite their challenging schedules, Ujwal and Indou collaborated tirelessly, driving the project to fruition.
AniMela Screening
Screening of Lucky Dog at Animela Mumbai
With two special Screenings at Animela (Mumbai) and Chitkara University (Chandigarh), Lucky Dog was received with much excitement and love. Ujwal adds, “We have submitted the film to a number of festivals but we don’t know where it will have its international premiere yet.”
As for the future, Ujwal say, “Now that I’ve made a 21 minute short, I want to tackle a 90-100 minute film. I enjoy the short film format, but I’m excited about the prospect of building a world and taking characters on a long emotional journey. To me, that makes for a more satisfying movie watching experience.
To young creatives who want to animate their own stories Ujwal advises,” Think about the choices you make while writing, storyboarding and editing. If you’re going to make a film that’s even just a few minutes long, it’s worth considering what will draw people to your film and make it engaging.”
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To all of us awaiting the film, Lucky Dog is still making the rounds across film festivals worldwide to gain the visibility it so deserves before a public release.
Till then you can find updates from Ujwal and the Lucky Dog team on the channels below:
Ujwal’s top independent artists:
Krishna Chandran Nair
Adithi Krishnadas
Rajiv Eipe
Remus & Kiki
Bee Grandinetti.
Ujwal’s Hot take on Generative AI:
“It’s a little unsettling, but I try not to think about it too much. I’m kind of in denial, I guess. I get the appeal of it, I get why non-artists are excited about it. But I’m hoping the novelty wears off and it becomes a tool that people only use for certain purposes.”

Mentioning a concept trailer made by Rian Johnson to pitch the film Looper (https://vimeo.com/51294350) ,Ujwal believes Gen AI could potentially serve as a starting point for similar projects, albeit with reservations about its capability to match the quality of a film like Looper.

We thank Ujwal Nair for taking the time to share his process with us and wish him all the best for the future.
Ujwal Nair