Earlier this year when covering the National Film and Television School’s 2024 Graduate Showcase we watched Mansi Maheshwari’s nightmarish animation Bunnyhood for the first time. It was a film that instantly created an impression on us through its tense narrative and scratchy, frenetic visuals, which we described at the time as being like, “the scribbled drawings etched onto an old school desk come to life”. It’s no surprise to us then that the film has gone on to secure a place in the prestigious La Cinef programme at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. It’s an inclusion which which we thoroughly back. DN caught up with Maheshwari as she was preparing for the short’s world premiere on the 23rd May on the French Riviera to discuss her film, learning more about her lengthy process of cel animation and how her time studying at the NFTS has impacted her creative practice.

Bunnyhood is such a wild ride, how was it born as both a project and a concept?

The film is based on a true story. I’ve always struggled with understanding why people feel the need to lie, and its consequences, and the story of my appendix surgery was the perfect choice to explore this theme. We came up with the story with the team and our Writers Anna Moore and James Davis.

The film is so playful in terms of the form and you have that sense watching that you never quite know where it’s going to go. How did you instil that into the fabric of the film?

Having a defined story arc allowed us to experiment with animation style and camera angles. Post production was a unique journey for this film as the sound and music in itself was experimental. The film is a product of a clear vision of a story with the liberty to play with visuals, sound, music and edits.

I wanted to do cel animation as I wanted a vintage flyer look for the film. Like old rock band posters.

How would you describe your animating technique?

I like drawing with simple ballpoint pens and I wanted to do cel animation as I wanted a vintage flyer look for the film. Like old rock band posters. I chose a frosted cel to draw, acetate to paint, the butter paper that divides each acetate, to draw the background layer, and finally paint on white copy paper. We drew the whole film on A5 size sheets and then scanned each frame on the NFTS copier.

Given the intense energy of the short, I imagine it took quite a while to assemble it that way. Who did you collaborate with during that part of production?

It was a long process of animating, colouring, assembling layers, line testing and then scanning. The layers of each frame were stacked physically and not comped in. This was a lot of work and would have been impossible without Paula Gonzalez, Ryan Power, Elizabeth Fraser, Kathryn Haddow, Beatrice Babbo and Lucas Freun, brilliant animation assistants who stuck with me throughout production.

Working with Nina Wadia must’ve been really rewarding. How did you find directing and collaborating with her?

Nina, as we all know, is a brilliant actress. I remember watching her in one of my favourite Bollywood films Namastey London. So, when I learnt that I could work with her on a film that I was directing in London, life felt like it had come full circle. Directing Nina was an amazing experience. She naturally brought out all the pain and worry her character needed. And it helped Bobby’s mum seem so real against all of the other madness and stylised voices in the film.

Having a defined story arc allowed us to experiment with animation style and camera angles.

What would you say was the biggest lesson you learned during the making of Bunnyhood?

I learnt that to manage others first, you need to manage yourself. So self-discipline would be my biggest lesson.

How has your time studying at NFTS impacted your creative practice?

I came to the NFTS thinking that I would do puppet stop motion animation, but studying at film school actually helped me to discover my love for hand drawn animation. I realised nothing excites me more than making silly little drawings and I don’t think I would have learnt that unless I came here. I learnt from my tutors and my peers. There’s so much talent floating around in such a small space.

What does the selection at Cannes mean for you? How excited are you for the film to have its world premiere there?

I’m at such an early stage as a filmmaker that I hadn’t even started dreaming of being at Cannes Film Festival. I’m honoured and it’s amazing to meet like-minded people here and learn about their journeys.

And finally, what will you be working on next?

I’m working on a couple of new projects with my Bunnyhood crew and Producer Ashionye Ogene. We’re discussing adapting Bunnyhood into an animated TV series of coming of age moments in life. Keeping the madness and the humour of the short intact. I’d love to see it on a channel like Adult Swim. We’re also developing a live action animation hybrid short.

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