More than 18 years in the animation industry have equipped Phani Tetali with the skills to be an accomplished academic
How did you discover your passion for drawing?
PT: I am told that the first drawing I did was that of a cow, maybe when I was four years old. My parents were very supportive and encouraging, getting me to draw every day. I was lucky I got to read all the comic books of those times. The fun part was when I used to draw the entire comic after reading it.
Growing up, I got introduced to MAD magazine. That was my real inspiration! I used to spend hours admiring the work of great cartoonists and caricaturists who regularly contributed to the magazine. Sergio Arragones, Jack Davis, Mort Drucker, Al Jaffe, Don Martin, Duck Edwing, Angelo Torres, Sam Viviano and Dave Berg became my heroes!
My biggest inspiration has been my uncle, Bapu, who was a great cartoonist and film director in Andhra Pradesh. Whenever he visited us, my parents would get me to quickly draw something and show it to him!
My art teacher, Mr. Parameswaran, was another huge influence. In school, I used to spend hours sitting next to him, watching him paint on huge canvases. He used to get me to draw alongside him, and during those conversations, he would tell me about the medium, about his process and technique.
What took you from engineering to design?
PT: My dad was a Professor at IIT Madras and I spent my childhood in the 1970s in the beautiful green and wooded campus. In the last year of school, everyone was busy preparing for medical or engineering entrance exams while I used to sit and doodle or draw cartoons on the margins of my Physics and Math text books. I loved to draw, but at that time, in the early 1980s, I had no idea where these sketches and doodles would take me.
I got through the IIT entrance examination and took up a B.Tech seat in Mining Engineering at IIT BHU. At this point I was excited but at the same time I wasn’t sure if that was what I really wanted! For the next four years, I spent most my time drawing cartoons for campus magazines and comic strips for hostel notice boards. Eventually I completed my B.Tech (albeit half-heartedly and unwillingly) and took a job in the mining industry that required me to be in underground mines in Bihar and West Bengal and meet managers to sell detonators and explosives used in mines. I quickly realized that this was taking me further away from what I wanted to do. I wanted to draw. I wanted to tell my stories. But I didn’t know how!
During those days, when I was traveling somewhere near Dhanbad, I happened to notice a newspaper advertisement for an entrance exam for admission to a Master’s course in Design offered at Industrial Design Centre (IDC), IIT Bombay. I decided to give it a shot, and in 1989, I joined IDC to study Visual Communication.
How has formal design education impacted your career?
PT: The time I spent as a student at IDC, IIT Bombay were by far the two most liberating years of my life. Everything in a design school was new to me. We were just nine students in our class, and we would all sit around a table during class. This helped in having intimate discussions and the classroom transactions were personal.
Another thing that struck me as interesting was that for the same problem posed, every student could come up with a different answer or solution – and nobody was wrong! This was in sharp contrast to what I was used to until then; it gave me a lot of confidence and helped me explore solutions creatively.
A formal design education changed the way I thought, and the way I looked at society around me. It helped me realize that with a methodical approach towards a design problem, a solution emerges. It helped me open my eyes to design problems around us, and also reminded me that if we look hard enough, the solutions are also around us.
When did you decide to set up your own animation studio? What were the biggest challenges that you faced?
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