In this 'Behind the Scenes at the NFTS' piece, recent NFTS Directing Animation graduate Gagandeep Kalirai walks us through the process of making her graduation film, Cha.

Cha tells the story of Bibi, an elderly woman plagued by memories of the past, and her granddaughter Simran who is starting to notice. In resolving to teach Simran how to make Cha, they are pulled into the past, to Bibi's memories of one fateful day in 1984 Delhi. 

Here, Gagandeep discusses the learnings and challenges she experienced while telling this important and very personal story.

NFTS students working on animation
Gagandeep working on the animation for Cha at the NFTS

“Animation was something I discovered purely by chance in college. What appealed to me initially was the drawing aspect, the basic ability to have multiple images come to life in sequential order. Once I discovered animation in terms of it being a filmmaking medium, I was hooked. I went on to UCA Farnham's animation course and in that time decided that I was going to pursue it full time as a serious career path. Choosing to go on to apply to the NFTS was quite a big step for me, and one I was so glad I had a lot of support in. What enticed me to apply was the more specialised directing aspect of the Animation MA. I felt this was an opportunity to really immerse myself into the filmmaking industry as a whole and extending my knowledge on my specialisation.

Telling the story of Cha through the medium of animation felt like a no-brainer at the time. I will always hold the belief that animation has an unparalleled power to really tackle some of the most sensitive topics as it's a medium in which you can create a world that is unrestricted. Using this as a strength you can take real world stories and re-tell them in a way that is visually completely unique to the subject. With Cha, taking the narrative into a more surreal space really allowed us to be adventurous with how we moved through the story and how we were able to exhibit the more emotional parts of the film. We explored symbolisms and metaphors that only grew stronger through a literal visual representation.

NFTS animation concept art
Cha background concept art

During the production of Cha, it became apparent that our biggest challenge would be scheduling. Throughout the year the production would be required to meet a number of important deadlines and it’s down to each individual production to make sure everything is done within that time. For Cha, we wanted to approach it as if it was a documentary, and it soon became apparent that we had to get on board with research, recording and animatic editing quite quickly at the start of pre-production. Our Producer on the project was James Bowsher, who was able to establish good communication with everyone on the team to where I was able to efficiently make regular updates to the schedule and have those updates be relayed to the crew. Our production became quite malleable as a result in terms of time management, enabling us to still make effective changes nearer the end whilst still being able to hit our targets.

There were so many significant moments during the production of Cha. The research portion of the film which took place in India was emotionally exhausting, but learning about the stories and events that people had gone through was incredibly insightful. Being able to take the information I gathered and brainstorm with my crew back at the school was especially memorable. Many days throughout the production were full of running back and forth to the editing suites, relaying ideas with our Editor Constance Brannick when inspiration hit. I remember the amount of times we tweaked our animatic for Cha - and although it was a long process, production days like that were my favourite kind of days.

NFTS student editing film
Constance editing Cha

By far the most significant thing I learnt during this production was how important it is to trust your team. My crew on this production pushed the film from something so small in my head into a fully realised statement of a film on the big screen. I found myself wanting to push myself more and more, wanting to test the limits of the film and the production a bit more at each step - and I still wish I had gone further. And this is because I realise looking back that each step of the way, I could rely on my crew to help me facilitate that and to get this film to where we felt it needed to be.

Making this film at the NFTS allowed me to meet a fantastic network of people. From the tutors to the students, everyone at the NFTS that I had the pleasure of working and studying alongside had a real passion for their individual departments. The students you walk alongside work hard and are dedicated to their projects, there was a real sense of becoming a part of something bigger than just yourself, of pure collaboration. Making the film in this kind of environment made the production for Cha a real joy.

NFTS student sound mixing
Sound Designer Joao Fonte working at the mixing desk

The NFTS Animation course has something really wonderfully powerful. There’s a definite sense of community on this course, and I felt whilst being a part of this department I got introduced to the animation community in all its (somewhat unusual and eclectic) glory for the first time. It is the tutors, technicians and visiting lecturers that contribute to developing a network of truly unforgettable people. There are a lot of people who work quietly in the background, and as the year progresses you learn to appreciate what it takes to run such an enriching course.

If there was someone who was thinking of applying to the course, I would tell them to be sure of their own vision. Remember that people with different backgrounds, ideas and perspectives is what will strengthen our industry. To be yourself, as cheesy as it sounds, is something to be encouraged when applying. Think about your own ideas and narratives you want to tell and think about how animation can enhance that.  Whether it’s a unique medium in which you like to animate in, or a specific genre or art style, be confident that you’ll be given the tools you need at the NFTS in which to showcase these ideas.”

Watch the trailer for Cha

See the Cha Cast & Crew
Bibi - Neelam Bakshi
Simran - Manpreet Bambra

Director - Gagandeep Kalirai
Producer - James Bowsher
Screenwriter - Shyam Popat
Cinematographer - Graham Boonzaaier
Production Designer - Anna Woloszczuk
Production Manager - Holly Mann
Editor - Constance Brannick
Sound Designer/Dubbing Mixer - João Fonte
Composer - Saul Bragman
Marketing and PR - Sam Frazher
CG Lead - Jordan Carter
Colourist And Online Editor - Nigel Tadyanehondo

Cha premiered to industry in February at the 2020 NFTS Graduation Showcase at Picturehouse Central in London which culminated in a graduation ceremony at Odeon Luxe in Leicester Square.

NFTS students at graduation showcase and ceremony
L-R The Cha team on stage at Picturehouse Central and Gagandeep with her Animation course mates after graduation in February 2020

Follow Gagandeep on Instagram and stay up to date with Cha here.

Apply today for this incredible award-winning course and start your journey to a career in Animation in January 2021. If you have a passion for storytelling, creating characters and the art of animation, the course will give you the skills to bring these passions to life on screen and help you develop into the filmmaker you aspire to be.

  • Two years, full-time.
  • Graduates include the creator of Wallace and Gromit (Nick Park) and Peppa Pig (Mark Baker).
  • Collaborate with students in other specialisms across the School to make several films, putting into practice the skills you learn during the course.
  • Combines art school philosophy with state-of-the-art film school facilities.
  • All production costs are covered by the NFTS.

Find out more here!