With the 25th Anniversary of the Dusty Film & Animation Festival just around the corner (May 10 – 13 at the SVA Theatre), SVA Close Up is checking in with some of the College’s many successful alumni making names for themselves in the world of film, video and animation. For the fourth installment of the series, the spotlight is on Kaukab Basheer (BFA 2012 Animation), who has already racked up an impressive list of credits, including work on Tom and Jerry’s Giant Adventure (2013) and the upcoming SpongeBob SquarePants 2 (2014). Basheer recently took some time out of her busy schedule to answer a few questions via e-mail.
When did you realize that filmmaking/animation was what you wanted to do with your life?
I started drawing when I was three and I fell in love with cartoon characters created for films by the age of four. I remember pausing VHS tapes and trying to replicate the individual frames with my crayons in an attempt to understand why something on screen looked or felt so endearing to me. I didn’t know the term “animation” at the time, but at five I decided that I’d tell stories and make cartoon films when I grew up.
What makes a great film?
When I’m making a film for myself, I ask myself, “What do I want to see and what do I want to feel?” I try to stay true to the characters I’ve created and make sure the story means something to me. I believe the initial intent you infuse into your work creates something magically appealing, grounded in sincerity and integrity. Then, if the viewers say it’s “a great film,” that’s a bonus. But what people might think should never be your driving force. The same goes for when I’m working on a project that happens to be someone else’s vision. Whatever I’m assigned to do, I do it with a lot of thought and heart, and the technical smarts I’ve developed over the years. And I always strive to put a bit of myself in whatever I do.
If you could have dinner with three filmmakers, dead or alive, who would they be and why?
Tissa David for her breathtaking work, tenacious spirit, and interesting personality.
Iwao Takomoto for his fun cartoon characters, and inspiring experiences in the field.
Uli Meyer for his whimsical drawings, approachable personality and dedication to his craft.
However, I would also invite a fourth guest, the legendary animator Marc Davis for his flawless draftsmanship, command of visual appeal and endearing character designs.
If you find yourself stuck in a creative rut, what gets you out of it?
When I’m in a creative rut, I turn to other things that interest me outside of animation—reading (various genres), listening to
music, baking, rearranging my home, doing volunteer work, taking my cats out for a walk, sorting my postage stamp collection, etc. I come back to my creativity with fresh eyes and a renewed sense of inspiration. It’s good to have a life outside of art, especially when you’re an animator.
How did your time at SVA prepare you for what you’re doing today?
I had worked five years in animation in India as a character designer, character layout artist and eventually creative director when I decided to take a break and enroll in the BFA Animation program at SVA. I believe the experience of extensively contributing on in-house TV productions as a team player gave me an edge over some students, creatively and emotionally.
However, SVA groomed me to be an independent filmmaker and while in school, I created four short films, of which two won me multiple awards. I rediscovered my creative individuality thanks to the tutelage of remarkable industry professionals and gifted SVA instructors Howard Beckerman (veteran animator), Deborah Ross (wildlife watercolorist, environmental activist), Don Poynter (preproduction expert) and Eric Eiser (computer animator).
SVA also connected me with some of the “best of the best” in animation. I met one of my childhood animation idols, Dan Haskett (veteran animator, character designer), during my freshman year at a guest-workshop being held at SVA. We kept in touch and after graduating from school, I got my opportunity to work with him (and other gifted veterans in the field) at Warner Bros Animation on two beloved shows, Tom & Jerry and Scooby Doo—a dream come true. I’m happy to be progressing with my animation career in the U.S.; it’s been a great journey so far. My industry experiences in India and the U.S.—both pre and post SVA—have been incredibly fortunate and beneficial to me, and I continue to use them on the job.
What advice would you give aspiring animators?
A lot of thinking and planning goes into making an animated film. Strong acting, directorial, drawing, observational and time-management skills are definitely a requirement. However, despite the hard work and deadlines involved, you should remember to be yourself and just have fun. Work on developing a good attitude and cultivating a solid work ethic if you wish to go far. By nature I’m a very modest, courteous, curious (helps you grow), tenacious and fearless individual, and these qualities continue to strengthen me as an artist and helped shape my career. Nurture qualities that will not only help you, but also positively influence artists around you.
As filmmakers specializing in animation, you should also understand how things look, feel and even move, so drawing frequently is key—be it from life, available resources, or from imagination. You should have a good idea of what you want from your films (study the earlier cartoons) and what you want for yourselves.
Finally, focus on surrounding yourselves with highly motivated and capable individuals. Have a good support circle to fall back on should times get tough. Always believe in your abilities and don’t be too hard on yourselves. I wish you budding filmmakers the very best in your future endeavors!