In 2008 during my Honours year I spent 3 months in India at Whistling Woods film school. I had an internship lined up at Virgin Comics in Bangalore, which folded just weeks before the scheduled start date. To satisfy the requirements of the Honours year I was given an essay to write instead, detailing my time there. This is that essay.
Situated in Film City, East Goregaon, Mumbai, Whistling Woods is surrounded by a constant hive of film shoots and activity. Walking between the hostel and the campus on any given day provided a stimulating insight into the Indian film industry. Over a short period of time, empty lots would give birth to bamboo structures, which in turn would become amazing film sets of city streets, and in turn would dissapear a short time later, knocked down to make way for the next set. This industry obviously supports a massive number of local tradesmen and workers, and one gets the sense of the strength and vitality of cinema in India simply by merit of living within this location.
The students of Whistling Woods have the option of low cost student hostel living only around a kilometre from the campus. Serviced by a shuttle bus in the morning and night, the hostel is adequate, with two students to a room and each room with its own bathroom. The security presence is somewhat overbearing for someone from a western country, and rules in regard to mixed sex fraternisation are extremely strict as one might expect. Females are all located on one floor, the males take up the other six floors. A common room exists to allow non-contact relations. An 11pm curfew exists, and as much as the students rail against of it, the fact that the area around the hostel is largely jungle and a number of people per year are attacked and killed by leopards in film city seems to justify the presence of such rules.
According to Mr. Gokul K, head of the animation department, about 120 students are enrolled in WWIL and competition for acceptance is fierce. The animation course received as many as 80 applicants in July 2008 for a maximum class size of 30 students. The massive influx of new students has pushed the school’s capacity to new limits, and for some time to come there will be inequities between facilities and students requiring them. For example “they have 4 Z1P cameras for 120 students to use and two of those are spoilt” according to a student currently studying cinematography at Whistling Woods.
July 20- The first impression of Whistling Woods was through its student lodgings, Royal Palms, Picadilly One, located roughly half a kilometre from the campus. Upon arrival there was a distinct sense of confusion, as nobody either knew who I was or where I was supposed to be staying. After a long plane flight and landing in a new country this was not what I had hoped. After putting me in one room and then moving me to another, the rest of the night included an informal meet and greet for the new students and a mild ragging which set a comfortable tone for the rest of the evening.
July 21- Arrived at Whistling Woods at 8am via shuttle bus. Met Chris Higgins who in turn introduced me to Dhanhanjay, the Animation Professor I was given a thorough tour of the campus. We spoke about what i felt i required from my time at Whistling Woods, as well as what i felt i could contribute during my time there.
There followed a series of talks by faculty in the lecture hall, with time given for each new student to stand up and give a brief speech about themselves, their speciality, previous experience, and in some cases, hopes and dreams. The talks emphasised the demands of Whistling Woods on the students in relation to punctuality and attendance. Stressed in particular the need for the upkeep of strong vitality, and strength of character; the course entails long hours, as much as twelve to fifteen per day for some students, six days a week.
July 22- Introduced to the senior Animators, in their fourth and final semester and in the last stages of Pre-Production for their graduate film. As my honors project and thesis focuses on sequential art narrative I have offered my services to the film storyboard, which was simple and seemingly uninformed. I have learned that the animation diploma course offered at WW does not have any storyboarding component. This, I feel, does a disservice to the students, as this type of traditional pre-visualisation education still proves an asset in the professional field.
July 23- WW has on campus a fully equipped gym, complete with nutritionist and personal trainer. I feel this is a vitally important service for students wishing to stay fit in order to help them through the long hours and rigorous film shoots.
July 24- The monsoon season has set in and power shortages are now common. I have now become accustomed to saving my work far more frequently. The airconditioning is a hit and miss affair, and a lecture hall full of some hundred plus students without proper ventilation or air-conditioning in humid Mumbai weather makes the learning environment less than favourable.
July 31st. I have been spending most of my time helping the senior animators where possible, in particular Pallave, who had been assigned with the task of storyboarding. I was able to teach her things she seemed, surprisingly, oblivious to, such as exposition of character and plot through the use of props, gesture, and camera placement.
July 29- I have been allocated a reasonable Personal Computer in the senior animators computer lab. When I enquired as to whether I could upgrade the CRT monitor to a flat screen I was informed that there were no available flat screens. I then noticed that many staff did not even have anything more than 17 inch CRT monitors. Looking further at the facilities i noticed that the allocation of technology through ot the campus seemed odd- certain rooms that rarely got used were full of the latest, state of the art Macintosh computers and rooms that were constantly in use were serviced by outdated technology. This may be in part an administration problem or a matter of an undermanned and overloaded IT department.
August 4th- The storyboarding for the senior animators film goes well. Unfortunately the staff have deemed that since I am now responsible for the storyboarding, the student previously responsible has now been given the task of 3D environment modelling. This is unfortunate in the respect that she had been all too keen to learn as much as possible from me about this craft, and now she has been given a task that she has little interest in. Still, I have been endevouring to move along the students as much as possible, and have found that the level of tuition i have recieved is of great benefit to the students. This has sparked within me an interest in teaching, and has opened my eyes to the varying levels of teaching in different institutions.
August 7th– Today a guest speaker from Dreamworks was scheduled to speak to the animation students. The lecture hall assembled early in eager anticipation, only to wait a full two hours for the speaker to arrive. No explaination was given for the delay. This sort of thing is commonplace at Whistling Woods; as a student I got the impression that though our time was valuable to us in the sense of the workload and what is expected, the faculty often thought nothing of making students wait on them. The presentation in the end was insightful and full kudos are given to the film school for arranging such speakers, however there seems to be problems in terms of communicating to students when such time management problems arise.
August 11th– I have spoken with a member of administration with regards to holding free, informal lifedrawing classes for the animators and any other students who would care to join us, but my grand plans have been quickly torn asunder. Apparently though there are too many problems with such a request. Due to administration requirements, any new class, or anything requiring regular use of classroom space, must go through an extraordinary amount of paperwork, and must be approved, processed and submitted a semester in advance. The whole thing leaves me a little frustrated. Surely the staff would welcome the assistance, and I know the students would appreciate, and benefit from, such tuition. It seems to me that there are still many administrative teething problems at the film school, something I hope is rectified sooner rather than later.
August 14th– Work progresses on the storyboards, which the students have begun translating into 3D ‘board-omatics’. A new term to my vocabulary. At least once a week the animation lecturers, Dhananjay, Dnyaneshwar and Gokul visit the class to monitor the film’s progress. In these meetings the difference between teacher-student relations in India as compared to Australia become exceedingly obvious. The teachers are treated here with a reverential sense of respect, and the teachers in turn communicate to the students in a manner that seems, to my Western eyes, downright harsh and abrasive. It must be part of the preparative training for the workplace, as the work is stripped down and critisiced, often without construction. The students are obviously nervous and it is not unusual for some of the more sensitive members to appear on the verge of tears. As i sit back and observe these meetings i wonder at the benefit of such brutal critique. However, in my time in India i have felt it necessary not to judge using my own Western beliefs. The truth is that there is a great deal more competition for work in India, and this sort of ‘tough love’ may be vital in building a sense of fortitude and strength in the students to prepare them for the harsh reality to come after graduation.
August 20th– Problems with my working environment are now an everyday occurance. Dodgy electrical systems have ensured that every time i plug in my hard drive, every computer in the room loses power. This is something of a nuisance. In seeking to rectify the problem i have been informed that it is my power supply that is the problem; however the hard drive works just fine in every other classroom. As i stated earlier, the IT department is undermanned and over worked, so i can understand that need for a flippant prognosis, but once again the differences in basic necessities between Australia and India, such as reliable electrical systems, is strongly emphasised. In addition, the personal computer I have access to keeps running out of RAM when i use too many layers in photoshop. Not seemingly a big problem, but between the power cuts, rarely working internet, 9pm school closure and the frequent need to arrange for a member of IT to come and free up space on the computer, the pleasure of creating works in photoshop becomes a jarring and frustrating experience.
August 25th– I have been attending yoga classes through the school, which in addition to using the gym facilities have helped me slightly in my battle against sickness. I have had an instance of fever, however the hostel has a doctor onsite who was able to prescribe the relevant battery of medications to fix the problem before it got out of hand.
August 27th– The food offered at the school cafeteria is becoming a monotonous constant, however the exceedingly cheap prices help console the matter. The only choices for food are the cafeteria, the ‘tuck-shop’ which really only provides packaged snack foods and drinks, and a cheap psuedo-restaurant also on campus which serves a small selection of hot traditional Indian dishes. Barring these places it is a ten minute ride in an auto-rickshaw to the nearest eatery in Goregaon.
September 1st- The freshmen students have completed their MFP (My First Project) films and there is definitely some good work amongst them. The students here are already benefiting from this hands on, intensive training. All over the campus students are filming bits and pieces. The entire place is a hive of activity. Its encouraging to see.
September 3rd– Chris Higgins, the head of administration has left for greener pastures and as a result i have decided to chase up the internship at Virgin Comics. I had thought that it was set in stone and the ball was already rolling, but apparently, on speaking with the new administration head, this is not the case. I have written out a detailed email outlining my previous experiences and motivation for wanting the internship and attached the relevant pictures from my portfolio, and now i wait.
September 9th– Today i was informed that Virgin Comics has ceased business; for whatever reason, Richard Branson pulled out his financial backing and liquidated the company. Funnily enough, i believe that the remaining people are seeking alternate finance, and plan to call the new company Liquid Comics. This is of no help to me as the new operation will most likely be in America. It is a depressing day; the internship was something I had looked forward to eagerly. At least i have my own comic in progress, and simply through the act of production i am learning a great deal, but the missed oppurtunity of working in an actual comic studio and witnessing the techniques of professionals is regretful.
September 13th– I have been helping one of the BOFT (Business Of Film and Television) students with their script, and in particular the visualization of certain scenes. It’s greatly enjoyable being able to bounce ideas back and forth with someone as creative and passionate as myself, and also has the benefit of furthering my interest in storyboarding as a possible career choice.
One of the great advantages for an exchange student studying at Whistling Woods is the sense of difference. The everyday frustrations with administration, facilities and curriculum are easily offset by the generous, enthusiastic students, and the sense that people are here because they want to chase their dreams. Everyday is an adventure, and the brain is stimulated by the alien sights, sounds and smells of the place. My work has no doubt been influenced by India already, my drawing has taken on a looser energy and the constant challenges faced are instilling in me a greater sense of adventure. Things taken for granted in our affluent society are constantly questioned in a poorer one, and as such we as artists are forced to evaluate the work we produce with a broader scope of perception and a greater sensitivity.