Q: What was your inspiration to tell this story?
Patel: Well I finally read the thing. I mean I suck at reading and everything. But I came across a great adaptation of the Ramayana by an author named Ashok Banker. I actually discovered the book via Nina Paley's blog. She's the one woman force behind Sita Sings the Blues, the feature length animated work about the same subject. After reading a few pgs on Amazon I ordered the first book by Mr. Banker which weighed in at over five hundred pgs. Keep in mind that was just book one of a seven part series. I just read and read and the thing slowly unlocked. And what I found was an ancient mythology with themes and symbols that were timeless and essential. Really meaningful stuff all wrapped up in a visually rich world of epic adventure. The story was just begging to be illustrated.
Q: How did you get started working at Pixar?
Patel: The only thing I was ever good at was copying drawings from comic books. I just drew, and nothing could ever get me to stop. All throughout school I was considered "the artist," which really just meant that I could make really bad drawings for people’s letterman jackets. A friend told me about Cal-Arts and animation. The school was the key. Most of Pixar’s directors have come straight out of Cal-Arts and its character animation program. I just walked in their footsteps and they ended up recruiting me after my second year. I've been at Pixar ever since, close to thirteen years now.
Q: Describe your creative process. How do you create your illustrations?
Patel: Once I have a concrete idea of the story point that I want to communicate, which is usually nailed down in the writing, I then think of one “story telling image. For instance, it's a big story point when Hanuman, the monkey with special powers, uses his burning tail to set fire to the Ravana's capital city. Since this story has been told many times before I try and research what visual artist have done previously to communicate this moment. Here I pulled together reference from paintings and from vintage comics.
Click on the image to learn more about Patel's creative process and see more example illustrations.
Q: How long did it take you to create the scenes in the book?
At one point the illustrations were getting churned out at about one every two and half days. I was at a good clip till I decided to redo the entire book three times. I kept fighting with trying to make the art light hearted and cute, but the story was anything but that. The Ramayana is pretty dramatic and graphic, and I eventually found a style and voice that captured those things. It only took me four years.
Q: Which characters in the Ramayana did you have the most fun illustrating?
Patel: I can doodle Ravana the ten-headed demon king in my sleep at this point. I also love sketching Hanuman and Rama. They both have really fun shapes to fiddle with. The cover of the book was actually a blast, it was probably the last illustration I did.
Some of Sanjay's Favorites:
J Otto Seibold
Martin & Alice Provenson
Back to the Future
The Wrong Trousers
Raiders of the Lost Ark
That's a toss up between M83 and Sigur Ros
Usually places that serve french fries and hot sauce.
Phoenix Karma by Osamu Tezuka:
Calvin & Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book by Bill Watterson
Angry Youth Comix by Johnny Ryan
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An amazing book. Both my son (9 years old) and I can't put it down. The illustrations are beautiful. Read morePublished 30 minutes ago by Cassandra A Chattan
what a fabulous book! i read it in one sitting. the author uses humor and gorgeous illustrations to bring an epic tale to life for a 21 century reader. Read morePublished 14 days ago by J. Payne
Exactly as i expected. Illustrations are modern and extraordinary spilling indian-ness thoroughly. Really enjoyed it.Published 1 month ago by Runa Dey
Had a chance to see some Sanjay Patel work at the MOMA in SF and this book is a nice piece to have a reminder of his talent!Published 1 month ago by tina
Awesome illustrations by Sanjay Patel, it serves as a brief introductory reading to this epic story, before you venture to the bulky full version.Published 1 month ago by Robson Duarte Moreira
This book is awesome. The illustrations are incredible. If you know anything about the Ramayana story - you know that it's richly layered beyond anything we have in the west... Read morePublished 1 month ago by John Lindauer
Beautifully written and illustrated book. Wish Sanjay Patel would do the Mahabarata too!Published 3 months ago by Anil
A beautifully illustrated, simplified telling of the Ramayana. Good introduction to the myths of India for those of us who didn't grow up with them.Published 3 months ago by M. Chalmers-McDonald