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An animation guru and his Indian gurukul

February 18, 2010 03:58 IST

Jerzy Kular is a veteran in the European animation film industry, with more than 30 years of experience. The Polish-French Kular was educated in Canada and Germany, and has collaborated on several films, including working on visual effects with world-renowned directors like Roman Polanski, Constantin Costa-Gavras and Francois Truffaut. His works also include innovative projects in motion rides, 3D shows for theme parks, films for science centers and live shows.

Currently, Kular is the head of studies of a newly established animation school located outside Pune, DSK Supinfocom International Campus. The school is a joint collaboration between a Pune-based company DSK Group and Supinfocom, an animation, gaming and design educational institution run by the chamber of commerce in Valenciennes, north of France. 

Rediff-India Abroad's Aseem Chhabra met Kular at E.magicians, an animation festival held late last year in Valenciennes. Kular spoke about his decision to take up the position in Pune, his students and the explosion of interest in animation studies in India.

How did you decide to take up this position in Pune?

During my long career, I occasionally have taught as a part-time teacher at animation schools in France. But in recent years I felt I was getting into a rut. I had an idea about going to Brazil -- my wife is from there -- to set up a training facility, probably linked with some art school. At that time I heard that Sopinfocom was thinking of starting a school in India. The Indian company DSK approached them. I figured this is what I liked to do anyway. I can be in a country that I have liked. I had been to India in 1997 and a couple of times since. I will set up the school, I will adapt, and I will have a new adventure. With this new experience I would be a much more credible candidate to set up something in Brazil. Because they say that if you succeed in India you can succeed anywhere.

Is animation becoming an important career option in India?

Animation is a buzzword in India for a few years now. There was a recent study of parents and the top 10 professions they would like their children to pursue. Animation came in the fourth place, which is amazing. They still say doctors, lawyers, engineers and then animation. This is surprising for us, because we have a different mindset. For us animation is not a job, but it is a vocation, only for people who feel that this is what they need to do. This may be old world thinking, because in India when things become hot, they become so very quickly. In India the needs are big, the studios are big and they line up hundreds of people. In France we line up maybe dozens of people.

Why are the students so fascinated with animation? 

There are three different types of students. Those who feel this is their calling. Then there are those for whom it is a career choice -- 'I am not particularly creative, but I hate wearing a tie, so animation is pretty cool', and the worst case -- the boys who are rebels or girls who are dilettante.

The girls usually come from good families and the parents want them to do something before they marry them off. This exists everywhere. The rebel boy does not want to fit into any group and he figures because he is good at computers this maybe a right place for him. Some of them can become very dynamic creative elements of the society. The society in India generally has norms. Those who do not fit into those norms are shoved out of society.

But the society has become so complex and there are so many needs that often, talented people with character flaws elsewhere can still fit in. They can be socially useful if their talent is put to use.

How big is the school facility and how was it planned out?

The plan was to set up three schools for animation, video games and design. The investment is coming from DSK. Sopinfocom is providing the pedagogical contents and supplying the trainers, whether French or Indian. My title is head of studies for the animation programme. The idea was to create a facility for teachers, students' hostels, sports, library, auditorium and classrooms. It is planned in three phases and we are about to complete the first phase -- one school building which houses the three schools, one staff quarters and one student hostel, with a few sports facilities. 

We started in 2008 with three faculty members and 47 students. Now in the second year we have 140 students.  The first year the students mostly came from the Pune area and there were a few French students. Now they are students from several other states in India. I have 34 students in animation. We have a foundation course for those out of high school and advance course for those out of college.

What brings the French students to Pune?

Sometimes they have already been in school in France and want to transfer, or are looking for global careers, and also some have the element of adventure.

How do you compare the quality of the Indian and French students, their concerns and needs?

The Indian students are a diverse lot. We can't say they are all the same, because they are Indian.  I have some advanced students who have done a two years engineering diploma, and only then they have been able to convince their parents that they are not meant for that and should do animation. They have a lot to catch up on the artistic side, but they did learn some rigour in their engineering courses.

I have a graduate from the National Institute of Design who has been working for four years in corporate identity and exhibition design. He later decided to learn animation. This is obviously an exceptional student. Then there is a student from a modest background who does not have a strong cultural base, but on the other hand is very hard working and he manages to keep up with these other brilliant and cultivated students. Sometimes he even does better than them. His concern is to get a good job in an animation company.

The French students are perhaps more aware of the reality of the industry. They know how to eventually get out and make money, to follow our directions and better execute. School time is to learn for them. The Indian students are not always so clear about the reality. A lot of my younger Indian students are all starry eyed and they believe that everybody will treat them fairly, once they have the diploma. That in reality is not the case, whether it is in India or France.

What courses are you teaching? Is the programme the same at Sopinfocom?

I am teaching film language, film analysis and modern art history. The basic curriculum is the same as in Sopinfocom, but it would be ridiculous to keep it exactly the same, because the cultural basis of the students isn't the same.  In France, someone in the advanced programme would have gone to an arts school. In India, only half of them have done something artistic. So I have to give them some basic understanding of art. I have students right now in first, second, third and fourth years. In 2008, we accepted students for the first year foundation and the first year advance programme -- which is the equivalent of the third year. It is a five years programme.

How did you go about recruiting students?

There have been several ways, including student fairs and animation events. You have to try and have visibility. I have participated in animation events in Mumbai, Pune and Bengaluru. I give presentations and increase the awareness of our programme among potential students. The general student fairs are a little trickier. There are thousands of different professions for students to choose from and there are 1,200 animation schools in India. A lot of them churn out students in between three and nine months. They basically teach the people how to push the right buttons. A few of them do better than that, but 90 per cent of them are just churning out students.

What has the experience been like, the hardships and the downside of starting and running a school in India?

The hardships are linked to poor infrastructure, planning and communication issues in the construction. The administrative part has been more difficult than what anyone had expected -- visa renewals, permits. This has been a major problem. In France, these institutions do not have boarding schools. We are just interested in the teaching. In India we have to deal with boarding school issues -- students not happy, discipline, the food, and lack of activities, which is also sometimes true for the faculty, because we are also living on the campus.

What about your life in India?  What is it that you expected and what did you not expect?  How do you take the weather in Pune?

When I arrived my apartment was not ready. So I was living in the city and commuting every day. The company organised the commute, the roads were tough, but it was more comfortable living in the city. Now I never go into the city. At least my wife goes to town. Pune is not a huge city, but you can go to the shop and restaurants. We are too close to the students. They knock on my door, even on Sundays. I have become used to the weather. I have lived in cold countries for most of my life so this is a refreshing change. Cold I know. Our houses are still not air-conditioned. Internal air conditioning is coming, but in April and May it is difficult.

We have satellite television and high speed Internet. We have generators to provide continuous electricity during the power failures. If there were a power failure in France it would make international headlines, but not in Pune!

What do you miss the most about Paris? 

Good conversations. There are other French teachers, but most are younger. I miss close friends, cultural opportunities. But as I said at the beginning, I was getting into a rut. Things are much more exciting here and even though there are difficulties, I haven't spent a single second being bored. There is always something on -- issues, problems, and challenges. 

Image: DSK Supinfocom International Campus and (inset) Jerzy Kular

Aseem Chhabra