Defining Moments: Suresh Eriyat: Strangely Suggestible

By Ashwini Gangal , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Advertising | August 26, 2014
The bearded founder-director of Eeksaurus, an ad film production house, walks us through his serendipitous career so far.

I come from Tripunithura, a small temple town in Kerala. I was raised in a protective society with no exposure to the 'outer world'. But I was blessed with two forms of art - singing and drawing. I took classical Carnatic vocal lessons for eight years. Of course, back then one looked at these interests as mere hobbies, not career options.

Suresh Eriyat

In 1989-90, soon after finishing standard 10, my father took me for a painting competition, around Onam time. Generally, if your piece is good, a small crowd gathers and peeps into it. So, that's what happened here too and after I was ready to leave, out of nowhere, a gentleman - a complete stranger! - approached me and said, "I think you should go to NID." I said, "What is NID?" after which he told me it stands for the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad. "I think you'll fit in and do very well there. The admission process will start around October. Watch out for the ad and apply," he said and disappeared.

My father then wrote to NID. That was my first defining moment. I don't even remember this person's face well enough to draw his portrait but he changed my life with that suggestion. I was a science student studying for IIT; my entire academic career was about Maths, Physics and Chemistry... and out of nowhere, because of something a stranger said to me after seeing me draw, I applied to NID.

The entrance process was very aptitude and craft oriented. I was one of the 30 people who got selected that year. Sitting in Tripunithura I would have never imaged going to a place like NID. It was like a leap for me. I was 17. It was my first time out of my home town, home state.

I was in NID between 1991 and 1996, during which time I completely transformed as an individual. It was a big cultural shift. In 1994, after the third year, I was required to choose a specialisation. I opted for graphic design but a faculty member said, "No. You must take up animation. You're introverted, so it will be better if you become an animation film-maker." The irony of that, of course, is that today my job involves managing so many people.

Animation was not something I wanted to do. But I took my teacher's suggestion. You know, in those days, for every second on screen, you had to actually draw 24 frames and colour them all! You had to create buckets of colour and paint every frame manually and keep them to dry for days before shooting. Today, you just fill the colour with one click. So taking up animation - an unpopular discipline at the time - was not an easy decision. It was a big defining moment. I was the only one in my batch of 30 who opted for a discipline called Animation Film Design. Back then animation was not used as an independent medium of storytelling; it was more of a peripheral, decorative skill. But, thinking back, working in animation certainly gave me a lot of patience and perseverance.

After NID, I got into a multi-media company called Western Outdoor Interactive as senior graphic designer. After a year I got an opportunity to work at Famous Studios. That was another defining moment as within Famous Studios, I established Famous House of Animation, an animation service studio. We decided to convert Amar Chitra Katha into an animation-based TV series - first ever animated content creation from India. The project, unfortunately, was not financially viable so Famous Studios told me to pack up. But I knew that animation is a timeless medium.

I then made it my prerogative to bring in the money and sustain the team. I went to agencies (like Ulka, O&M) and actually pitched for work; I sourced animatics (the story board version of animation) work for the team. This was a defining time for me, as that's when I realised that I couldn't just sit at my drawing board and keep drawing. I realised that I had to wear this other hat of bringing in business too. So, the 'art' and 'marketing' fronts were very soft border for me. Though I started out as an employee at Famous, by 2003 I was like a partner on this venture.

Of course, the biggest defining moment of all was in 2009 when we - my wife Nilima and I - launched Eeksaurus.

'Eeks', by the way, is my nickname from NID.

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