Ishu Patel’s Oscar-Nominated, Animated Films Reveal a Singular, Handcrafted Vision

I’m hap­py to date myself and say this: in the days before com­put­er graph­ics, when ani­ma­tors worked painstak­ing­ly by hand (yes, I know, com­put­er ren­der­ing is painstak­ing), ani­mat­ed films just seemed… I don’t know, pret­ti­er, more impres­sive­ly art­ful. I’ll take the heat for say­ing so and give you two short films as evi­dence, both from inno­v­a­tive ani­ma­tor Ishu Patel. Orig­i­nal­ly from Gujarat, India, Patel has made only a hand­ful of short films in his twen­ty-five year career, most of them for the Nation­al Film Board of Cana­da. But six of those films won top hon­ors at inter­na­tion­al film fes­ti­vals and two—Par­adise and The Bead Game—were nom­i­nat­ed for Acad­e­my Awards.

Par­adise (above), made in 1984, uses hand-drawn designs and so-called “under-the-cam­era” ani­ma­tion tech­niques such as cut-out, back-lit plas­ticine, sand, and paint­ed glass to ren­der an exot­ic and shim­mer­ing world. Each frame is a work of art on its own; in fact, Patel includes stills from the films on his site, some show­ing pre­lim­i­nary sketch­es. Much of Par­adise takes place inside a palace that resem­bles an intri­cate chalk draw­ing. There, a lone monarch watch­es as a flam­boy­ant bird (of par­adise?) trans­forms itself into a daz­zling suc­ces­sion of col­or­ful forms. Out­side, in a land­scape right out of Hen­ri Rousseau, a soli­tary black bird lurks, attempt­ing to rival the oth­er bird’s beau­ty, with lit­tle suc­cess. The orig­i­nal score by Ghe­o­rghe Zam­fir (yes, Zam­fir, of the pan flute fame) con­jures Ennio Mor­ri­cone.

In 1977’s The Bead Game (below), Patel’s first ani­mat­ed film, the set­ting is much sparser—a sol­id black back­ground and a spare, per­cus­sive sound­track by J.P. Ghosh. But the activ­i­ty is unre­lent­ing as a col­lec­tion of beads evolve from sin­gle cells, to epithe­lial folds, to a series of crea­tures, each one devour­ing the pre­vi­ous until humans arrive. Once we do, we devel­op pro­gres­sive­ly more destruc­tive ways to kill each oth­er. The finale is a psy­che­del­ic tour-de-force. One can only imag­ine the amount of time and care that went into stop-motion ani­mat­ing these hun­dreds of beads. The effect is sim­ply stun­ning and results in a sin­gu­lar vision one rarely sees in CGI-only work. Again, I’ll take the heat, but I stand by it: ani­ma­tion by hand pro­duced work that no com­put­er-gen­er­at­ed image has yet rivaled.

Patel’s films will be added to the Ani­ma­tion sec­tion of our list of 500 Free Online Movies.

Josh Jones is a doc­tor­al can­di­date in Eng­lish at Ford­ham Uni­ver­si­ty and a co-founder and for­mer man­ag­ing edi­tor of Guer­ni­ca / A Mag­a­zine of Arts and Pol­i­tics.

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    Both films were/are absolute­ly beau­ti­ful, amaz­ing & sim­ply mas­ter­ful. I think I enjoyed “Par­adise” just a schosh more, but let’s not split hairs.

    In the oth­er, “The Bead Game”, I was quite pleased to see what must sure­ly have been a nod to Kurt Von­negut’s lit­er­ary mas­ter­piece “Cat’s Cra­dle” in the final frame of the film.

    Bra­vo to both!

  • Chitra Chandrashekhar says:

    Dear Josh,
    I agree, indeed hand ani­mat­ed films are more pro­found­ly charm­ing. Its tru­ly a labour of love! CGI will always lag behind as they strive for pho­to­re­al­ism instead of the beau­ty of lucid sto­ry­telling that the hand-eye-mind trio cre­ates!

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