“You have a story to tell…say it” in Conversation with Ritwik Nag.

“You have a story to tell…say it” in Conversation with Ritwik Nag.
“[While] other kids wrote “Dear Dairy…” I used to make sketches of my teacher or friends.”, says Ritwik Nag, a seasoned animator from the City of Joy- Kolkata. With a career spanning over two decades, he now spearheads one of the animation teams at Rockstar Games. In this feature, we explore beyond his illustrious career and into the halftones of his latest motion comic- Shonku and the Red Planet.
“Books of Professor Shonku were my 1st window into the world of sci-fi, and, I immediately fell in love with the limitless imagination which these worlds presented.” says Ritwik about his childhood spent behind Satyajit Ray’s novels like Professor Shonku and Detective Felu-da. Those days - far behind the internet- he read novels, comics, magazines and watched the occasional exploits of Captain Kirk and his crew on the “Enterprise”.(Yep, I had to Google what that was too!)
Friendly aliens visiting Earth, Spaceships in the shape of Pyramids, Time Travel, Clones, AI, Paranormal Contact, Quest for Immortality on a Strange Island…Professor Shonku has done it all in the 70s and 80s.
From sketchbooks to scrap books, Ritwik found himself drawing machines- inspired by his father’s hobby of making aircrafts, ships and tanks from model kits.
In my high school days, animation as a career option was still unheard of and considered “Not a viable option” by those who had any idea about it. “Drawing Cartoons is not a career” was the statement being hammered into my head.
Ritwik, uncertain about his future, pursued a B.Sc. in Economics from Calcutta University to appease his relatives. After failing to get into NID Ahmedabad twice, he found an ad for "Heart Animation Institute" in Hyderabad, which exaggerated promises of Hollywood opportunities. Despite this, the institute was a stepping stone for Ritwik’s career trajectory. He says,” Fate put me in the same Hyderabad hostel room with a bunch of misfits, mavericks, renegades who were on a mission to create a place for ourselves.”
We were famous in the institute for disrupting the carefully planned “Syllabus” curated to teach us the art of animation. What bound this gang together was our habit of working “Out of the Box”. This was where we actually attempted making our first sci-fi comic book.
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After his course, Ritwik joined as an in-between artist at Toonz India in Thiruvananthapuram. He says,” Long hours, Light Boxes, Clutch Pencils and an insane amount of A4 paper that would have brought down the wrath of Greta Thunberg had she been born then.”
During this time he was fortunate to attend “Week with the Masters” programme where he met industry veterans like Bill Plympton (MTV), Will Vinton (who did the Claymation for Speed Demon-Michael Jackson), Arnab Chowdhury (who was the brains behind all the animations in channel [V] in the 90s and the director of Arjun The Warrior Prince) and many others,
I still remember Bill Plympton seeing the machines I used to draw and told me- “That’s your style. Keep at it”.
Ritwik jumped ship to JadooWorks where he picked up 3d skills while working on numerous projects, including, Higgly Town Heroes. Some of the busiest times in his career came when he was at Tata Elxsi. Ritwik worked on adverts, episodes, VFX for movies like Taare Zameen Par, Ek Tha Tiger and even 2 feature films- Roadside Romeo and Arjun The Warrior Prince.
It was in 2013 that Ritwik got into the gaming company Dhruva Interactive which soon became Rockstar Games. He says,” Rockstar Games introduced me to one last aspect of animation that was left for me to experience. Motion Capture. That has been another great ongoing chapter in my career.”
Bringing this passion into the wonder of comic books is where Ritwik’s motion comic started to take shape. He says,”I tried a few stories I had in mind which are in various stages of “In-Completion” on my hard drive 😀 . But Professor Shonku’s adventures was right in the front of a lot of ideas.”
Although Ray had adapted his comic Felu-da for the silver screens, the limitations in technology prevented Professor Shonku to be made into a sci-fi movie. Ritwik aimed to bring Professor Shonku to the modern world. Inspired by how India was scaling the space technologies, Ritwik worked on the idea of Shonku collaborating with ISRO.
I used to read ISRO’s exploits in the news and used to joke to myself saying Shonku has to be in there somewhere.
As Ritwik kept sketching for the comic, the story took shape. Within a year-working weekends and evenings- Ritwik completed the 64 page saga. Now, it was just Ritwik and his I-Pad against the world.
I never had a proper script, but I used to jot down haphazard notes which I doubt anybody else could make head or tail out of. I just knew what the story was in my head.
Staying true to Ray’s style of black and white illustration, he went for a monochromatic look with hints of blue for reflecting displays. Once on Mars, the tint goes reddish. He says,” I personally feel that there is a simplicity to black and white images, which gets lost the more you refine them with colour. “
The aim here was to give the visual with a hint of movement and let the reader imagine the rest. Hence, I kept all the animations in a “Loop” so that the reader can stare at it for as long he or she wants and let imagination do the rest.
With an enthusiasm to share Professor Shonku’s antics with readers worldwide, yet, stay true to its original language, Ritwik adapted the comics to be read in both Bengali to English.
Talking about developing the character of Shonku, Ritwik says,” I have tried to keep Shonku as true to the original as possible. But at the same time make it a version of how I had visualised the scientist”. The attire of a relaxed kurta and pajama reflected the essence of a Bengali household in the 80’s.
With comic book markets, like that of Manga thriving on local content, and graphic novels aiding visualisation for directors, Ritwik is optimistic about the future of comics and graphic novels. With India being a treasure trove of folklore and stories, Ritwik believes it is possible to create original content and build an ecosystem for comic and graphic novels in our country.
I don’t think that demand for stories is going away anytime soon. Humans love a good story anytime.
To young comic artists, Ritwik advices,” Read. Read like there is no tomorrow”. Weather it is the kindle, a comic website or a hardcopy all that reading would lead to one’s own story.
Once you start feeling a story bubbling up inside you that you want the world to know, choose your weapon and start making that story.
On that optimistic note, we come to end of this feature with Ritwik Nag. We wish him all the best for the future as we eagerly await the next post from Shonku and the Red Planet.
Ritwik’s hot take on GenAI:
This is a “Loaded” question in the current world. But my common sense says AI has a long way to take the creative jobs. The repetitive ones…maybe. But not the creatives yet.
A day will probably come, when AI becomes “Sentient”, develops imagination and starts creating on its own. Then I don’t think we need to worry about keeping our jobs. At that point we need to start arming ourselves with shot-guns to face off an apocalypse and look for a “John Connor OR Neo” because it’s going to be a long long war with the machines.
You can reach out to Ritwik and follow his work on the channels below
Ritwik Nag