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Mumbai Video Filmmaker Nisha Vasudevan On Animating Monsters And Wild Things For Band Videos

The Mumbai-based animation artist, who has previously worked with punk rock band The Lightyears Explode and singer-songwriter Prateek Kuhad, is working on a video for Kolkata pop artist Nischay Parekh

Rolling Stone India
Rolling Stone India Apr 04, 2014
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Nisha Vasudevan. Photo: Tanvi Gandhi

Nisha Vasudevan. Photo: Tanvi Gandhi

Sure, a lonely ghost or a sleep-deprived elephant could make for a scary storyboard, but Mumbai animation filmmaker Nisha Vasudevan, whose influences include animation studio Hanna-Barbera’s classic cartoons and the Walt Disney Company’s TV shows, makes ghouls look good. Vasudevan’s videos for Mumbai punk rock band The Lightyears Explode [“Good Night”] and Delhi singer-songwriter Prateek Kuhad [“Savera”] are two shining examples. Says Vasudevan, “I have an affinity for monsters who are the underdog.” 

Watch the video for “Savera” 

Watch the video for “Good Night”

The 23-year-old filmmaker is now working with Bengaluru singer Amrit Rao [from Bengaluru rock act Live Banned] on a video for his song “Jimmy” and with Kolkata pop artist Nischay Parekh, on the song “Philosophize,” from his debut album Ocean. Says Vasudevan on the making of “Philosophize”, “I haven’t given him a script yet, but we’re thinking of whales and bears and stuff.”

You’ve done three videos so far – for The Lightyears Explode, Prateek Kuhad and a fan video for the Eels. They’re all mellow songs. Is that the music you prefer to make videos for?

I think most of the stuff I make is more suited for that kind of music. But I’m not averse to trying different music. I’d love make something really gory, with guts flying everywhere, but I’d probably suck at it.

How did you begin working with bands?

With The Lightyears Explode, Himanshu [Vaswani, the Mumbai punk rock band’s former manager] is a good friend of mine. We were hanging out one day and I told him I wanted to do a video [for TLE]. He sent me one song that was just a minute long. This was before The Revenge of Kalicharan released. It was a really nice track. At the same time, my friend Tanvi [Gandhi, freelance video director] was also working on “The P-Man Explodes” music video.

With Microphon3, I was shooting a video on [indie music label Ennui.Bomb founder] Rishu Singh and we were at his [Singh’s place]. One of the people Rishu had called over to talk about him was Tanmay [Bahulekar], whom I hadn’t met before. Rishu mentioned that I make animated videos and Tanmay said he wanted an animated video done. His video made me learn a lot more Hindi. I would be walking around the house rapping in Hindi and my mom would tell me how uncharacteristic it was for me.

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Prateek saw the Lightyears video and he wanted something similar. I liked “Savera” a lot. It’s so sweet.  Savera took a while. There was a lot of back and forth. He called me in December, when I was still doing the Microphon3. Savera went through a lot of changes – the color palette was originally black and white, but then we decided to make it colorful. I sent it to Prateek at every stage for his creative inputs and he had really nice ideas.

How long did you take to make the videos?

It took about a month. Most of the stuff takes that long because I have a day job and I only come back at night and work on animation. I just do this for fun when I have free time and mostly because I really like the music.

What are you working on next?

Amrit Rao, the Live Banned guy, asked me to do a video for a song about dogs called “Jimmy.”  It’s about a dog called Jimmy. It’s done in “tappankuthu” (South Indian street dance) style, so there’s a lot of dancing dogs. It’s in Tamil, which is exciting for me.

I’m going to do something for Nischay Parekh next. We’re not going to start that until mid-April. It’ll probably have some funny creature. I haven’t given him a script yet, but we’re thinking of whales and bears and stuff. It’s probably going to be for “Philosophize.”

You did your Master’s in documentary filmmaking. How did you make the shift to animation?

When I did my final project for my Master’s, it [the project film] just didn’t work for me. It was boring and the edit I’d worked out was unbearable, even to me. So I thought of how I should make it on my own. I just started doodling all over it. When it was finished, the film had random doodling all over it. My teachers and friends who saw it said I should really consider animation.

What kind of gear do you use for your animation?

I have a little tablet and a Macbook. It’s all pretty DIY, because I don’t have any formal training in animation. I’ve had to learn off the internet and tutorials and these big books which say The Animator’s Survival Kit. I go home at night and scrawl in them and be sincere about it. I think about doing a course, but I don’t want to go back to school. I’m a grownup now!

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Do you have a lot of stories right now, which you want to make music videos for?

I think up of most of them only when I am asked to make the video. I do have story ideas, but they’re not fleshed out. They don’t always have to be music videos. I make animated shorts as well.

What are the influences for your stories?

All the cartoons – I love all the stuff that used to be on TV, like the Hanna-Barbera cartoons and Disney, but all the stuff they [Disney] did on TV was animated really fast, with a different style of animation. I love all the Cartoon Cartoons, Swat Kats and Metalocalypse. The Lion King is still my favorite movie of all time. I still cry when I watch it. Not bawling any more, but just silently crying in the corner. Apart from that, I’m inspired by artists like Edward Gorey, Tim Burton, Quentin Blake, Marjane Satrapi, Neil Gaiman and David Shrigley.

What is your work process like?

I do horrible storyboards with stick figures and the artists think, ‘Oh my god, we’ve made the worst mistake of our lives.” After that, I have to promise them to make the animation and storyboards neat.

Usually, I think of the story, write a script, storyboard it, erase everything and then go, “I hate this! Doing the wrong thing with my life!” [laughs]

Do you think Indian bands need music videos to promote themselves better?

I wouldn’t say they’re necessary, because a lot of good music really stands out on its own. But it’s nice to see videos coming out because it’s nice to add that other layer of interpretation to songs.

Which Indian bands are you digging right now?

I’m really shy to go to gigs right now. I really like [lo-fi rock band] Hoirong and a new-wave band from Delhi called Smooth Relax. I like Nischay Parekh a lot. Anything he writes is cute and pretty. 

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