Monday, August 31, 2009

Roopaantar: Synopsis & Making-of

The best part of the city dweller's routine is his daily walk through the forest where he catches glimpses of life's beautiful forces at work. One rainy day he decides to take shelter under a cherry blossom tree and something sublime happens that changes his life forever. Nature reveals herself with a message that opens up a new world for the man. He sees her dynamic perfection with new eyes until one day the human world begins to encroach upon his dream-life...

Within many of us today there is fundamental apathy towards the environment. The story is a creative visual response to this pervasive apathy. It presents a lack of awareness and care about nature alongside the ever-present circle of life that is connecting everything on this Earth to the vast oneness. We are a part of nature and nature is a part of us, forming us as we become and informing us about who we should be. This animation addresses the need to connect with our surroundings and better understand the world within and outside of us and its continuously emerging beauty.


The film brings together the technique of stop-motion animation, the craft of hand papermaking, and the ancient tradition of shadow puppetry. Everything seen in the film has been made by hand and constructed using wire frames embedded in paper. The paper for the characters and the trees was made using cotton fiber from recycled rags and the paper used for the background was made from banana bast. A great deal of time went into these processes before something was finally ready for its moment in the animation.

Stage 1: Planning through drawings

This step involves making thoughtful illustrations of what the final characters should look like. The design for each character, tree, plant and any other prop used in the film is done at this stage. Movements of each prop are also considered and the moving parts are planned out as separate elements to be constructed.

Stage 2: Construction of Props

All the props are made to actual size on paper, after which they are traced over with the copper wire. This forms the wire frames, which are created by two different processes. They are either delicately glued onto the paper or embedded into the paper after it has been pulled from the vat.

In the gluing process, precise gluing is essential because it determines what the final shape will look like. After the frames have been glued into place on a sheet of paper, then another sheet of hand-made paper is taken and brushed with an adhesive solution. This brushed sheet is lowered onto the dry sheet containing the wire structures and water is brushed onto the adhesive-brushed top sheet. At this stage, this whole piece (the dry sheet with wires and the wet adhesive-brushed sheet) is placed between many layers of felt. This block of paper and felt is pressed for over six hours under a heavy lead press, and is then laid out to dry.

In the other process to create the structures, the wire is embedded into the paper after it has been pulled from the vat. Another sheet is pulled, and laid neatly atop the first sheet. To complete the process, both sheets are semi-dried in a hydraulic press and are then further pressed between many layers of felt for over six hours in a lead press.

Stage 3: The Mental and Physical Shape Forming Process

Imagining the paper pieces' movements are incredibly important in this step because the paper structures in the animation are incredibly fragile. They can only be moved a limited number of times before they are damaged and must be recreated. When cutting a piece for its purposes, one must imagine the piece's use in the animation beforehand and then weigh this against the gap between the edge of the paper and the wire frame. This gap determines the strength of the entire structure. If the cut is made too close to the wire, the structure will be inherently weak, and will wear out more easily with usage. A cut farther from the wire, on the other hand, means a more durable structure but a less precise shape.

The physical part of this process begins after the sheets are completely dry. Once the balance of a shape's durability, functionality, and look have been determined, it is finally precisely cut out with the idea of joining the shapes together, as in the case with the two figure's knee joints, for example. Holes are pierced in all the shapes to be joined, and a thin wire is passed through. This holds the two shapes together firmly to allow for maximum movement with minimum damage.

Stage 4: Shooting

The props and characters are now ready, the scene set. They all make their way to a light table, and a camera is set up directly above the set. After working out the movements on a sheet of paper, tweezers are employed to ensure minimal movement. Each prop/character is shot separately and each of these image sequences is then composited to create an entire frame. The entire film contains a total of 7000 frames, all shot in this way.

From the germ of an idea to a final edit, the entire process took seven months.

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