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From Dropping out of BITS Pilani to Making Oscar History, How Ishan Shukla Followed His Passion

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Today Ishan Shukla stands proud, basking in the afterglow of having made Schirkoa, one of the most critically acclaimed animated shorts to come out of India. The film is the first of its kind to have qualified for the Oscars in its category (Best Animated Short Film) from the country and has won laurels and awards across the world. But the journey to making history was not an easy one for Ishan.

From dropping out of BITS Pilani to quitting his well-paying job to help his family, the filmmaker’s own story could perhaps be a feature length film by itself. But Ishan notes that there is so much more left to his tale.

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It was in Ishan’s second year of college that he realised he simply was not cut out to be an engineer. “When I joined BITS, I was immediately attracted to the creative arts and signed up for drama club,” he says in an interview to The Better India. It was also at this institution that he realised his affinity and love for animation. Hence he decided that it was time to follow his passion and dropped out of college.

Along with his brother’s help, Ishan then enrolled at the 3D Sense Media School, Singapore, in 2008. Once he completed his diploma, he got a job in Singapore which played a seminal role in his development as an all-rounder when it comes to making animation films. “The kind of projects I was getting from the company required me to do everything from the beginning to the end including story boarding and editing. I learnt a lot about making my own film in that time,” he notes.

It was also during that period that the idea of Schirkoa germinated in his mind.

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While commuting in Singapore, he said he was surrounded by the banality of perfection and the main concept of the film was formed. It is a 14-minute short about a society where perfection has been achieved and there are no distinctions based on colour or race because everyone wears a bag over their head (and are called bag-heads). The film also explores themes such as immigration, and Ishan says that the Syrian crisis helped shape his ideas about the world. He developed the story initially as graphic novel and notes that he will be expanding the short into a full length feature film in the future.

The four years that it took Ishan to make the film were also peppered with tragedies and victories. For one, he got married with his wife taking over as the film’s producer. But it was also during this period when his father fell ill and he quit his job in Singapore and relocated to Pilani to take care of his father. After running out of funds in India, he took up a full time job that had him working six days a week. This meant he had to become even more disciplined. He would wake up at 2am and work until his day job began, and then worked whenever he had free time.

Ultimately the hard work paid off. Schirkoa premiered at the Oscar-qualifying ‘LA Shorts’ festival in September 2016 where it won the ‘Best Animated Short’ award.

Notably, only four months into its festival run, the film has been officially selected in 34 prestigious international film festivals across the world (including Oscar-qualifying, Anima Mundi, Anima Brussels, LA Shorts and SIGGRAPH) and won 16 of them.

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For budding animators in India, Ishan has choice words of advice for their careers. “I know there are a lot of people who go deep into specialising in one thing, and there is also value in it, but I would say that right now the best thing to do is to become a generalist. Someone who is a jack of all trades. That way when you are making your own film, you can do everything. And also in the marketplace, there is a lot of demand for generalists,” he notes.

And for those who are itching to follow their passions? Ishan says the key lies in being proactive instead of waiting for inspiration. “People tend to go and study something or go looking for inspiration, but if you are passionate about something and want to do it, then you should just do it. Often times, you learn so much more in the middle of doing what you love and making mistakes as you go along.”

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