Venugopal dreamt big and has achieved his dream. He tells Harshini Vakkalanka his debut animation film, 5ters…, is a path-breaking one

G. Venugopal, a debut director of the film, “5ters- Castle of Dark Master” has managed to fulfil his childhood dream of becoming a director through the world of dreams — of animation.

According to him, “5sters…” is a film that incorporates 2-D and 3-D animation on a scale never seen before. He says that it is a part of his initiative towards making technologically superior Indian films and hopes that it will set off a trend of more such films.

A graduate of Fine Arts from the M.S. University in Baroda, Venugopal started off as an illustrator with several newspapers and magazines like his father. It was while working at a national newspaper in Mumbai that he and his friends became enamoured with the concept of animation and decided to learn everything about it. He began making short films with a social message for the NFDC and other governmental bodies.

Later, he joined Toonz Animation in Trivandrum where under the guidance of a veteran animator Ajit Rao, he got into production. He was involved in producing television serials for Malayalam channels. He has also worked on action storyboards and visual effects on Bollywood movies like “Main Hoon Na” and “Naina”.

Meanwhile, he continued making socially-relevant short films, now jointly with his current assistant, associate director and digital production head, Vijayalakshmi N.S. They even won an award in China for a film on road safety.

It was during this time that they hit upon an idea to make a quality 3-D animation film that they envisioned would be at par with Hollywood. Venugopal says he was highly impressed by India's first popular 3-D film “Chhota Chetan” that was first released in 1984 in Malayalam. “I was blown away by the technological quality of the film. But I was disappointed that it hardly received any acclaim for its production. The fact that it had a budget of 25 crores and introduced the concept of 3-D in Indian theatres was an achievement in those days.”

Venugopal is highly inspired by the legendary Hindi film “Sholay”. He has also drawn inspiration from Hollywood bigwigs like Steven Spielberg — whom he loves for his storytelling style, James Cameron for his technological innovation, Robert Zemeckis for his visual effects in films like “Back to the Future” and “Beowulf”. “They can make all kinds of movies ranging from romance and drama to 3-D and fantasy. The thing with Hollywood is that they are experts in almost every aspect of filmmaking.”

“If someone like James Cameron made a move like “Chhota Chetan” in the 80s, it would have been received differently. The difference is that animation movies in Hollywood receive a lot of funding, so they don't have to compromise on quality. While in India, there is equal talent, but there is hardly any funding. Producers here are scared of making animated movies because they don't think it will make it big at the box-office,” he explains.

His team initially made a one-minute teaser trailer of their film concept to demonstrate to producers they are all about quality. But most producers turned them down because he and his team were debutants. Finally, they met an almost debutant producer, Rajesh Kumar, who had just started a 3-D company – Morphosys. He was impressed with their idea and three years later, “5ters” was born.

“We worked extremely hard on the project. As beginners, we struggled a lot to bring out a quality product. In fact, there were only a few of us spearheading every part of the project ranging from character design to costumes and storyboarding,” he says.

Venugopal feels that India has not produced a single piece of wondrous art that matches up to its ancient, latent potential since the Taj Mahal. His vision is to bring out all the “underground” talent and make India the global hub of art and culture. He believes that there is a huge labour power in India that the globalised world finds very useful. But this talent remains at the hired labour level and does not tap into the country's vast creative potential.

So how effectively does his film employ this creative potential? “Our film sends out a strong message to kids about their responsibility to save nature and restore the balance between creation and destruction. We wanted to put out this message in an adventurous yet subtle way so that it stays in their minds. We hope that they will be able to understand this significance of what they have watched years from now,” says Venugopal.