Sanjay Patel Talks Ramayana: Divine Loophole
BD: And the challenge?
SP: I think the challenge was learning the mythology and what you can play with and learning what these symbols meant, and immersing myself in this. So, what I find is the quickest way to arrest somebody is an image. Since the Ramayana is one of the longest pieces of poetry put to page, how do you catch somebody in their tracks, given how many things are competing for people's attentions? And one of the things I've developed at Pixar is making appealing and arresting imagery. And so when I started reading the Ramayana, I thought there was true substance. And if you don't want the substance, you could get a plot summary and still be engaged. And so I thought of making this as sharp and graphic and dynamic as possible and looked at many different designers and aesthetics. And even if you were to just look at the image and read the header, hopefully, you would have a little bit more of a clue about the story and move on from there if you were totally arrested.
Ultimately, I did something that Brad Bird recommended: I worked with Brad on The Incredibles and was given a sequence to storyboard -- that moment in the jungle where the family is reunited after being separated; and it's the first time you see the family working together. And Brad had written it very loosely and I came up with all these ideas and Brad looked at them and his reaction was: "These are all great ideas, but if we were to use all of them, you'd load down the audience with a big meal. What we want it to feel like is a small appetizer with all of these small sequences adding up to a full meal." So, I think that each of these pages is a small appetizer because the story is a feast.
BD: So, what was your approach?
SP: At first I spent a year-and-a-half trying to make it cute, with flat horizontal lines, small characters doing cute things with violent things happening around them. Then I tried to make it a little more dramatic, which felt too serious and boring, and then I got really inspired by Genndy Tartakovsky's Samurai Jack. I will say that Genndy and his crew went to CalArts and there's a house style that comes out of CalArts and I was cut from that cloth. So by the third year I found something in between, which developed into a certain proportion, a certain look. And I was also inspired by Charley Harper, who is the mid-century modernist painter. He has a very graphic sensibility and I was very smitten by his work, and so there's a lot of Charley Harper in the work as well.