"Filmmaking is like an evolution and visual effects is just a medium in it to tell your story," said writer-director Vani Saraswathi Balgam. She was addressing the press meet held by Toonz Animation as part of Animation Masters Summit 2021.
Vani started associating with the animation industry at a time when the rest of us would have just started watching animation. Thanks to her dad, who started an independent 2D animation studio, Vani grew up in an exhilarating creative environment throughout her childhood.
Talking about her journey, Vani mentions challenging herself with each role. "When I started as a young co-ordinator, I decided to choose my own path. Later, when I was asked to help set up a studio, I took that up. Then, I wanted to be an independent filmmaker and tell my own stories. And it wasn't easy at all. A lot of times, many people didn't support me because I didn't have a big name behind me. At the end of the day, it depends on how persistent and committed you are," she said.
Having worked as the Head of Creative Management for DreamWorks Animation in Shanghai and as Executive Director of Rhythm & Hues studio in India, she managed the teams of artists and technicians that created the VFX and digital characters in Academy Award- winning movies like Life of Pi, The Golden Compass and The Chronicles of Narnia. When asked about the success behind her ventures, she credits it for the teamwork.
"I don't think I did it alone. It was teamwork, and we all had the same kind of frequency, the energy, the vibration. We just wanted to do the best and deliver the best. It was a unifying energy, and so I would like to give the success to the team effort," she explained.
When asked about how the Indian VFX will develop films on a small scale unlike Hollywood which is produced on big budgets, Vani, who served as a producer on Return of the Jungle at Vaibhav Kumaresh studios, pointed that things are getting better than how it used to be.
"Today, a lot of Indian studios are approaching outside studios. While there is a comparison of prices, there is also the comparison of quality. Now, visual effects producers are becoming more important," she said.
Talking about the importance of visual effects in the storytelling process, she emphasized, "Filmmaking is an evolving process. It's an evolution. There are some movies that don't need visual effects, then there are some that can't go without it, and there are also some that need it only in bits and parts. There are some amazing horror flicks that got some wonderful VFX, but they need not be box office hits. So, visual effects is just a medium to tell a story. By itself, animation or visual effects is a tool but what goes into it, is a story that needs to be directed within the set budget."
As a creative producer, Vani was also the President of Women In Animation India for over 10 years. A mentor with Unreal fellowship, Vani is currently busy with the making of Jeet music video with dee MC and Roto Shah using unreal. She further highlighted that though women in the animation industry have been moving in the right direction, they need to help themselves and participate more proactively. Back in the day, it was difficult for a woman to establish and create a film. But today, we have tons of opportunities to pick from, she concluded.