Character designer, illustrator and storyboard artist, Ritaban Das, elaborates on the significance of storyboarding to effectively tell a story and thus also shares insights from his decade-long experience in animation.
Ritaban Das is a character designer, storyboard artist, and illustrator working in the animation industry for the last decade. He’s worked on a wide range of national and international 2D and 3D animated projects for platforms like Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, and Pogo. Recently, he shifted to Toronto, Canada for higher studies, looking to contribute his skills to the Canadian animation industry. He hopes to someday work on his own animated show.
How do you differentiate your approach between the roles of character designer, storyboard artist and illustrator?
Ritaban Das: At the end of the day it’s all interconnected; it all comes down to ‘story’. When I design a character, I start by thinking about what kind of personality the character has and their role in the story. I think about what I’m trying to communicate through the illustration. This helps me to figure out poses and expressions. As I’m drawing, I’m thinking about shapes, proportions, and appeal. I also think about the composition of the illustration. When I make storyboards, I’m telling a story in motion by acting out the characters in them.
What have been the greatest lessons you’ve learnt professionally and personally in your ten years of experience?
Ritaban Das: Draw what you like and the rest will fall into place. Only you know what motivates you.
How did you find your calling to be an artist and, thereafter, how did you nurture your skills to hone your craft?
Ritaban Das: I’ve been drawing for as long as I remember and I’m always very passionate about it. To be very honest, I sucked at studies and my parents knew that very well. I remember spending most of my time with a box of chalk and slate gifted to me by my father. Like every other child, I also loved to sketch my favorite cartoons. I usually sketched these animated characters on the back pages of all my notebooks and also my classmates’ notebooks. It made me known amongst my seniors for my sketches.
That’s the only thing I was good at which I followed blindly. Honing my craft came from lots of practice. I draw almost every day. I also follow and study other artists’ work. Reading or watching their interviews, where they describe their work processes and the likes, helped me a lot to grow as an artist over the years. I try to open my eyes and ears to absorb everything.
Could you take us through your process of how you envision a character and then execute it practically?
Ritaban Das: Being a Character Designer, most of my work is very much character-driven, blended with humor, and very graphical too. I always try to convey some sort of story through every character or Illustration I make. I like to play with various shapes and silhouettes and usually keep things simple.
The character design process is, in a way, a combination of different things. I ask myself ‘Who am I drawing? What is his/her personality?’ I sometimes look at influential artists’ work to get some ideas or even start from a drawing I like and translate it into my style. Then, trying to forget those influences, I often start from scratch with a basic shape such as the face as it determines the rest of the character for me, then the body (this can be a circle, oval or even a pear shape – it all depends on the personality of the character I want to draw).
Could you please elaborate on your current pursuit of higher studies and how you came to choose Canada for it?
Ritaban Das: I completed my studies at Humber College in 3D modeling & VFX and Graphic Design and got a job in an animation studio called House of Cool as a Story artist. I’m working on a very exciting project which will probably start airing next year.
I’ve always been well aware of the Canadian animation industry from the beginning and the kind of projects they do. I worked on a bunch of Canadian animation projects back in India.
We used to do a lot of outsourcing for studios here like Big Jump and Brown Bag Films. Canada’s animation industry always attracted me in terms of work culture, the kind of content they nurture, and the quality they produce, so I want to be a part of it.
What about the world of animation draws you towards it?
Ritaban Das: Animation is important because it enables us to tell stories and communicate emotions and ideas in a unique, easy-to-perceive way that both children and adults can understand. Animation has helped connect people throughout the world in a way that sometimes writing and live-action films cannot.
Today, anyone can pick up a drawing tablet and show their ideas to the world. Drawn figures can be funny, sad, or serious. It can have a playful, less intimidating feel to it to make the viewer feel more comfortable. Often, it has simply served as a way to make a heart-warming story that makes you think.
Through live-action movies, people can form biases based on the appearance and real-life personality of an actor playing a character. But as an animated character, the character feels like their own being.
What would you say are the most challenging aspects of working in the animation world and how do you tackle them?
Ritaban Das: Every project is challenging in different ways. The challenging ones are the projects where clients don’t have a clear understanding of their audience and outcome, goals or don’t have an investment or hierarchy for arriving at a consensus on feedback. The most challenging projects always boil down to size and scope and managing a team to produce the animation. Also, animating subject matter that I’m not interested in is challenging. But at the end of the day, we all survive because we all just love what we do.
Could you take us through your process of creating a storyboard and highlight its most important aspects?
Ritaban Das: Whether you’re working on a commercial TV spot, web video, or film, storyboards are an effective way to quickly tell a story. A storyboard is a sequence of drawings that represent the shots planned for video production. It covers all of the major shots, angles, and actions of your film. The very first step is to read your script and visualize it as an audience would. As I go from scene to scene, I analyze the screenplay and decide how I want each scene to look.
A script breakdown tells you what storyboards you need to create. Then I start doing the rough thumbnails with all the necessary camera angles in Photoshop and chalk out the entire scene I’m planning to do. The important thing is to give anyone who looks at the storyboard a sense of space — where are the objects in relation to the space they’re standing in.
Once I finish locking the scene on thumbnail level, I pitch it to my art director or creative director and take their feedback. After passing the thumbnail phase, I start making the rough staging in Storyboard Pro and work on the required actions, and move forward with the scene for the final animation. I might have to rework scenes over and over, combining different elements of the iterations until I finally have what the team is looking for.
What ways do you apply to understand client needs better and thereby produce results that are in sync with them?
Ritaban Das: Whether I work in any studio or as a freelancer, I always listen to what clients need. Listening to your client will help you understand and retain the information you’re already receiving, even if it isn’t a formal meeting. You need to ask questions to identify needs and paraphrase what they say. It helps with clarification and to enhances your understanding of their needs.
Also, I bring new ideas to the table. I don’t hesitate to propose something other than what the client had in mind. You may have a better service in mind and, if nothing else, this again shows you’re listening and attempting to understand your client’s needs. Understanding client needs is one of the biggest challenges of any business but also one of the most important and rewarding tasks.
Considering your range of work, could you please elaborate on significant projects and clients you’ve worked for?
Ritaban Das: Over the ten years of my career, I’ve worked on various national and international projects back in India for clients like Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, and Pogo. I’ve been part of the projects like “Camp WWE”, “F is for Family,” “Kuu Kuu Harajuku,” “Evan the Epic,” “Penn Zero: Part-time Hero,” “DC Superhero Girls,” “Cloudy with a chance of meatballs” (series), “Rhythm Warriors” (series-in production) and other numerous animated TV shows.
According to you, in what direction should animation be exploring and progressing now?
Ritaban Das: Animation is an incredibly versatile medium that is widely used in many different forms today. Animated films are big business nowadays. Companies such as Disney have had enormous success producing animated children’s films for many years. Animated characters such as The Simpsons and The Flintstones have long been familiar visitors to our television screens. The future of animation looks to be on an interesting journey as the quality of films is becoming higher and higher. Most people would now aim for a 4k film. Also, they’ve been experimenting and coming up with new techniques of animation.
One of the interesting ones is Mix Media, a technique that Disney has been experimenting with for a few years is mixing CGI and traditional 2D animation. The idea is to create an animated film using CGI and then to draw over each frame to give it a hand-drawn quality. The computer gaming industry is also pushing the boundaries of what is possible with animation, leading to the creation of some extremely realistic game footage. Computer game animation has certainly come a long way from the 2D graphics of early arcade games.
Now computer game animators can build environments and objects that react to the player’s actions. The animation looks set to continue delighting audiences for many years to come. With animated films continuing to rise in the blockbuster charts, capturing hearts and imaginations, there is no sign of this genre coming to an end.