Backstreet Bytes: Laser, Art and Animation — the creative world of Manick Sorcar
“I see art in everything that I look at. Whether it be grains of food or Styrofoam sheets, I see them as the media for creating beautiful art.”-P.C.Manick Sorcar
Few of us have the opportunity and ability to combine our education and learning with our passion. Manick Sorcar is among those lucky few. P.C. “Manick Sorcar” is a protean personality- there isn’t one single word one can use to describe him. A successful light engineer, head of an electrical consultancy company, author, artist, animator, laser artist-but most importantly, he is a man who sees the world through a different lens, one which is a unique amalgamation of various aspects of art, creativity and science. He dabbles with various art forms, from traditional animation to laser art, all in the attempt to bridge the gap across continents, by narrating stories of his homeland and the culture which he is immensely proud of.
As a part of Shaastra 2021’s online campaign-Backstreet Bytes, we were privileged to have the opportunity of interviewing him. As he talks about his journey, one gets an insight into the process and creativity which goes into the world of animation, and that’s what we aim to decode for our audience through Backstreet Bytes
1. Your father, Shri P.C.Sorcar, was a world-renowned magician. How did this influence your life and your passion for art and animation?
I have been an artist ever since I was a child; however, the real break came when my father noticed my art skill and allowed me to paint some of the magic props and background scenes of his world touring magic shows. People loved them and my father encouraged me to do more! Gradually, I also developed an interest in lighting, a significant component of magic shows. Soon I realized I was more interested in the magic of lighting and art than doing stage magic, which led me to earn a bachelor’s degree in Electrical engineering at BHU (now IIT, BHU), Varanasi. After graduation, I became a lighting engineer by day and an artist of many forms by night and weekends. The passion for creativity that I inherited from my father, coupled with my love for art and science continues to be a large part of who I am.
2. Did your experience at IIT contribute to your professional and artistic pursuits? Any anecdote of your life at BHU which you would like to share with us?
As I mentioned earlier, I cut my teeth in art and lighting at the backstage of my father’s internationally touring magic shows. I favoured Art naturally, but it was my undergraduate studies at IIT (BHU) that gave me the foundation of all technical aspects. Illumination then was taught as a part of the bachelor’s program in electrical engineering. After completing my master’s degree, I started working as a lighting engineer at Howard W. Butterweck and Company, a small but well-established electrical consulting engineering firm of Denver, Colorado. This later evolved into Sorcar Engineering, Inc. Over the decades, we worked on electrical consultancy and lighting designs for numerous multimillion-dollar projects for the US Govt. and private industries. I am so immensely grateful to IIT(BHU) for giving me the necessary technical foundation, and my father, for igniting my interest in mixing art with lighting!
There are so many anecdotes that crowd my memory! Let me generalize by saying that studying at IIT(BHU) gave me the first exposure to the entire country, as students came from all parts of India! I loved ‘Tandoori roti’ of Punjab as much as I loved ‘Dosas’ of South India. One would most often spot me in the messes of hostels. Frequent trips to Lanka for a thick ‘Kullar-bhar Lassi’, Gadoulia for authentic ‘Banarasi Paans’, and the boat ride experiences in the river Ganges are etched in my mind as sweet memories forever!
3.Some of your traditional animation films were popular children’s short stories of India. Later, your laser-animated works showcased India’s freedom struggle and the lives of some of our greatest leaders and personalities, like Swami Vivekananda and Mahatma Gandhi. What inspired you to theme your artistic pursuits on Indian Culture and History?
My interest in animation grew when I settled in the USA and wanted to familiarize my daughters with the rich culture of their homeland. In an attempt to make learning fun, I made them sing children’s songs in Bengali, which became very popular among Indians in the US and India. Inspired by this, I included some still and animated art of mine associated with the songs. This was presented in the “East Meets West” program which was broadcast by CableVision, an American cable television company. The heartwarming response to these songs by American viewers motivated me to trudge deeper in this field and create ‘Deepa and Rupa: A Fairytale from India’, the animated version of a popular children’s tale of Bengal, which also became India’s first feature-length animation with live-action. This was back in the mid-eighties; computer animation was still in its infancy. To keep costs low and fulfil my dream, I drew all background scenes and animated characters by hand, used computers to do the transient drawings, and used my family and local friends to act various roles interacting with the animation. The film was highly successful and was the winner of the Gold Plaque at the Chicago International Film Festival in the Children’s TV Program category, and was nominated in several other film festivals. The astounding success of ‘Deepa and Rupa was an eye-opener for me and motivated me to create several other animation films based on tales of Panchatantra and children’s poems. These were again well received by audiences across the United States and India and were telecast by PBS as New Year’s Day special for 25 consecutive years.
“What started as an effort to close the gap at home became a cultural bridge between East and West!”
4.In the late 1980s, you started using laser as a medium for creating your animations. What led to this transition, and how did it change your approach to animation? Tell us more about some of your works in laser art.
In the late eighties, I took animation to a different level by using laser as its medium. Laser gave me a new platform to combine two of my favourite subjects: art and lighting, and create something new and exciting!
“Manipulating the fierce beam of light to act as a harmless painting brush was a thrill for me.”
I felt that a thematic storyboard laser can also convey the message and narrate a story to illuminate a soul, in addition to dazzling the eyes. My first laser production was ‘Calcutta Forever: A Laser Fantasy’ an 8-minute show packing 310 years of the history of the City of Joy, which was a smashing hit and was recorded as the first laser animation screened inside a theatre. There was no looking back after this. A string of very creative laser shows- ‘Celebrate Denver’, ‘Enlightenment of Buddha’, ‘Our Republic’s Birth’ to name a few, were shown in several prestigious American venues and won several international awards. The exciting new platform gave me a huge opportunity to share many good stories and events of my motherland, India with my adopted land, the United States, for a better understanding of the two great nations I dearly love.
In 2012, I made ‘Swamiji’, an hour-long laser documentary on Swami Vivekananda and his journey. To date, it has been displayed in over 40 cities in India and the USA, nationally telecast in India, receiving rave reviews from viewers across the globe. My latest production is ‘Gandhi: A laser Journey’, an hour-long documentary on the life of Mahatma Gandhi to celebrate his 150th birth anniversary, which premiered at Ent Centre of Arts, University of Colorado, last year.
5. New methods and technologies are emerging every day in all fields, including animation and laser art. Which method of animation do you think is the future?
I think the future of animation is going to be truly three dimensional, where animated characters interact with live actors, giving viewers a wholesome experience. In laser, there are excellent programs for creating ‘atmospherics’ such as beams, fans, etc., enhanced by smoke or haze in space. Some excellent animation programs developed for geometric figures are currently used for dance floors or displays for games and other events. However, for character animation, there is a lot of scope for improvement, and much of it is still dependent on the experience and artistic skills of the laser artist.
6. Lastly, a message you would like to give the young minds of this generation.
I remember the days at BHU when slide rules were the high-tech of the time and we had to run to the library to refer to any book. Today, there is the internet, the world’s window and all books and knowledge of the world can be accessed through a laptop or a hand-held iPhone! The magic wand is in your hand; you can do miracles! Everything depends on your imagination, initiative, and how strongly you feel about it. You can do anything if you set your heart to it!