Behind the Scenes: Meet the Winner of the SHAPE AT&T Film Awards Winner for Best Short in the Animated CGI category
In February, we called for submissions for the 2018 SHAPE edition of the AT&T Film Awards, an open competition seeking imaginative, undiscovered short films from aspiring storytellers. Filmmakers answered the call, with 1,500 outstanding entries all hoping for a chance to win their share of $60,000 in prizes. Now here’s your chance to get to know more about Ninaad Kulkarni of Brooklyn, New York who won the animated CGI category for his short, KCLOC.
We spoke with Kulkarni to learn more about his experience creating the short KCLOC entirely on this own. The 3D Animated documentary examines how people perceive time. The film features 10 meticulously designed clock head characters that represent interviews conducted with people from different walks of life on the subject of time. The film’s subjects answered the question, ‘What does time mean to you? The end project was an exploration of how time impacts people coming from different walks of life, with the goal of instigating the viewer to question their own perception of time. Kulkarni believes that we have embraced the ever speeding up world and thinks it is important to take a step back once in a while and just question.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for your short film?
A: During a conversation with my girlfriend Pupul Bisht, who was an integral part of the ideation and story development process, we talked about one of my assignments at school for compositing. I was tasked with integrating simple images into a video plate, and had a tough time deciding what I could do for this assignment. I knew I wanted to use the New York Skyline in some way but wasn’t sure how. Pupul suggested I try converting all the skyscrapers in the New York skyline to clock towers.
This idea was the seed that blossomed into the development of the film. I noticed that each clock design that I chose had an interesting character embedded into it. I decided to use this as my core visual theme of different clock characters and explore it further by also exploring time as a subject which became the primary theme of the film.
Q: What’s your filmmaking background?
A: Originally from Mumbai, India, I studied animation film design from the prestigious National Institute of Design in India. I was lucky to get exposed to new animation techniques in Switzerland while working towards my bachelor’s degree at NID and learn the ways of CGI Animation. It was this exposure that inspired me to keep exploring this medium and I decided to travel to New York to pursue my MFA in Computer Arts from the School of Visual Arts which I completed in 2017. During my stint in Switzerland, I wrote and co-directed my first ever short film called CLIMB. The success of this film took me to Berlin, Germany, where I worked as a 3D Animator and consultant on a music video project for a famous German punk rock band called Beatsteaks.
KCLOC happens to be my first ever independent film and am very thrilled to continue my journey in the industry by writing and directing more traditional, animated and virtual reality (VR) films.
Q: Did you use a variety of filming techniques (mobile, drone, 360 video) to shoot your film?
A: Yes, I used multiple innovative filming techniques. I used a 360 video camera on set to collect eight stops of light exposure and combined this data to make a High Dynamic Range (HDR) 360 image that provided for image-based lighting of the virtual set and characters modeled in the 3D Animation software called Autodesk Maya. This process enabled accurate integration of the 3D elements into the Live Action Plates.
A few of the shots/background plates were shot on an iPhone, which was also used as a secondary camera, due to the built-in optical stabilization and 4K recording options that it provided. The iPhone was used as a remote trigger in order to capture clean 360 shots and also to gain easy access to and tweak the RED camera settings.
Q: What do you find most interesting about making short films?
A: I believe short films are more powerful at reaching large audiences—faster and cheaper—in order to send out a message in any genre. Due to the inexpensive nature of and the lesser amount of time involved in make a short film it also allows for bigger experimentation and has the capacity to influence culture rapidly.
I believe short film directors have a bigger responsibility today when short video content is so easily and freely distributable. The work can result in creating awareness and educating masses on important topics, and more importantly reach people who very recently had no access to such content.
Q: What was your biggest challenge and how did you overcome it?
A: I gathered 60 interviews on the subject of time over the span of three weeks during the making of the film. I had spoken to people from various walks of life and each interview lead to a beautiful story by itself. I would have loved to incorporate all that data into this one film but being a student project with a very restricted timeline, I had to make hard decision in omitting many hours of incredible content. What you see in the film is around 50 hours of content streamlined into just under a three-minute film.
Q: Is this the first time you’ve entered your work in a contest?
A: I have been lucky and honored for my film to be selected to screen at more than hundred film festivals worldwide. This point, again, validates my answer on how much power there is in a short project to travel the world and be so universal yet personal and move so many people.
Q: How did you first get interested in filmmaking?
A: I have always been somewhat of a creator, although I never considered my interest in film making early on. I was, and still continue to have my obsession with technology and the power it provides us to create anything from our imagination. When I got into National Institute of Design for my bachelor’s degree that I learned the importance of storytelling and how I can utilize my strengths as a CGI artist to reach people and share my stories.
Q: What does the AT&T SHAPE contest mean to you?
A: I am so happy that AT&T is giving us new filmmakers such a great platform. Contests like these are an integral reinforcement to projects of this scale. Getting an award is always special, but with it comes the power to reach bigger audiences.
Q: Who have been your biggest influencers in the film industry (directors, writers, teachers, etc.) and what have you learned from them?
A: It’s extremely difficult to pick one name, but if I have to I would pick Charlie Chaplin. I consider Chaplin to be an absolute genius in the art of filmmaking followed by Alfred Hitchcock, Woody Allen, Stanley Kubrick, and Steven Spielberg. Charlie Chaplin defies what is possible on camera, even in today’s age it would take a lot of effort and skill to be able to execute what he managed to achieve with limited technology.
Q: What advice do you have for new filmmakers just getting started in the field?
A: Stay true to your story, no matter what technology you use or what new inventions comes your way. Don’t let technology become the hero in your work, the hero is always the story.
Q: What video technologies do you see shaping the future of film and content creation?
A: I am impressed with how much a mobile device is now capable of doing. It is truly mind blowing and I certainly see a greater use of our very own pocket devices to make industry comparable work. The introduction of so many immersive hardware technologies into the consumer market is extremely exciting. As soon as AR/VR/MR/XR devices get untethered from a workstation and get smaller, we will be looking at an even wider range of possibilities in storytelling—even more than they already exist.
Q: What do you think of using different filming mediums and technologies (AR, VR, Drones, AI, etc.) to create films in the future?
A: They say that there are only a few kinds of stories in the world, they are just told differently. I do believe in that idea, but the introduction of these new technologies is making us suddenly capable of doing much more, get into angles that we never thought were possible, take inexpensive aerial shots with versatility. All of these capabilities in turn results in very surprising and fresh content that gives way for further exploration.
VR is in no way here to replace the traditional flat screen. VR has its own function, the ability to transport audiences into an immersive world is fascinating. I believe we still don’t know how best to use this medium to tell a story, but I endeavor to find out how.
Q: What are your future plans for your project?
A: KCLOC has traveled across the world in the last eight months. It has been selected in over 100 film festivals across the globe, has won over 20 awards, and was also showcased at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. I would have never imagined what started out as a personal interest on the subject of time would reach so many hearts and that so many people around the world would resonate with it.
The day I finished this film, I knew I was going to revisit the subject and I had confidence in the theme to potentially take it to a full-length project too. Now with so much confidence shown by the festivals, I look forward to taking this film a step further and directing a full-length film and also doing a few short documentary on similar subjects and making it a series.
Q: What do you plan to do with the prize money?
A: All of it will go towards my next project which focuses on using immersive technology of VR to take you through the journey of 1947 during the partition between India and Pakistan.