Fresh Takes: Ujwal Nair’s Animated Treat ‘KPL’
To kick off AWN’s article series, Fresh Takes, a creative showcase focused on new voices and talent we’re lucky enough to happen upon in our travels – all sorts of interesting stuff that catches our eye and, we feel, is worth checking out – we’re happy to share KPL, an innovative and funny short film, sleekly designed and animated, by Bangalore, India-based Ujwal Nair. A 28-year-old self-taught 2D animator, Nair by day is an animatic artist at Graphic India, a comic book publisher and animation studio. Along with his wife and co-producer, Indou Theagrajan, he spent a year and a half on the film’s conceptualization, design and animation, working in his spare time – Chennai-based sound artists Adharsh Kalyanakumar & Bhuvanesh Manivannan provided the film’s sound design.
According to Nair, “KPL combines two of India’s biggest obsessions: mythology and cricket. The film depicts a battle with an Indian myth, The Mahabharata, as a game of bat and ball. It’s action-packed and darkly funny with a rousing folk-music score and great sound design. Almost every animation studio in India has either produced a story from Indian mythology or has one in development. The reason we threw our hat in the ring was because we thought we had a unique take on it. The germ of the idea was, ‘What if a mace-wielding soldier gets upset over a scratch on his weapon and demands a new one, in the heat of battle, much like a batsman in cricket changing his bat in the middle of a game?’ From there, I started thinking about other parallels between cricket and mythic warfare. I was working on a film about a thorny social issue when I had the idea for KPL. Indou nudged me towards making KPL first because she thought it would have wider appeal. As an independent filmmaker whose first animated short was mostly ignored, that resonated with me!”
Nair made the film almost completely in Flash, using it for storyboarding, character and background design and for the animation. “I animated each shot separately and lined them up in Premiere,” Nair shares. “The visual style of the film is minimal and stripped down so I wanted the sound design to create atmosphere and elevate the sense of scale. The sound artists did Foley work and combined it with a library of sounds they had previously collected to evoke the feeling of being in a packed cricket stadium.”
After dabbling in live-action filmmaking a few years ago, Nair eventually found the practicality of production too difficult and switched to animation. “With live-action, I loved editing and working with actors, but I did not enjoy the logistical aspects of the process,” he explains. “So I ended up shooting most of my films in my living room! 2D animation allows me to create action set pieces on a battlefield with a thousand extras from the comfort of my bedroom. It takes me a long time to make these films, but it costs me almost nothing to do it. Aside from being the cheapest medium, 2D hand-drawn animation is also my favorite. I love drawing and this medium allows me to draw to my heart’s content.”
Nair derives creative inspiration from many sources – his urge to tell stories and entertain an audience is what inspires his own art. “I get ideas for stories from the news, pop culture and inner turmoil!” he notes. “I’m also heavily inspired by the work of other artists. I’m a big fan of Pixar, Jeff Smith, Sylvain Chomet, Charlie Kaufman, Quentin Tarantino, Zoya Akhtar and Vishal Bharadwaj. I’m also blown away by a lot of emerging animation talent like Alberto Mielgo, The Line animation studio, Studio La Cachette, Sun Creature Studio and Jonathan Djob Nkondo.” He also reveals his most recent animated film favorite is The Breadwinner by Nora Twomey. “I saw it just a couple of months ago on Netflix, and was moved by how it tackles a really difficult subject with tenderness and compassion,” he says, “Considering it was an animated film aimed at a family audience, I appreciated that they didn’t feel the need to wrap everything up neatly and end on a happy note. It’s visually stunning as well.”
In speaking with AWN, Nair shared that in showing his latest film to our readers, he understands the inherent difficulties any artist faces trying to find an audience for their work. This uncomfortable reality was made abundantly clear with the release of his first film, YooHoo. “I remember hearing this quote by Peter Chung on “The Collective” podcast around the time I uploaded my first animated short to YouTube:
‘There’s no amount of effort or time that you’ve spent working on a project that requires anybody, any viewer to look at what you’ve done.’
I worked really hard on that film. It took me a long time to complete. At first, I got some encouraging feedback, but for the most part, the film was met with indifference. I realized that people don’t you owe you their time or attention. They don’t sit through your film because they’re grateful for the effort you put into it. Since then, I’ve tried not to take anyone’s interest in my work for granted.”
With his second film, Nair’s taking nothing for granted. “With KPL, we wanted to tell a story that was exciting, funny and surprising,” he reveals. “Something that was fun to watch. That people would be happy to share and discuss with their friends. In the future, we’d like to tell all kinds of stories. So, if viewers like KPL, we hope they’ll trust our ability to tell a good story and look forward to whatever we do next.”
With the release of KPL comes a new brand, Chikuliba Media, that Nair started with his wife. Under this new entertainment label, the pair hope to “tell stories that are humorous, provocative and visually inventive.” Though they’re currently focused on 2D animation, they plan to experiment with other mediums as well, including production of animated promos for a podcast being produced with creative collaborator Thomas Manuel.
— Want to suggest someone for Fresh Takes? Write us at firstname.lastname@example.org —
For more information about Nair’s work, visit his website and find him on social media:
Nair’s Showreel: https://vimeo.com/321640956
Nair’s motion comic: Hope & Fear
Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-at-Large of Animation World Network.