Beginnings of Animation in India

India, like most of the older parts of the world, has a long standing history of storytelling traditions. While most western story structure is based on Aristotle’s seminal work ‘Poetics’, The key Indian storytelling structure is proposed in the ‘Natya Sastra’. Bharata Muni’s (possibly fictional person) texts originate sometime between the 2nd Cen. BCE to 2nd Cen. CE. Bharata proposes creating moods or Rasas, focusing on one of the 8 discussed, throughout a story.

Elephanta Caves Nataraja
Image of 6th Cen. CE Nataraja from the Elephanta Caves

Fast forward to the late 19th Century and we have the likes of Mahadev Gopal and Mahadev Patvardhan experimenting with and screening their work using the Magic Lantern. In 1896 the Lumiere Brothers introduced the film camera to India. The 1915 stop-motion experiment by Dadasaheb Phalke using match sticks called Aagkadyanchi Mouj or The Game of Match Sticks officially marks the beginning of Animation in country. This continued with various other attempts at shorts into the 30s and 40s, most of these films have sadly been lost to time.

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Animation history in India as explained by the Films Division of India (click to play)

After independence the Films Division of India was set up and in 1956 Clair Weeks, a Disney Animator who had worked on films such as Snow White, Bambi and Peter Pan, was invited back to India where he was born. In his eighteen month long visit he helped setup the country’s first formal animation studio and trained various animators who together produced a short called The Banyan Deer, a film based on an old Buddhist Jataka Tale. The model sheets from Bambi that Weeks had brought along were used to create the characters.

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A short silent film about Clair Weeks’ 1956 visit to India (click to play)

The Banyan Deer Storyboard
The Banyan Deer Storyboard 1
The Banyan Deer Storyboard 2
The Banyan Deer Storyboard 2
The Banyan Deer Storyboard 3
The Banyan Deer Storyboard 3
The Banyan Deer Storyboard 4
The Banyan Deer Storyboard 4
The Banyan Deer Storyboard 5
The Banyan Deer Storyboard 5
The Banyan Deer News Articles
The Banyan Deer News Articles
The Banyan Deer News Articles
The Banyan Deer News Articles
The Banyan Deer News Articles
The Banyan Deer News Articles

For me it has been humbling to find a rich animation history in the country of my birth to draw from.

Sen, J. (1999). India's Growing Might. [online] Animation World Network. Available at: https://www.awn.com/animationworld/indias-growing-might [Accessed 20 Oct. 2017].
Tetali, P. and Agarwal S. The Story of Indian Animation. [online] D’source. Available at: http://www.dsource.in/course/story-indian-animation/background [Accessed 20 Oct. 2017].