Nadam (His), an experiential introductory film for the Indian Music Experience (IME), the first permanent interactive museum of Indian music in India, has recently won international acclaim. Filmmaker Indrajit Nattoji, the man behind this unique blend of music and art in this wonderful digital extravaganza, shares how he explored the vast world of Indian music in this immersive experimental work of animation.
The exquisite animation for Nadam is directed by Upasana Nattoji Roy and his team at Switch Studios, with the musical universe created by Gaurav Chatterjee, the brilliant sounds designed by the late Anish Gohil and co-written by Santayan Sengupta, a fellow designer and musician. Finally, the characters were artistically rotoscoped and hand-painted by Indrajit himself while wearing different hats as creative director, producer, and cameraman.
The second film installation for IME is Samay Chakra, a looping overhead showing the various classical Hindustani ragas or musical temperaments in the 24-hour cycle. Each Raga musically symbolizes the mood of the respective times of a day, from morning to night.
During an interview with Animation Xpress, the director shared that after the museum reopened after the pandemic, several film festivals took notice of the film. Nadam online, and the film was invited to participate. The Tokyo International Short Film Festival was one of them where it won an honorable mention in the Best Short Film category! Nadam is also a winner and nominee in three categories at the Indie Short Fest 2022 (Los Angeles International Film Festival). It is also included in the official selection list of the 12th Dada Saheb Phalke-2022 Film Festival.
“Nadam is one of three cinematic installations for IME, produced by my company, Blink Pictures. The Film Project came as a breath of fresh air when I was already bored with advertising, and it pushed me back to my roots of art and painting, which I had abandoned over the years. . The unique and challenging film formats and the vastness of Indian music as a subject made me feel like a design student again,” Indrajit said.
These beautiful ideas often emerge from something special and close to the hearts of artists. In line with inspiration from his own life, Indrajit’s story grew from his real life and family, with the characters being based on his granddaughter Nandini and his wife Nandita. Nandita also voiced the film.
“I grew up in a family where music and art were essential aspects of everyday life, and this project was an opportunity to explore and merge the two. The film is for my late mother, who introduced me to this beautiful musical journey. Nadam, designed to play in an immersive 180º circular projection, presents a dynamic insight into the uniqueness and diversity of India’s music. The story is that of a young girl (Shruti) who wakes up disturbed and frightened by the noises of the night. Her mother comforts her and shows her that every sound is a musical note. She then proceeds to take Shruti on a beautiful audio-visual journey, showcasing the diverse origins and eclectic evolution of Indian music,” he revealed.
The brief for Nadam was to create an introductory film for the Indian Music Experience Museum. He mentioned that when he received the memoir he wondered how to sum up a millennium of Indian music spanning folk, classical, film and more in five minutes and where to start.
Speaking about the roadmap he has followed, the National Institute of Design alumnus said, “I started with the fundamental element of music, sound. Every sound is a musical note, and the arrangement of musical notes creates a melody which creates a musical composition and so on. And I planned to tell this story simply as an engaging story for a child’s bedtime. I decided to tell this with the art of animation, a mixed medium, with which one can create an abstract visual soundscape to present an eclectic journey of the evolution of Indian music. I wrote the story idea and created a mood board, and the IME team loved the idea. My muse was my then eight-year-old daughter, who plays young Shruti in the film. I continued to do some animatics of her sleeping and waking up with some quick sketches while fleshing out the story and script with Santayan, my writer. I then created a detailed storyboard with my animator, Upasana (Roy).
After that, once the IME team was on board with the scripted storyboard, Gaurav, the music director, and Indrajit did a “radio edit” of the voice, raw sound design and music – much like a “soundboard”. This gave them an idea of the film’s sound graph.
According to him, Manasi Prasad, director of the IME museum, was more of a collaborator than a simple customer. “She has been involved in the museum project since its creation, much longer than me. His passion and dedication to Indian music and the museum is infectious.”
Sharing the technical details, he said, “I then shot the characters of Ma and Shruti and edited the character action clip sequences while the film’s visual soundscape was designed simultaneously. I created stylized hand painted animated characters with the edited action clips. The animation and visual effects team at Upasana and Switch Studios visualized and assembled all the elements and created the “soundverse” of Shruti. The music and sound design were then produced once the animation was locked.
He further mentioned that “We had done a reference radio edit of a sound graphic from the film based on the storyboard, but the actual sound design for Nadam was built after the animation was completed. Gaurav created sound tracks, each mood track flowing seamlessly into the next. Anish, the sound designer, then orchestrated the sound effects and the atmosphere of the visual and musical sequences. The ultra-wide format meant we had to guide the viewer on which part of the screen to focus on at different critical moments in the film. That’s what we’ve done with 5.1 Surround Sound mixing, where you can pan audio elements and place them in a particular virtual sound space and turn the audience’s head to the right vantage point.
Their efforts were worth it when the artwork was finally projected onto the museum’s 100-foot theater screen with surround sound. It was indeed a magical journey of music and art.
Nadam combines traditional hand-painted animation created on Procreate with compound 2D backgrounds and landscapes created with Adobe Photoshop and animated with Adobe After Effects. The massive 6990 x 1200 pixel format for a 100/10ft projection screen presented a formidable workflow and rendering time challenge, as Indrajit believes there were over 100 layers with which the team Switch Studios was struggling with After Effects. There was no precedent for a movie in a format like this, and there were a lot of technical issues that had to be worked out through trial and error, common sense, and sometimes just flight.
Interestingly, the characters of Ma and Shruti were digitally hand painted frame by frame from edited live action clips, a technique that can be called “artistic rotoscope”. Some textures and sketches were also done on paper and scanned for backgrounds.
“We realized that any cinematic cut would visually clash with such an unconventional widescreen format, as the projection extends beyond the audience’s cone of vision. Due to the constraints of the theatrical space, the viewer must pan their head to capture the images. Therefore, the film’s editing needed to have smooth transitions between sets so that each sequence would flow into the next to create a frictionless audio-visual experience. This discipline was incorporated into filmmaking, animation and sound design,” he mentioned of the final cut of the film.
Nadam was completed in 2019. After on-site technical previews and testing at the museum, it premiered at its grand opening in July 2019. Unfortunately, soon the pandemic hit, and few people got to see it at the museum theatre.
“Now that the museum is open, I hope more people will see it at the museum’s introductory theater in all its glory projected onto the massive 100-foot curved screen with immersive surround sound. It’s definitely not designed to be viewed on a laptop or phone,” he exclaimed.
His second work for IME is another wonderful piece.
Samay Chakra The installation theater is a 360 degree rear projection projecting the audiovisual image vertically onto the horizontal suspended circular screen so that visitors can view the film looking upwards. The film is a looping video allowing visitors to view part or all of the duration. The viewer experiences the change of scenery (from day to night and back to day) and the Hindustani classical music ragas associated with different times of the day. Associated imagery includes animated elements of Raga mala paintings – Indian miniature works of art depicting Hindustani musical ragas.
“The film, created in a circular format, is a visual amalgamation of time-lapse live shots of North Indian landmarks and landscapes, animated elements of Ragamala paintings and mandalas. I visualized the layered composites to represent the passage of hours, days, seasons and cosmic time and space,” Indrajit explained.
The animation for this film was executed by motion graphics artist Vishrut Manseta.
Explaining how the Ragas were used to blend in time to create a transcendent experience, he said, “My brief for the music of eminent flautist Pravin Godkhindi was a single loopable track with different ragas seamlessly blending together. It was a difficult musical composition because each classical Hindustani raga has its own personality and mood. The visually rich continuous looping circular projection with a captivating soundtrack depicts an endless wheel of time, creating an immersive and experiential installation – The Samay Chakra. The viewer can also read about classical Hindustani ragas in panels around the area.
Asked about the future of Indian animation in terms of creativity, Indrajit said, “The investment of time and effort required for an animation film project is huge and requires sponsorship and funding to sustain the demands. production and team complexes. In the post-pandemic era of fast turnarounds and instant ROI, studios and production houses in India do not see animation projects as viable. As a result, animation remains a non-traditional activity in India, often reduced to fast-paced television cartoon series. Therefore, creativity is limited to independent filmmakers and artists who love the medium and have exciting stories to tell with their fantastic animated shorts. At the same time, spots from major Indian animation studios are getting more mediocre, chasing TRPs and numbers.
The filmmaker concluded by sharing that he is currently working on the third installation known as Filmy Geet for the IME. The film will showcase the process of creating a Bollywood song.