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Ram Mohan: Interview

Series on design masters in India:

Question: When did you first decide to become an animator? Can you tell me more about your background?

Answer: Actually Cartooning was my hobby. I used to love to draw cartoons. Actually I had never thought of taking up a career in Animation at that time. There was no career available in Animation at that time. There were just a few handful of people who were doing animation on their own by trail and error, by reading books, But there was no animation studio in Bombay. In Madras Gemini Studio had started some animation, similarly Prabhat Studios had started at that time animation project like Jamboos Kaka etc. It was quite interesting when Films Division announced. Under the U.S technical aids program they received an animation camera and they were also going to get a Disney animator Clair H Weeks to train some people and set up a proper animation studio. So I had some interest in Cartooning since I always loved animation. I thought I will just go and meet this gentleman who was coming all the way from Disney. And off course no hopes of getting in because I was not qualified as an animator. But when I went and showed my Cartoons to Clair Weeks he liked them and he said why you don't join the training program. And suddenly I found myself in the Films Division in the training program. With Films Division it was like a chance for me to enter into animation as a career. Around the same time I was offered by Prasad Productions Madras for heading their animation department in Bombay. I thought it was a good time for getting into the private sector. In 1972 I set up my own group called Ram Mohan Biographics. We were continuing to use equipment from Prasad. With Clair Weeks at Films Division I first got the chance to get into animation. I had never hoped or even dreamt of chance of getting into Animation that time. Cartooning was my hobby, but even that was not serious. I was a science graduate. When I came to Bombay the idea was to continue with my Science studies. In fact I had even signed down for an M.Sc program. But then this happened and it suddenly changed my career line. Otherwise I would probably be in some Lab or something.

“Animation was something
that I learnt
under Clair Weeks”

Question: How did you start your career in Animation with Clair Weeks in 1956?

Answer: Clair Weeks was in India in 1956 under the U.S. Technical Aids Program. The American Government had funded this, even the animation camera and they also sent the experts form Disney Studio, Clair H Weeks to select and train some people in India.
The idea was to set up the cartoons Film unit in the Films Division. Essentially as the Planned Publicity Program. They had just launched the first five year plan. The government of India wanted to tell the people what its plans were, what it aims to achieve and how its going to benefit. They wanted to set up an awareness program. All the films that we were suppose to make were supposedly plan programs. Some of them were interesting some were not interesting. The subjects were not were dramatic or fantastic but issues like Small savings and Health programs, Fisheries were there. Animation was found to be a useful medium.

But the problem with Films Division was that everything was dictated by the Government. We had people coming in to supervise us because they were technical experts. Although they were technically very good there was not that kind of imagination or Creativity that was being used. We had good equipment and camera but the would kind of constrain what we would do. But technically there was lot that we could achieve like we had good equipments and good materials. At some point we had people like ‘Bhavnagri’ who came in as an expert and stayed with Films Division for a while. And we had ‘James Beverish’ coming in at that time we always had a little spurt of creativity. Also when ‘Pramod Pati’ who came in, he was trained in Zinca studio in France, we did some interesting work. But I learnt a lot from the training program. I had lot of opportunities to learn. Though I didn’t have any background in Drawing, I am a science graduate.

So I had to started off from the basics that in storyboards and Character designing. Animation was off course something that I learnt from Clair Weeks. The training objective was mainly ‘Basics in Animation’ but the emphasis was on cell animation. But I didn’t go into the aspects of ink and paint but storyboards and character designs. I learnt a lot while I was there. Then when Pramod Pati moved out of Cartoons Film Division in 1966 then there was some kind of decline, like the scene was not too good, exciting or evolving.

"It was the kind of leadership that they provided."

Question: Can you share some experiences with people at Films Division like Bhavnagri, Pramod Pati and James Beverish?

Answer: It was the kind of leadership that they provided. It was not that they were there and doing animation. But they were genuinely interested in animation as a medium. And they would encourage us to try out different mediums and techniques. Pramod Pati for example had spent quite sometime in Checkoslovakia. He wanted the design aspect to change and become more graphic and more stylized. Because the influence was Disney kind since Clair Weeks was there. So he came and introduced us to different techniques in animation. He had excelled in different techniques of animation like pixelation, live action and animation, puppets, object animation, cutouts etc. There were so many ways of doing animation other than usual multi cell animation. So this was what all these people like
Bhavnagri and Pramod Pati had retained.

Question: How was Animation used as a useful medium for communicating with people during the 1960's?

Answer: Government of India had planned for 5 year Planned Publicity Program. Subject like those health programs like how to keep your environment clean, how to keep the flies away from the homes. Cleanliness was off course one then there were issues like Fisheries. How even in small ponds and home growing fish. Fighting Malaria and Family Planning. Since it was dealing with so much diverse audience since it was for small towns, villages all over India. Now if you take a live person or an actor and make a live action film, this becomes very much localized. He is either a maharshtrian or a Punjabi or a Bengali. Whereas using cartoon characters like a villager or a sarpanch he becomes more like an
icon. And that was why it was more easily accepted over the country. Only the language had to be dubbed. And hence Animation was more effective. People could connect themselves emotionally to these characters as well.
Animation was only liked by children and kept them involved was the general attitude. But what happened with Meena was very different. The person who was researching on Meena came back and presented us the report, said that the response was tremendous. Not only the children but even it kept the parents involved. UNICEF (United Nations Children's Fund) particularly believes in this that animation is a very powerful medium for communicating social messages and development.

“With Mc Laren
I explored and experimented
the Techniques of Animation
which was like a revelation”

Question: How was it working with Norman Mc Laren? What did you learn from him? Any anecdotes?

Answer: In 1967 there was the ‘World Expo of Animation Cinema’ in Montreol in Canada. I went there on my own to Monterol and I spent some time with International films Division Canada. I worked with ‘Norman Mc Laren’ who was there and that was such a revelation with the kind of medium they used, the approach to animation and the experiment they did. The National Animation Board of Canada allowed to spend After the exposure when I came back to Films Division, I felt even more depressed because we just didn't have that kind of
‘Approach to Animation’. So in middle of 1968 I decided to leave six weeks i.e one and a half month with Norman Mc Laren to see what kinds of work and experimentation that he was making. I was more on a observation trip to see what is happening around, look at different things, learn the different techniques and react to what was going on. After this I decided to start on my own.

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Ram Mohan - Home




    Deciding to become an animator:

    Starting the career in Animation with Clair Weeks:

    Experiences at Films Division:

    Working with Norman Mc Laren:

    Starting on his own:

    Ramayana and the collaboration with the Japanese:

    Unfolding of ‘Meena’ Series and evolution of ‘Sara’:

    CG, Classical and Experimental works:

    Training of Animators in India:

    Future of animation in India:

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