Sanjay Patel self-portrait.
During the day, Sanjay Patel works at PIXAR. Then, he comes home and gives Hindu myths the “ghee happy” treatment, which turns the usually-sombre deities and heroes into adorable, wide-eyed characters that you want to cuddle. Meet the man who turned Kali into a pink cutie.
Have you always been interested in mythology?
I really can’t say I’ve ever been into mythology or reading for that matter. My connection to Hindu myths was really through my parents’ faith and practice around Hinduism. Everyday I would participate in pujas and chants but I didn’t understand the songs I was singing or the symbols of the Hindu deities represented. It was only after I felt exhausted with European art that I started to look at Indian sculptures and paintings. Once I started looking at this art, I began reading the captions. Suddenly I saw the Hindu gods as familiar archetypes.
Was it hard to come up with these cute avatars of the Hindu gods?
Definitely. Some gods like Kali were so much fun to make charming and approachable. But cute always took a back seat to the fact of the goddess’ symbols and reminders that time will eventually bring us all to our death. No matter how much I abstracted the depiction of Krishna, let’s say, he is still shown with blue skin, playing a flute with a peacock feather in his hair. All of the relevant symbols of his legends are kept intact along with a simple explanation of his myths.
What is it like working at PIXAR?
It’s been a wonderful education working at PIXAR for the last 14 years. Every day, you’re reminded that your work can be improved by the collective ideas of a group. Every day, your work gets dismantled and your purpose is to rebuild it stronger the next day. This process goes on, day after day, until you move on to the next scene or the next movie. What makes PIXAR’s work stand out from some of the others is that we are ruthless in this process of making everything as good as it can be. One of the strongest lessons I take away form working at PIXAR is having the discipline to try over and over again, to always work hard and to never be attached to anything if it stands in the way of making a stronger and more arresting story.
Was it difficult switching from the 3D style of animating to your illustrations?
At PIXAR, we use 3D models and work with time and sound with hundreds of other artists to make a movie. At home, I shift to drawing with paper and pencil and with one image and a sparse amount of text. I usually work alone for years until an editor can start giving me feedback on the story or the illustrations. The switch is satisfying because at work, I’m given very specific control and space to animate within. Where as in my personal work, I plan, organise and create everything. This freedom activates a whole different side of my brain that I can take back into work the next day and vice versa. They both feed off of each other and renew one another. The only challenge I have is that I’m at work for 10 hours a day, which leaves just a few hours to do personal work. That’s the constant tension in my life: wanting more personal work time.
Do you have a favourite sequence from your PIXAR work?
I usually can’t look at my animation until years have gone by. Recently, I saw a sequence I was working on in Ratatouille that I was really proud of. It’s the series of shots with Remy arguing with his father about leaving the nest. Remy was such a fun model to animate as he is so squishy and expressive.
The Little Book of Hindu Deities, Penguin, Rs299 and Ramayana: Divine Loophole, Chronicle Books, Rs1,480 are available in bookstores now. For prints, T-shirts and freebies, visit Sanjay Patel’s website www.gheehappy.com.
Deepanjana Pal is a journalist and the author of The Painter: A Life of Ravi Varma . She is currently developing a keen appreciation for lazy brunches and coffee breaks in Bandra while working on her freelance assignments.Tags: Art, Books, Chronicle Books, Deepanjana Pal, gheehappy, Penguin, PIXAR, Ramayana: Divine Loophole, Sanjay Patel, Special Top Story, The Little Book of Hindu Deities