Animation in India : Reflections in 2011 about my impressions in 1999
I recently came across one of my articles which was published at least 12 years ago in a Canadian magazine called fps (frames per second). On reading it, I was surprised to see how my predictions of the animation industry in India has come to pass. And felt I could republish my old article with a message today more than a decade later.
Today I am glad I was a minuscule part of that revolution in those inception years of animation in India, though I was away from the India outsource scene. However, I am pleased to get back partially into it during the post-outsource era where animation in India is drawing much attention within the requirements in the country than getting exported.
Let me share with you this article about my first overseas travel as an animator to the best place one can imagine to be in. It was in that era's world animation capital Hollywood where Siggraph - one of the world's premium animation conferences took place. I was lucky that when I got an opportunity to attend, it was in LA. So while attending this overwhelming convention, I also got a good overview of all its top animation studios. And also had a privilege to drive through all the Hollywood celebrity residences. It was a different experience no words could express enough. This was before the age of the Dreamworks and Pixar Studios, when Digital Domain, Rythm & Hues and Walt Disney Feature Animation was the trendy ones.
I hope to upload pictures and souvenir I had gathered during that trip very soon.
So read on my article dated, 1999, which was under 'Festival Watch', published in the fps Mar, 15 2000 issue.
The photos of my collectibles will be interspersed inbetween the paragraphs. Welcome to join me as I relive this amazing ride to a land 7 seas away from my home land.
The SIGGRAPH Experience - To a first-time attendee from India
SIGGRAPH in a distant land
It was in 1989, when I first read about SIGGRAPH in an old American magazine. Though my passion was computer graphics animation, I initially could not pursue it as a career, for it was very new in India. But I had this extreme desire to expand my knowledge in the field and meet and work with other CG enthusiasts in India....and maybe around the world.....someday.
The motivation of thousands of Indians in Graphics and Animation - still an emerging field in India, knows no limits. I am also one of those who believe that Indian animation will soon be coming of age, created in the midst of the worlds largest film industry.
At Siggraph'99, August 8-13, I got my chance to mingle among the most enthusiastic and talented people now working in computer graphics. Seeing their work and learning from some of them was rather motivating and encouraging.
When I first found about it ten years ago, I was impressed by the cause Siggraph stood for - "to promote among our members the acquisition and exchange of information and opinion on the theory, design, implementation, and application of computer-generated graphics and interactive techniques to facilitate communication and understanding."
I wanted to be part of this great group someday, by becoming involved and attending the annual conference. In the following decade, I broke away from my previous profession and shifted to a career as a computer graphics animator.
During the summer of 1998, something incredible happened, I made a post to a computer graphics mailing list in search of more information on Siggraph'98. I wasn't sure what kind of reply to expect. I was astounded to see a return mail from a Siggraph official. Good Gosh! My high spirits simply pranced around with glory!
From then on, I started my pursuit to learn as much as possible about SIGGRAPH, getting first-hand information, with my new official friend guiding my way to Siggraph'99. He appreciated my enthusiasm and passion for computer graphics, suggested that I consider starting a SIGGRAPH Professional Chapter in my City - Madras (Chennai) and connecting me with the Professional Chapters leader. (He holds that position till today and I was pleased to attend some of his New York Professional Chapters events when I worked in and around New York in 2006-2007). One of my goals is to start an animation curriculum someday in Chennai. (My todays statement: The closest I got to this goal was teach university students in UAE, teach animation students in India. But after my exciting kick-off events during this era, I left for another exciting endeavour in animation in United Arab Emirates where animation and related fields are reaching its best times today. Where I did play a good part in the growth of animation in that region of middle-east though not big enough as I would have wished to. However, I come back to India to meet my 10 year old endeavours by mentoring the younger generation.)
So coming back to my Siggraph adventure of 1999, my friend encouraged me to apply for a Siggraph Educator's Grant, which provides assistance to attend the annual conference, for selected applicants with interests in education in Computer Graphics. To my great surprise and pleasure, that spring, my proposal was accepted by the Siggraph Education committee! (I remember that the committee comprised of pioneers and inventors in the field of Computer Graphics, I wish I could make special mentions of them with their permission, sometime.) Goldwire, the studio I work with, also was of great help supporting my proposal.
My dream was nearly in reach! The next hurdle was to get into the United States for 10 days. But obtaining a visa to the USA, for a first time visitor from India is a daunting challenge!
Talking to you now, I realize that after years of professionally traveling around, unfortunately this has still not changed if not it has gotten even worse. I will leave an account of another unbelievable ordeal I had at the some LA airport years later for another hub, linked here. And perhaps an account of another visa rejection to attend siggraph in a later year in spite of me being an International committee member of Siggraph in 2000. So now I may want to re-type that statement I made in the article, that visas to Indians are only difficult if we are first-time visitors.
So on June 25, 1999 I went for a second interview to the US visa office after being refused a month earlier. This time, with more poise and confidence as an Educator's Grant recipient, and with a number of supporting letters and faxes (from the senate and a congress woman to vouch for my ingenuity of purpose), I was granted the much sought after 'Visa'.
At SIGGRAPH at last!
On the 6th Aug 1999, I landed in Los Angeles, after more than 20 hours of travel from Chennai, India. It was the first day of a dramatic and rather unforgettable introduction to the United States and the SIGGRAPH Conference.
I remember when I was received at the airport by my now very good friend from Siggraph but whom I had never met in person when I landed in LA in 1999, I planned to meet a person in a baseball cap in striped shirt and how would I identify myself? A person walking out of the arrivals holding a peacock feather. Coz you see, the peacock is the national bird of India. Thanks to this article, my memories of that day is so vivid.
My first day at SIGGRAPH'99 was so overwhelming, what with the tour of Emerging technologoes: The Millenium Motel; then the Art Gallery: TechnoOasis; courses, panels....and the people! So many friendly people to meet! Once I got the hang of moving around the Los Angeles Convention Center, I was charging around with my Conference Locator, attending as many programs as I could, I learned really quickly how important it is to plan the day and be flexible!It appeared overwhelming at first but i was able to plan a full daily agenda each morning.
Here are some of the events I participated in:
- An all-day workshop for Professional Chapters organizers and officers.
- A one-day course at the Creative Application Lab, where I got a hands-on training with MAYA 3D Animation Software.
- Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain - a course by Betty Edwards.
- The Studio, to work on newly released animation software and watch the incredible 3D printing facility.
- The Exhibitors floor - no time to see enough in this immense exhibit hall hosting companies from all over the worldwho were showcasing their newest products.
- The Career Centre - for some good career-mentoring experiences.
- The unforgettable Key-Note Address by Helaman Ferguson, and the special sessions on the special effects for Phantom Menace, Tarzan, and the making of Stuart Little.
- The Premiere of the movie The Story of Computer Graphics at the historic Shrine Auditorium which won much acclaim.
- The Electronic Theatre where the best animations were screened at the Shrine Auditorium.
- The Web 3D round-up. It was a demonstration of serious technology, mixed with fun and fanfare.
There were so many opportunities to meet Computer Graphics enthusiasts from around the world. The courses, the panels and papers, and the professional chapters party were full of friendly people. I made many new acquaintances. I'd heard about the other big parties and never imagined I would attend one....but I did! The Digital Domain Party at the Hollywood Palladium. It was great! Loud! And crowded with people I enjoyed meeting!
Thinking back today I am even more intrigued than that day at the party when I was too dazed to react. It was the party in the midst of the cream who made the Titanic. It overwhelms me today even more that James Cameron who was the founder of Digital Domain, the maker to the ground-breaking Avatar, was in our midst as recent as only last week when he spoke at the Abu Dhabi Media Summit.
At the end of the week, all I knew was that my card box was filled by business cards from interesting people from around the world, in the fields of motion pictures, web, animation, education etc.
Coming back home, pleased with the knowledge I have brought back, I am beginning to accomplish the promise I made to my vision, 10 years ago, to build-up a community of animation enthusiasts in India through education and development.
I worked on the formation of a Chapter in India which would have been the first presence of Siggraph in India.
And it was a privilege to host for the first time in India, the Siggraph Traveling Art Show in November 1999.
I wrote in this article as an ending note that "So let us propagate the pleasure of sharing technological and artistic information." And be part of a great experience: SIGGRAPH! To New Orleans and the next millennium!
As an after thought to my article which I just replicated here, I am pleased that I have kept upto the promise of sharing my artistic infromation and along with it the technology that's driven by the need for new art. Today we live in an era of Avatar and 3D movie and Television experiences and an explosion of these technologies in the emerging economies such as China, India and Dubai. I am glad to see India in this post-outsource era of India where there is an explosion of internal needs from the Indian Film Industry, Kids Educational sector etc.
I was away from India during the animation outsource period in India because I knew all along that it was not my cup of tea. But I certainly am pleased with what animation is steering into in the post outsource period in India which is now. And I am glad I am part of the revolution happening in India.
I went on to attend more Siggraph conferences after 99 but none was so glamorous to me as the only pre-911 one I attended.
During that visit I am proud to have attended the following sessions and courses and the privilege of being introduced to the following special people in the field of animation.
The Dancing Baby
- One of the TDs (Technical Director) from Digital Domain of the movie Titanic fame.
- One of the founders of Sony Pictures Imageworks who was then in the industry with the fame received from Speed 1.
- Sat for a course with Michael O'Rourke from Pratt Institute for a study on Maya Character Animation. In 2005 it was again a pleasure to sit through a couple of months of online courses with Mr. O'Rourke to update the latest in the Maya animation software.
- Sat for the "Drawing from the Right Side of the brain" session by author Betty Edwards.
- Who I missed the most!
Although my whole animation conference experience was exhilarating at Siggraph 99, I had one disappointment in missed to meet one of animations legends. The person who brought of Tom and Jerry to life. Chuck Jones was to be the Keynote Speaker at Siggraph 1999 but he could not grace the occasion because of a health emergency.
Chuck Jones was the legendary animator and cartoonist behind Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Looney Tunes and the favorite of ages 8 to 88, Tom & Jerry. Sadly he passed in a couple of years which end another opportunity like that.
All said and done, I am glad the things I got to experience lives on by way of inspiration from the other great people and inventors I rubbed shoulders with that lovely summer of 99.
Written in nostalgia on 9th May 2010.