An uncomfortable, incidental storyteller is how animation short film maker Dhaneesh Jameson describes himself. He recalls the frights he would get, at the National Institute of Design (NID), when a storytelling assignment was due. “I was never an imaginative kid. Storytelling was, therefore, not easy.” A flair for drawing he concedes, probably, led him to animation and eventually animated short films.
The Blue Sweater , the animated short film that he made as his project at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) School of Film and Animation, New York, was nominated for 20 national and international events/awards. He is a post-graduate in Fine Arts, Computer Animation from RIT.
From Poland to Greece to Hungary to Brazil to India (and a few countries in between) the film has won four awards along the way. It was adjudged the best animated short at the Bengaluru International Short Film Festival, at the 2015 Chicago South Asian Film Festival, while at DigiCon6 INDIA Awards it got a silver medal and was selected for the Innovative Art Award at the DigiCon6 ASIA awards.
The short film, all six minutes plus of it, draws you into the world of a young boy and his sister. The rich Kerala imagery, the rains, the flora and the fauna are evocative; one can imagine bits and pieces of Dhaneesh’s childhood memories embedded. It engages with the very grown-up concept of loss and death. A child’s fears too are captured; of shadows, for instance, in the growing shadow of a frog. It is dark and ominous, a frightening place.
“I like to tell the dark stories. I cannot say I am without influences…Tim Burton is a big influence.” The Hollywood director is known for his dark, gothic, fantasy films. Dhaneesh’s other films – Wilson Pereira, There Is a Monster Under My Bed , Solomon Maximus Chacko too are in the same, dark vein.
Refreshingly forthright, Dhaneesh admits to not being much of a reader as a kid. The only ‘books’ he read as a kid were Malayalam comics. Hence, he finds his stories devoid of too many influences. The boy from Vypeen says over time, as his craft evolved, he wanted break free from Burton’s influence on his story telling. “I want to work without influences.” But he found his way back to the dark stories.
Wilson Pereira (2010) is another must-see for fans of animated shorts, its conclusion an unexpected whiplash. The film was dubbed in Malayalam, Hindi and English, the voiceovers by Mohanlal, Naseerudin Shah and Tom Alter respectively.
“Before every story telling assignment I’d be worried. But I’d somehow make it through and be appreciated for my stories but I was apprehensive I would be caught,” he says of his storytelling days at NID where he was pursuing a degree in animation filmmaking. Group assignments got him appreciation of his teachers and negligible amounts of confidence. Over time he has acquired ‘some confidence’ he adds. He ‘designed’ a way to tell his stories – “a design process that doesn’t involve starting with a beginning or at a particular point. I stitch together elements,” he says.
‘Stitching’ together his story was tough. There were around four years of not knowing which way to turn. He was turned down from the College of Fine Arts, Thiruvananthapuram and MSU Baroda from the Fine Arts courses. Instead he joined the Art History course at MSU and while there he met a few students from NID and found his calling.
“It is said, if you don’t make it to the Fine Arts colleges then chances are you won’t make it to NID either. I did, it was life and death for me. I was driven, I just had to.” He had passed out of Class XII in 2004, and this was 2008. He wasn’t doing anything worthwhile given that he wasn’t keen on following the other, usual professional course route. NID was an entirely different world, “a culture shock.” An introvert, NID coaxed him out of his shell and he bloomed, part of his self doubt dislodged. He was a recipient of the Young India Fellowship in 2011, the following year he joined RIT, went to New York as a Fulbright scholar.
The three years were good to him. “The US is a bit more forgiving. You can make your mistakes, you won’t be judged too harshly. However ludicrous the idea, they are encouraging.”
Now back home, he wants to build his career “around telling stories to solve a problem. Help build brands.” He is talking animation shorts for brands, to help sell their idea. The nascence of the animation industry makes a fixed source of income inevitable.
It’s not yet time for art for art’s sake, but there will be a time for that too.
Before every story telling assignment I’d be worried. But I’d somehow make it through and be appreciated for my stories