January 6, 2015

Somnath Pal: Freezing Stories into Frames

by Anusha Narayanan

Somnath Pal’s illustrations closely resemble animated movies. Each picture freezes a moment or an emotion, with as much energy and vigour as one would see in a motion picture. Each character’s posture and gesture exacts the body language of a real person, and the experience is like watching a video in frozen frames. A lot of his work is quite tedious because it translates someone else’s vision or idea into pictures. It has to be accurate so that the clients (and their clients) are all convinced. It is like pitching an idea and hoping that you get it right. A storyteller, an illustrator and a designer with an extensive digital portfolio, Somnath Pal tells us about his experience so far.

Rough Stage 1  Inking Stage 2

Color Stage 3 Color Stage 4 Color Stage 5 Color Stage 6Stage-wise evolving a digital illustration

The process of creating digital illustrations for Somnath, begins with making thumbnails on paper, where he starts experimenting and exploring, pushing and twisting the characters, gestures and movements to see what best suits the brief. At this stage of a project, he uses his Copic Markers to sketch thumbnails. A rough draft is fairly simple and once he has a firm idea of what he wants the final outcome to be, he does the entire sketch digitally on Adobe Photoshop with a Wacom Intuos5, “adding elements to make it a more engaging experience”.

Other than his storyboarding projects, we were struck by the work he did for Tinkle in his two years as Associate Creative Director at Amar Chitra Katha (ACK). During this time, he was also involved in assisting Kushal Ruia in ACK’s animation film ‘Sons Of Ram’. Alongside the film, a graphic novel by the same name was also made, which Somnath was the director of. Unfortunately, this never saw the light of day.

Trailer: ‘Sons of Ram’

Talking of Storyboarding, we asked him how long is this process and he tells us, “If I were brutally honest, I would love to imagine that it goes over these stages of brainstorming and discussion. But in reality, discussions are just like a basic introduction and only establish the bare idea. Often, it’s a mechanical pipeline, where the script is simply passed on to the storyboard artist and the artist has to try and creatively represent the same, trying to do the best he can. I’m not trying to criticize the established norm, because I do understand that it is part of an industry where targets are as important, if not more than creativity. That’s just the actual picture.”

Storyboarding and Sequential Art 01 Storyboarding and Sequential Art 02  

Nevertheless, he maintains that the process is inherently tough as you have to visualize in action, a script which is written in words, and get the message and the mood right. When he gets down to spending hours on the drawing board, it can take anywhere from two days and more to make a detailed storyboard, coloured in whichever palette a client prefers.

So if storyboarding is just giving images to a fixed script, how much of the storyboard artist’s work remains untouched by a client’s opinion? “It varies from project to project and client to client. There have been times where, if the script is set in stone, the reviews are barely 5% but if the script is still under development and if the director and scriptwriter are open to change then there are multiple iterations where the storyboard often sparks new ideas and goes through an evolution. [Then] I can’t really say that it’s the original idea I started with”, Somnath explains.

Storyboarding and Sequential Art 03 Storyboarding and Sequential Art 04

Stylistically, every artist brings his individual flavour to the project – is that also influenced by the client’s preferences? To this, Somnath replies that he generally tries to take only those projects that allow him to come up with his own style. “If the client’s style inspires me, I take it up.”

His favourite and ours, among his projects, are the Tinkle Covers “because [here] I was given a blank canvas and the absolute freedom to do whatever I liked. Moreover, they’re also open to new ideas and allowed me to play around with compositions, as I want to.” These covers and illustrations were a clear upgrade from what I had seen while growing up.

Tinkle Covers 1 - Somnath Pal Tinkle Covers 2 - Somnath PalCovers for TINKLE

Somnath started his journey at ‘Corner Shop’ by Zee and then moved to Amar Chitra Katha. After this, he worked as a Production Designer on a feature film called ‘Court’ directed by Chaitanya Tamhane. Currently, he works on his own projects, picking his freelance deals as they come along. In the meantime, he soaks himself in the works of Egon Schiele and Nicolai Fechin, Ronald Searle’s and Bill Watterson‘s sketches, and the paintings of Alberto Mielgo, among other things.

To get to know more about his work, you can browse through his Behance profileFacebook page and his blog.
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  1. Saurabh Tewari



    It so heartening and nostalgic to see here this name, Somnath Pal. One of the most passionate animator i have met in my life. Saurabh (Batchmate)


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