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Innovation the key to this low-budget
February, 09th 2010

If animation means imparting zest into an inert object, K. Seetaram has done that to perfection and that too within his limited means. Andha Viswas, a 22-minute film by this barefoot animator from Srikakulam district of Andhra Pradesh is going places, literally.

The film evoked squeals of delight from children at the International Childrens Film Festival, organised by the Childrens Film Society of India here in November. It was also screened at the recent childrens film festival in Bangalore and earned slots in the oncoming Jaipur and Lucknow festivals.

Special technique
The technique used is what makes the movie special. It is entirely new and ingenious in its application and unheard of hitherto in the animation world.

Banking on the use of mechanical and electronic engineering, the film charts a middle course between a puppet show and animation. It cost only Rs. 3 lakh to make, against the Rs. 25 to 50 lakh required for the conventional 2-D or 3-D animations of the same duration, with only a marginal difference in the end product.

Unable to afford the state-of-the-art studios, Seetaram shot the entire episode in the dingy basement of an apartment complex.

Animation is nothing but creating an illusion of life in lifeless objects. While all others resort to the traditional mode of drawing frames, and modifying them on the computer screen, I used stuffed characters fixed with mechanical parts, Mr. Seetaram (Ph: 9849932519) says while sharing his technique.

After choosing characters from the Panchatantra tales as his subject, he assembled 13 mechanical prototypes to effect 32 kinds of bodily movements, applicable to all characters. He used digital technology for eye and lip movements, by connecting the corresponding models to a micro-processor.

Each frame was shot manually with a normal movie camera, to be mixed on screen using Photoshop. Painted screens were used as backdrop depicting still life such as trees, houses and roads.

Educated only up to Class V, Seetaram was a goldsmith at Palasa, a town in Srikakulam, when he happened to visit a friends animation studio in Hyderabad. He was instantly bitten by the bug, and Panchatantra, his favourite text, occupied his imagination. Considering the conventional animation as extravagant, he started thinking about ways to reduce the investment and devised the new technique.

However, there were many hurdles on the way. Frames shot manually required a different kind of illumination for the same colours to be displayed on a computer screen. A 24-volt lamp had to be flown down from Japan, but the bulb heated up before the shot was complete.

To address this problem, Seetaram hand-cut a metal fan that, along with the bulb, was fixed inside a kitchen utensil, so that the lighting remained focused, while the temperature was minimised. With great difficulty, a 110-DC transformer was obtained to power the lamp.

Other innovations
Seetarams other innovations include an electronic trolley with speed controls, to synchronise the camera while shooting the background and the character movements.

If all the devices are set in place, the shooting requires only 15 workers, much less than the manpower required by traditional animation. The entire Panchatantra will cost only about Rs. 1.5 crore to make by this technique, he says. Seetaram has shot two episodes so far. Both were well received by the Delhi Doordarshan, which offered to telecast the complete Panchatantra in 14 different languages. However, Seetaram could not go ahead due to financial constraints.

I tried patenting my contraptions, but drew back after coming to know that the process costs Rs. 3 lakh. I had to sell my property to finish these episodes. Where can I summon Rs.1.5 crore from? he says. The project remains shelved now.

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