The endlessly charming Prashanti Aswani tells us how she built her illustrative career
Fresh off co-directing and animating Between There And Here ft. Yo-Yo Ma by Hrishikesh Hirway, we speak to Prashanti on her dazzling animation craft.
- Joey Levenson
- 18 October 2021
London-based and Jakarta-born Prashanti Aswani is a gifted artist, to say the least. Her portfolio is a litany of animations and illustrations brought to life in a palette of earthy, subdued colours. Often, they’re as funny as they are profound.
Getting her start at the Rhode Island School of Design for a BFA in illustration, Prashanti originated as a “fine artist who oil painted day in and out,” she tells she tells It’s Nice That. It was in her third year that Prashanti discovered digital painting, and the rest is history. “I then learnt how to use Maya to create worlds for video games, After Effects for making weird characters move awkwardly through a space, and Photoshop for frame-by-frame animation,” she continues. “My first job at The Mill in Chicago taught me to apply all of that into work for clients and my career as an animator started there.” Thankfully, Prashanti was able to freelance in Singapore, her ‘home away from home,’ and eventually landed at the Royal College of Art for her master’s, where she’s now honed in on and perfected her animation craft.
Prashanti’s distinct quirky characters have become a recurring point of reference in her work, but the artist tells us she originally “never really considered [them] awkward in any way”– until she started animating them. “I remember laughing the first time I animated a little person,” she recalls. “It was me actually, half nude again with a belly that slopped onto the floor and a foot that inflated like a balloon.” This fascination with the curves, folds, marks, and nuances of the female body has been with Prashanti since her oil painting days in undergraduate school. “I enjoy portraying the female body in ways that make all those distant aunts of mine that follow me on Instagram very uncomfortable,” she says. “The little willy in my most recent post earned my Mom a few worried calls about whether or not I should be posting such content.” It’s no surprise that Prashanti carries such a strong sense of humour, as her work often plays around with comedic elements to elevate her message into something uncanny and endlessly watchable.
“Many of my ideas now revolve around themes of identity, immigration, race and the female body,” Prashanti tells us. “Being the only Brown kid in a predominantly white school for many years while I grew up in Estonia familiarised me with the feeling of being ostracised at a really young age.” Such a background has informed Prashanti’s current work-in-progress final year film for RCA, a “semi-autobiographical animation about a woman who lives in her apartment where the walls periodically shift around her.” It grapples with a character unable to reconcile with their physical appearance, born from a history of “prejudice against my skin colour,” Prashanti says. “I want this to be a film that speaks to the many Brown girls who have grown up feeling ashamed of their differences, and I want to represent the underrepresented and to voice those that never belonged.”
The final year project is somewhat of a spiritual successor to her wildly successful film Machi, which was Prashanti’s very first short film and has been circulating among Raindance Film Festival, Stuttgart International Festival, and many more. “It’s narrated by my mother who tells me of the days she grew up in Jakarta with her three siblings raised by their caretaker at the time, who they called Machi,” she explains. In fact, it was Machi which won Prashanti Best Animated Short Student at London Independent Film Awards, Best New Director for the Shiny New Directors Awards, as well as Best Animated Student Short at the NEZ Film Festival in Calcutta.
But, her most recent endeavour is a new venture for Prashanti. “I animated and co-directed a music video with Hrishikesh Hirway,” she explains. “Hrishikesh began by telling me about his new song that he’d written about his mother whom he recently lost, and explained how the song is ‘about how memories and dreams are the places where we can spend time with those we've lost — and that's some kind of small comfort’.” From there, Prashanti departed from her usual whimsical affinities and began 3D modelling Hrishikesh's home based on photos and videos he’d given her. “I put together a small team of two other animators, one 3D animator: Felix Weyss and a 2D animator: Divya Tamilselvan, and we spent most of the time on this project experimenting with different looks and combinations of styles with the use of 3D and 2D animation,” Prashanti explains on how she rose to the task of directing. “Recreating Hrishikesh’s mother and doing it right was extremely important to us,” she adds. With continuous praise rolling in for the music video, it only goes to show that Prashanti is a highly-adept, highly-confident animator and illustrator with years of success ahead.
Prashanti Aswani: Her Birthmark (Copyright © Prashanti Aswani, 2021)