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“Ramayana: Divine Loophole” is filled with inspiration for aspiring artists & animators

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“Ramayana: Divine Loophole” is filled with inspiration for aspiring artists & animators

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It’s that time of year again. When high school and college students all over the country are graduating. More importantly, when JHM readers reach out and ask for my suggestions when it comes to the perfect graduation gift for the would-be animators and Imagineers in their families.

This year, though, I thought that I’d take a somewhat different approach to JHM’s graduation gift guide. Rather than attempt to find that one book which will serve everyone’s needs, I thought that – this time around -- I might try talking about two volumes instead. First discuss a book that’s certain to appeal to the future professional artists & animators in the crowd, and then hone in on a hardcover that’s sure to be a hit with those who eventually hope to make 1401 Flower Street their home-away-from-home.

Ramayana Divine Loophole by Sanjay Patel book cover
Copyright Chronicle Books. All Rights Reserved

Look for my review of what (I think, anyway) should be the perfect graduation gift for all those wannabe Imagineers on your shopping list next week. But as of right now, I’d like to talk about a new book that I’m certain will inspire artists & animators everywhere. Be they just starting their careers or even after they’ve spent several years pushing pencils & pixels. And that’s Sanjay Patel’s “Ramayana: Divine Loophole” (Chronicle Books, February 2010).

I don’t know how many of you are already familiar with Sanjay’s work. He’s an animator and storyboard artist for Pixar Animation Studios. Over the past 13 years, Patel has worked on such acclaimed films as “A Bug's Life,” “Toy Story 2,” “Monsters, Inc.,” “The Incredibles,” “Cars,” “Ratatouille,” “Up” and “Toy Story 3.” And before he went up to Emeryville, Sanjay toiled on “The Simpsons” as well as for John Kricfalusi.

Sita and Rama as bride and groom in Sanjay Patel's Ramayana Divine Loophole
Copyright 2010 Chronicle Books. All Right Reserved

Now I know that it must seem odd that a guy who got his start working with Bart Simpson and Bjork would eventually decide to reimagine that great Sanskrit epic. But you have to understand that -- as the child of Hindu parents growing up in San Bernardino, CA – Sanjay was surrounded by this stuff. By that I mean: Sanjay recalls that an image of Hanuman, the monkey god, was literally incorporated in the design of the wallpaper that had been used in his childhood home.

But being the typical Southern California kid, Patel was more into skateboarding and surfing while he was growing up than he was into eight-armed goddesses and elephant-headed goddess. It wasn’t until years later when Sanjay saw the work-in-progress version of a film that his pal Nina Paley had been working on, “Sita Sings The Blues,” that Patel was then inspired to try & produce his own take on the epic tale of the god king Rama, the goddess Sita and the evil demon Ravana.

Rama calmly accepted his fate and headed out for the jungle. (Ramayana Divine Loophole, Sanjay Patel)
Copyright Chronicle Books. All Rights Reserved

Now where this gets interesting is that – as Sanjay began working on “Ramayana: Divine Loophole” – he was able to take the lessons that he’d picked up at Pixar and then apply them to this project. Take – for example – what Sanjay learned from “Up.” Which was that it was actually possible to take an extremely dark tale that was loaded with weighty themes & topics and then – through skillful storytelling & strong design – turn it into something that would appeal to a very broad audience. Patel also credits “The Incredibles” and “Ratatouille” director Brad Bird with showing him how a huge dense story could eventually be broken down into these very specific emotional moments that would then make this material far more accessible to audiences.

But even with all of this great work experience that he could apply to “Ramayana: Divine Loophole,” it still took Sanjay quite a while to get a handle on this sprawling project. Just the research phase (During which Patel read every version of the Ramayana that he could get his hands on. Which – given that this 2,500 year-old epic poem is typically made up of 7 volumes and features 24,000 verses in Sanskrit – it’s quite an accomplishment just to get through one version of this tale) took a full year of his time.

The gruesome demons charged at Rama with all kinds of dreadful weapons, but the prince stood his ground, raising up his golden bow and notching it with the enchanted arrow. (Ramayana Divine Loophole, Sanjay Patel)
Copyright 2010 Chronicle Books. All Rights Reserved

From there, Sanjay spent three years trying to create this illustration-driven version of the Ramayana. Something that would then combine the visual clarity found in children’s books with the concise narrative of a graphic novel. Striking just the right balance with this material took an awful lot of time & effort on Patel’s part. To hear him tell the tale of “Ramayana: Divine Loophole” ‘s creation, he redid this book three separate times. And as for this hardcover’s spectacular illustrations, they’d each typically take him 2 ½ days to create.

But the finished product is a testament to what an artist can accomplish once he or she dedicates themselves to a seemingly impossible task. For every page in “Ramayana: Divine Loophole” is a delight to the eye. Sanjay’s strong design sensibilities plus his skill as a storyteller makes this 186-page hardcover a genuinely entertaining read.

A page from Sanjay Patels sketches for his book Ramayana Divine Loophole
Copyright 2010 Chronicle Books. All Rights Reserved

What’s more, because the back third of “Ramayana: Divine Loophole” is primarily made up on Patel’s whimsical character descriptions as well as his initial rough sketches for this ambitious project … Well, that’s why I’m recommending that you get a copy of this handsome hardcover for every graduating art student that you know. So that they can then see how the dedication & discipline that this Pixar veteran brought to this outside project eventually paid off.

You see, sometimes artists – particularly those who are just starting out in their careers – need to be reminded that there’s more to art than just inspiration. All too often, artists will sit around, waiting on their muse before they then try and create something.

Rama begin to panic, shooting off several more heads, but they all quickly grew back. (Ramayana Divine Loophole, Sanjay Patel)
Copyright 2010 Chronicles Book. All Rights Reserved

But in Sanjay Patel’s case, it wasn’t so much inspiration as it was perspiration and dedication that ultimately made “Ramayana: Divine Loophole” a reality. But now – thanks to Patel’s hard work & terrific illustrations – there is finally a version of this Sanskrit epic that will appeal to the kids of today. Or – for that matter – to adults who are looking for a stylish & intelligent introduction to this cornerstone of Hindu mythology.

In fact, Sanjay did such a spectacular job with “Ramayana: Divine Loophole” that … Well, rumors have been flying lately that one of the feature length projects that Walt Disney Animation Studios currently has in development is a cinematic retelling of Ramayana.

And so it was, on the anniversary of their fourteen years of exile, that Rama and Sita were both fianlly crowned the rightful king and queen. (Ramayana Divine Loophole, Sanjay Patel)
Copyright 2010 Chronicle Books. All Rights Reserved

Could Patel’s book have possibly played a part in this alleged developmental decision on WDAS’ part? Why don’t you pick up a copy of “Ramayana: Divine Loophole” today and find out for yourself?

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