The concept of Lamput is simple: a gooey orange creature who can morph into an infinite variety of objects tries to evade a couple of scientists. It needs to be simple — the shorts, commissioned by Turner Asia Pacific for Cartoon Network’s shorts program, are a mere 15-seconds long each.
Lamput is produced in India by Mumbai’s Vaibhav Studios. Forty-six 15-second micro-shorts have been produced, and the studio is now at work on a new season of expanded two-minute shorts. Turner currently airs Lamput around the globe on its various Cartoon Network, Boomerang, and POGO channels.
Lamput is a fresh look for Indian animation, and sets itself apart with sharp animation timing and attractive design. Lamput has also earned distinction as being among the first Indian properties sold from a pitch bible that has gone on to air globally. The series recently won the award for best case study at the FICCI Best Animated Frames, India’s key annual animation award.
Cartoon Brew spoke to Lamput creator and Vaibhav Studios founder Vaibhav Kumaresh to learn more about how this unique series came to be.
Cartoon Brew: How did you get started in animation and when did you start your own studio?
Vaibhav Kumaresh: I completed my post graduation in Animation Film Design from the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad in 1998. Thereafter I worked with Famous House of Animation in Mumbai for five years where I directed several animation shorts and TV commercials. However I was very keen to tell longer stories. In 2003, I decided to quit Famous to be able to work on a short children’s film. That was the birth of Vaibhav Studios. My wife Suranjana and I started it off and soon many friends joined us and here we are.
Tell me more about the work your studio has produced?
Vaibhav Kumaresh: We direct and produce a lot of commercials and promos for tv channels. That’s primarily our bread and butter. As a result our prime clients are advertising agencies like Ogilvy & Mather, Lowe Lintas, Grey Worldwide, and tv networks like Disney, Turner, Star TV, and Viacom.
One of our most popular characters is Simpoo, an animated math teacher who appeared on an Indian youth music channel called Channel V. Created in 1999 the Simpoo shorts were a big hit on tv and subsequently on the internet.
However most of our work is very strongly ‘local’ and primarily in Hindi and other Indian regional languages. Other popular projects include the Amaron battery campaign, Buladi’s anti-AIDS campaign, Chulbuli, and the Vodafone Zumis.
We love telling stories to our Indian audiences and we do so using all mediums of animation – be it hand drawn, stop motion or digital 3D. Personally I derive a lot from my own life and experiences, and as a result our work has a very strong contemporary Indian flavor. We have created some of the most popular animated characters in India with fan bases among adults as well as children. Other than that we have collaborated with Bollywood superstars Aamir Khan and Shah Rukh Khan to create animated sequences for their feature films. We have also created animated music videos and public service films.
The content that’s most close to our hearts is our maiden animation feature film. It’s a 100-minute Hindi film that we are producing entirely ourselves. It’s our humble attempt to try and bring back the Indian audiences to the theaters to watch Indian animation films.
And Lamput is your first series?
Vaibhav Kumaresh:Lamput is our very first venture into episodic content. Between projects, when we were relatively jobless, I would pen down ideas that excited me and try to pitch them to tv channels. Lamput (pronounced Luhm-Poot) was one such idea. It’s basically a ‘lump’ of clay that keeps morphing to escape from these two guys that want to catch him. I thought of an orange lump so I could pitch it to Nickelodeon. A couple of years later I got to know that Cartoon Network was looking for content from the Asia Pacific region. So I restructured my pitch and shared Lamput with Turner Asia Pacific. They loved it.
What is the general process in terms of writing episodes for Lamput? Do you pitch boards for each episode to Cartoon Network before production?
Vaibhav Kumaresh: We brainstorm amongst each other on the possible gags and how we should close it on the story front. Almost everyone from the studio contributes with oral narration of concepts/doodles/boards. We write down the promising ones. However since the story premise is predominantly visual, in most cases we know if it works or not only after we see it in motion in the form of an animatic. The fifteen-second gag format is extremely sensitive. A small tweak in the timing or poses can make or break the film. The animatics in some cases go through a couple of iterations before we are totally happy with it, and once we are happy, we try and retain the exact flavor till the very end.
And yes, we find the animatic to be the best way to pitch an idea to Cartoon Network. Once they are ok with it, the production begins. The process is pretty traditional. The keys and subsequent inbetweens are all freshly drawn in Flash with very little or no motion tweening at all. The backgrounds are all painted in Photoshop and composited in Flash again.
The series has a unique visual and animation style, with strong emphasis on cartoon timing and movement, and a stylistic throwback to mid-century character design. These are all distinctive elements for contemporary Indian animation. What inspired you to explore this direction?
Vaibhav Kumaresh: I am very happy you mention this because personally I’m thrilled and grateful to be working with an extremely inspiring and talented bunch of artists at our studio. While I was pitching Lamput to Cartoon Network, I had come across the work of an animation artist called Anand Babu. There was a beautiful sense of simplicity, madness, and timing in his work that I immensely liked. I was very keen that if Lamput took off, he should definitely be a part of it. And that’s what happened. Anand has taken Lamput to a different level with his inputs on the script, design, and animation.
Here’s what Anand has to say:
The animation and design style wasn’t done so intentionally. I was very much influenced by the classic shows from Tex Avery’s cartoons, to Genndy Tartakovsky’s Dexter’s Lab, and that slowly seeped into the show, especially the animation style. As the episodes went on, we realized there’s a bit of Vaibhav, me, and our influences in those characters. It kind of evolved on its own.
Other magicians include Ganesh Kotale who has almost single-handedly painted all the backgrounds, and independent music composer Roto Shah, who has meticulously designed the sound and music.
As a studio owner, what do you believe the Indian animation industry needs to do to shift its focus from predominantly outsourcing to developing more original IP and telling Indian stories?
To begin with we need to produce a film that makes a profit in India. That’s the best way to shift focus. The studios that cater to outsourced work form close to 90% of the animation industry in India. I believe their priorities are clear – make films to make money. Films or storytelling are secondary. And I don’t think this focus of theirs is likely to change in the near future.
The remaining 10%, according to me, is making money to make films and tell stories. As part of that minority, I believe our task is clearly cut out: strive harder to create engaging stories for our audience within the limited resources we have. We have to be at it till we get it right!
Filmmaking is just one small aspect. Distribution, promotion and multiple platforms for exhibition are things we need to learn more about. I feel Bollywood is a great example that Indian animation can follow. In the last one hundred years, Bollywood has evolved from our traditional folk theater to one of the largest film industries in the world. We have to try and create a similar audience base for our animation films as well. That’s our only way out.
We haven’t invested enough time into telling our own stories, making our own films, our way. And that shows in the films we have made so far. However we are learning and I am very confident that the land of storytellers will come up with its own brand of original, refreshing animation films very soon.
Concept & Direction: Vaibhav Kumaresh
Script, Design & Animation: Anand Babu
Color art & Backgrounds: Ganesh Kotale, Anand Babu
Music & Sound design: Roto Shah
Additional sound design: The Tuning Folk
Inbetweens: Saksham Arora, Isha Mangalmurti, Punit Gor, Gokul CJ, Dixa Barooah, Aparna Kulkarni, Dipanjan Dutta Choudhury
Additional Animation: Vikram Veturi, Rajiv Eipe, Vaibhav More, Vijay Raibole
Production supervision: Bhavesh Gondaliya & Sajid Khan
Produced by Vaibhav Studios (Mumbai, India)