March 29, 2002, New York, USA
Manick Sorcar: A great American success story
An accomplished painter, musician and cartoonist moves into computer graphics, animation videos and the use of laser
Profile: Manick Sorcar
Manick Sorcar, a gifted electrical engineer based in Denver, Colorado, has come a long way from his profession to make a mark in the entertainment industry by skillfully blending science with art. And the effect has been truly electrifying.

Despite a hectic professional life, Sorcar, eldest son of the famous Indian magician P.C. Sorcar, took time off to develop his hobby — computer graphics — and create works of wonder that use animated videos and laser animation. The result: An extraordinary collection of a wide variety of unique arts, such as portraits of famous people on peanuts, on grains of rice and life-size sculptures carved out of styrofoam, chicken wires, three-dimensional illuminated artwork with fiber optics and spice paintings. His professional achievements include winning prestigious contracts for his company, Butterweck-Sorcar Engineering, worth $7.3 billion for designing the lighting for the Denver International Airport, palaces for Saudi Arabian princes and Japanese sports centers, several multimillion dollar Canadian and Mexican projects, and now the ongoing $500 million Colorado Convention Center project.

Sorcar gained hands-on experience in the arts and in lighting by helping his famous father on and behind the stage, painting backdrops, playing the accordion and doing innovative lighting effects for his acts. “I fell in love with the challenge of mixing art with science, which eventually led me to become an electrical engineer and an artist,” Sorcar Jr. told Indo-Asian News Service in an interview.

Asked about the secret of his success, Sorcar said: “Actually, there is no secret. I strongly believe in what my dad always told me, ‘you can do anything when you love to do it and set your mind to do it.’” Born in Calcutta (now Kolkata), Sorcar came to the United States in 1970 after graduating with a first class from the Benaras Hindu University. He joined the University of Washington in Seattle for his master’s. After graduating in 1972, he got a job at Howard W. Butterweck and Company, an electrical consulting engineering firm in Denver.

Impressed with his performance, the company offered him partnership within two years and changed its name to Butterweck-Sorcar Engineering. The same year (1974) Sorcar married Shikha, and made Denver his home. He served as the company’s president from 1978 to 2001. After the demise of Mr. Butterweck, the company’s name was changed to Sorcar Engineering, of which he is now the chief executive officer and president. An accomplished painter, musician and cartoonist, Sorcar’s paintings initially dealt mostly with rural India. His first exhibition was held in Seattle, Washington, while still a student at the university, where all his paintings reflected the sufferings of the fleeing refugees who poured into India (from then East Pakistan) during the bloody birth of Bangladesh.

Soon he had moved on to other media. After experimenting with video animation, Sorcar turned to a new field: Laser animation.

Asked to explain the use of laser beams in animation productions, Sorcar said: “Laser is a strong, narrow beam of light. If you hold the laser like a flashlight and aim it at a wall, it will show a dot. Now if you move it in a circular manner with high speed, the dot on the wall will look like a circle. We use computers to move the laser beam in a pre-determined path to produce different shapes. To give a ‘movement’ to these characters, a whole bunch of such shapes are forced to run one after another to give the illusion of movement.”

His first laser animation, ‘Calcutta Forever — A Laser Fantasy,’ an eight-minute documentary on the history of Kolkata over 300 years proved to be an unprecedented success in the city when it was premiered at the prestigious government-owned Nandan Theater, on the New Millennium Day, Jan. 1, 2000. On public demand, the show was extended to seven days, twice daily.

Another innovative creation has been his gallery of portraits of famous people with relevant newspaper pieces about them, which were showcased at his art exhibition ‘Images of India: Animation and Transformation,’ at the Foothills Art Center, Golden, Colorado, in October 1996.

An accomplished cartoonist, Sorcar is the author of ‘The Melting Pot: Indians in America,’ and ‘Spices in the Melting Pot’ — two popular books of cartoons dealing with the lifestyles of Indian Americans trying to assimilate with the mainstream in the U.S. But his most notable art work came in the last 15 years as a series of one-man animated videos for children, which introduced them to India, its culture, folklore and values. ‘East-Meets-West’ (1986), ‘East-Meets-West II’ (1987), ‘Two Songs from the East’ (1987), ‘Deepa & Rupa: A Fairy Tale From India’ (1990), ‘The Sage & The Mouse’ and ‘Sniff’ (1993), and ‘The Woodcutter’s Daughter’ (1997), which are not only entertaining, but also educational for their cross-cultural values and innovative art.

Based on a fable from the ‘Panchatantra,’ Sorcar’s last video production to date, ‘The Woodcutter’s Daughter’ was released on Sept. 7, 1997, on PBS stations of the Rocky Mountain area, and received rave reviews from the press.

Initially, Sorcar, seeing his children growing up in a Western culture, just wanted to bridge the gap at home so that his two U.S.-born daughters, Piya and Payal (then 8 and 5, in 1985), could learn about Indian heritage. So he wrote several songs in his native Bengali and had his daughters sing them, which led to a CBS record and other cassettes which became popular in the U.S. as well as India.

His daughters received the Gold Medal at the Kiwani’s ‘Stars of Tomorrow’ contest. One success led to another and, finally, to the making ‘Deepa & Rupa: A Fairy Tale From India’ a half-hour animated video movie for children. He persuaded family members (his older daughter Piya was in a key role, and wife Shikha played the part of her mother) and friends to act various roles and drew the entire art and animation himself.

Each and every one of the hundreds of background scenes were painstakingly hand-painted on paper and then captured by a video camera, the moving animation was drawn directly on his personal computer — all in his basement studio. For three long years (1988-1900), he religiously devoted his nights, weekends and any time he could spare from his engineering business to translate his dream into reality.

The hard work paid off. Since its premiere on the PBS in 1990, ‘Deepa and Rupa’ has been telecast in many parts of the world and has received key awards, including the Gold Plaque at the Chicago International Film Festival, the C.I.N.E. Golden Eagle in Washington, D.C., the Silver and Bronze Medals at the International Film Festival of New York, the Cindy Award in Los Angeles, and nominations for three Heartland Regional Emmy Awards. It also received awards at the Chicago and New York International Film Festivals.

Talking about these awards, Sorcar said: “I got several awards for my animations from film festivals and other international competitions, but none was greater than when I saw that my animations — all of which are based on fables from India — have become popular in American schools. This way, American children are able to learn about the culture and world of children of another land, India.”

“The teachers wanted us to make presentations in front of the kids and take questions and answers. I taught the students in elementary schools how to do animation without the help of a computer. To the high-school kids, I showed my techniques of how to draw a character on the computer and then how to put a series of them to provide animated movements. The kids were greatly interested; they learned firsthand that to create an award-winning animation one does not need to be in Hollywood.”

His latest creation is a live-character animation which is run in combination with action on stage. His talented daughters, who are now grown up and are skilled dancers, are significant players here. The show is an extravaganza of dance-drama-magic, with laser animation in combination with live action through an exclusive process known as ‘SorcarScope.’ His first show in Denver in September 2001 was a huge success. The predominantly language-independent show, which transported the audience from their seats to palaces of the Mughal era, and to the bottom of the blue ocean interacting with sea-creatures and mermaids, attracted an international audience.

Asked to explain the show, Sorcar said: “Our stage show is an extravaganza of dance-drama-magic in combination with laser animation — all based on Indian themes “Through ‘SorcarScope,’ I am able to have live action on stage — synchronized with full-size laser-animated figures on the stage. This opened up a lot of doors through which we could do a variety of magical effects such as lifting the audience from their seats to the world of sea creatures under ocean, and so on,” he explained.

“The concept is so new that we have been super-busy showing it in different parts of the United States and abroad. We have a tour coming up for Australia and New Zealand. We are excited because, through these shows, we will be able to introduce the culture of India to the Western audience in a most sophisticated manner — with the help of the state-of-the-art lighting and the cutting-edge technology of laser.”

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