Volume 5 : Cover Topic - Contemporary Indian Cinema Society & Culture (6)




Moving Pictures Rolling Dollars - The Fairy tale of Indian Animation

Atoorva Sinha

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26 August 2005 India watched with curiousity and interest the first full length Indian Animation film: Bhagmati - The Queen of Fortunes. Bhagmati is based on the immortal love story of a Hyderabad prince, Muhammad Shah and a beautiul dancer, Bhagmati, The live action-cum-animated historical with a run time of 160 minutes features, besides its renowned cast, around 80 minutes of animation. Within next two months Sahara Percept's fully animated 2D feature Hanuman stormed urban India cinescreens. So within a span of just few months, Indian audiences which have never been exposed to indigenously created animation on the big screen got not one but two animated features to watch. The Industry Pundits who have earlier seen various Disney movies dubbed in Indian languages making good business, unanimously agree that the time has come for India to go animated with its own themes and its own productions. Indian animation industry has all the requisites to make it replicate its IT & BPO success at the global level, And it has potential to become a major player in the global animation industry, which is a 100 billion dollar sector. This is perhaps just a happy coincidence that NASSCOM would be holding its annual ‘NASSCOM Animation India 2006' in January 2006 at the Bhagmati's city-Hyderabad. But more importantly this special two-day event has been specifically structured to address emerging global opportunities and strategies for animation and gaming industry in India.

THE BIG PICTURE

A study by Andersen Consulting says the Indian animation industry, now worth $US550 million, will reach $US15 billion by 2008. India's emergence as a source of animation work should come as no surprise. It has, after all, one of the world's biggest firl industries plus a large supply of low-cost, highquality software engineers. However, in the world of Animation for many years India played a role behind the curtains. Indian Animators provided special effects in foreign productions like The Mummy, Sri Ram Katha, Stuart Little and many others.

According to NASSCOM, the total global animation production is expected to be US$51.7 billion by year 2005. The industry is in fact growing very fast with the key players being U.S.A. Canada and the European Union demanding more content for Television, Internet and Feature Films. The focus of these countries is now on the Asian countries like South Korea, Philippines, Singapore, China, Malaysia and India so that these countries can do the service jobs and also co-production with the USA and European Countries.

The animation industry in India, currently growing at a CAGR of 30%, is estimated to reach US$ 1.5 bilion by 2005. With increase in the backend service work, Indian studios are moving up the value chain. This is also resulting in more number of co-productions and development of new ideas in India itself.

Even though the focus of this article is on the animation industry, it may not be out of place to mention a few things about the gaming industry. Gaming industry, which is worth US$ 10 billion in the USA, is yet to be seriously tapped by Indian companies. The players in this segment are global icons and as competition builds up, these majors are looking at third party developers to create games for their consoles. The Indian gaming market is expected to reach a target of $50 million by 2005 but they have a huge market opening up in front of them and in many cases animation and gaming industries have had complimentary growth patterns.

IT'S AN ANIMATED WORLD

Animation industry presents a great opportunity for Indian creativity and business in two prominent ways. First, foreign entertainment companies are increasingly outsourcing cartoon characters, animation for commercials and special effects to India. Second, Indian companies are creating their own animated films based on characters in Indian folklore and mythology. There is a good foreign audience for these animated films. Simultaneously a domestic market for animation, be it for social advertising or the commercial one, is also increasing. A very layman's evidence to this is the growing number of advertisements on TV with animation. Be it the germs in a toothpaste ad or a sparkle in a detergent ad, all these moving images on out TV screens are proving to be great opportunities for Indian animators. UNICEF's project MEENA and our very own Save Water ads show its relevance in development sector themes as well. In mainstream Bollywood movies too animation is making an entry. In a recent movie Hum Tum for example, two animation characters were used for publicity of the movie in electronic media.

Of course there is hardly anything surprising here. Animation has a universal appeal because people can connect to an animated form very spontaneously. For example, project MEENA has been designed for highlighting the girl-child problem in the entire subcontinent and with the rural folks in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and even in Nepal it has been a great success. If we look at the entire gamut of animation and related types of representation, Indian audience has a great tradition of dolls and inanimate objects performing with a social message. Even in the past there has been limited but successful attempts to use modern technology particularly for social communication. We will talk more about such social campaigns designed mostly under the banner of now almost defunct Films Division. But at the same time we can still recollect some of the early attempts to incorporate animationrelated techniques in commercial advertisement and movies – two prominent examples : the iconic Nirma ad, where the dancing girl in white dress morphed into the Nirma packet and the opening sequence of Satyajit Ray's Shatranj Ke Khiladi.

But apart from the entertainment sector per se, computer animation tools form an integral part of technical, educational, mechanical and architectural fields today. Here are some of the major industries, where computer animation is becoming an inseparable part of business–

  • Computer animations in interactive educational CD of as a teaching tool in the classroom situation, where animated pictures and graphics explain concepts in a much more attractive manner than the conventional teaching aids.
  • Product developers these days routinely use 2D and 3D animations to display prototype equipment and machinery
  • Similarly computer animation is used for architectural designing purpose, to explain any design idea in a virtual 3D scenario
  • There are also other specialized areas of application like mdeical animation and illustration

BEFORE THE DIGITAL AGE

Dadasaheb Phalke, the first recignized Indian feature filmmaker was also one of the first animation film makers of the country. There is an interesting story about how Phalke turned an animator. During the First World War when import of raw stock was stopped Dadasaheb had a little stock left with him but it was not enough to shoot any live action with it. So he animated simple objects, like coins and match sticks, and shot them with his hand-cranked camera one frame at a time. He also used some elementary animation techniques for his mythological films like Harishchandra. Among the other pioneers of animation in India were Kantilal Rathod and two partners of Hunnar Films - Baptista and Vijaykar.

But the big boost to animation was given in the sphere of social communication. Films Division had a full-fledged Cartoon Films Unit, where a number of talented film-makers ventured into this field under the able guidance of people like G.S. Saraiya, maker or Saraswatichandra and Jahangir Bhavnagary who made the remarkable films Radhakrishna and Akbar. Most of India's first generation animators came from the Films Division and later branched out to different fields. Their focus was completely on social communication. They worked within the constraints of the government systems and a number of their campaigns might not have succeeded in their original purpose but they gave the Indian audience their first real taste of animation. It is more than just coincidence that one of the most remarkable social communication projects through animation in recent years – UNICEF's project MEENA was actually designed and developed by Ram Mohan of Graphiti Multimedia, Who worked for Films Division for more than a decade in the sixties.

When we are looking forward to more quality animation on traditional Indian themes, there is at least one individual without whom we cannot conclude a very basic introduction to the world of Indian animation. Even though his company has started making VCD and DVDs only recently, since the late 1960s for Indians across the country the story teller extraordinaire has been Anant Pai of Amar Chitra Katha. Already for at least three generations of Indian children their first introduction to their heritage as well as to the stories of great lives has been beautifully illustrated story books of Amar Chitra Katha. So far Amar Chitra Katha had sold nearly 90 million copies worldwide and have been printed in 38 languages. When it comes to quintessential Indian flavours, Amar Chitra Katha even in book format till date remains our first introduction to the world of animation.

GLOBALISATION OF INDIAN THEMES:

Like all other cultural fields, in animation too, there has been a mass invasion from western countries into our drawing rooms. There are around ten channels, which survive and in deed thrive mostly on animation. In urban middle class Indian homes, these days quite frequently one would come across discussions about relative merits and demerits of a certain animation channel, much like news or movie channels. Parents are frequently found complaining about their children's addiction to latest animation fad like Pokemon or Bayblades. Obviously at the beginning there was almost no indian animation, but slowly animtion producers are adopting Indian themes and coming up with both television production and in recent-time movies like Hanuman. Already channels like Diney are penetrating much beyond upper class Englishmedium kids by launching a full-fledged Hindi channel. In coming days they would definitely be spreading much deeper and wider. At the same time full-fledged Indian animation films would definitely find audience beyond the multiplexes of metro cities.

But as of now, from business point of view what is more significant is perhaps the acceptance of Indian themes in markets abroad. Tenali Raman, for long, has been a symbol of fun and merriment for generations of Indians. However, in recent times Toonz Animation has made the court jester even more memorable. The Adventures of Tenali Raman, produced by Toonz, has wooed television audiences with Tenali's impish pranks and repertoire of jokes. Produced in classic 2-D animation, Tenali Raman revolves around the clever adventures of the popular Indian folklore character. But he is also a figure whom Americans and Europeans are enjoying. Toonz sold the animated film to television stations in Asia, the European Union, North America and Singapore. And this is not all. Chota Birbal, Hanuman and very recently Bhagmati : The Queen of Fortune have all been turned from being a popular traditional story to a successful animation film. Others though not entirely Indian themes or presentations like the Legend of Buddha, ‘Sinbad : Beyond the veil of mist and Son of Aladdin or Pentamedia's Alibaba also generated a lot of interest.

Another Toonz production called Maharaja Cowboy is a film about a newly crowned boy king from southern India who escapes the responsibilities of his palace and travels to the wild west in the United States to discover his childhood. Bangalore-based Jadoo Works is producing an animated film series about Lord Krishna and a crime caper Bombay Dogs. Scripting and pre-production for these series are done in the US to ensure that they have universal appeal.

Mythological themes come handy in tapping a larger Indian market spread over the small towns rather than limiting the subject to metros like Mumbai and Delhi. Indian epics have colourful characters and offer a mix of rich mythology, dramas and fantasies that are considered the right content for animated cartoons. Organising competitions for school kids where they can submit their stories and characters to be animated is a new way of taking pulse of the viewers taste.

Nippon Ramayana Films Co. Ltd of Japan however animated the most universal Tale of India–The Ram Katha, as early as in 1980s. It was a committed work of superb quality with a mixed team of 450 Indo-Japanese artists. The product was very well received in Indian Market and was much appreciated. Many well-known film stars and other artists lend their voices and support to this project and thus contributing to the success of it.

INDIAN EDGE IN ANIMATION

The total cost making a full-length animated film in the USA is estimated to be $100 million to $175 million. In India, it can be made for $15 million to $25 million. When Disney's ‘The Lion King’ was made, the one and half hour film cost about Rs. 3.50 billion while ‘The Prince of Egypt’ was made with nearly 1010 animators and an investment of Rs. 4.50 billion. And in comparison Bhagmati with about 750,000 animation frames has been made at a cost of just Rs fifty million. Had it been in Hollywood it would have cost not less than Rs 6 billion. The difference could be explained primarily in terms of labour costs-on an average an American animation artist charges about 50 times more than an Indian artist, but the important point is that you can get the same quality of work here also.

India's reputation in this field is growing fast. The Lion King, Finding Nemo and a host of other internationally acclaimed films have been partially made in India. The Walt Disney Company is exploring India as a production base for its animation and feature films. MTV is considering adding India to South Korea and the Philippines as outsourcing destinations. And Cartoon Network is buying programmes made in India. Major US animation studios and producers are realizing the huge cost advantage that India offers. No wonder therefore that Overseas entertainment giants like Walt Disney, I max and Sony are increasingly outsourcing cartoon characters and special effects to India. Other Companies are outsourcing animation from India for commercials and computer games. Industry sources reveal that there are 20 to 30 TV programmes under negotiation, each with a value of $3 to $3.5 million, among the main animation studios in India.

The animation market in India today is characterized by the presence of multiple players. Some of the more prominent ones are Crest Communications, Maya Entertainment, Silvertoon Studio, 2NZ Studio, Cine Magin, Climb Films, UTV Toons, Zee Institute of Creative Arts (ZICA), Digital Studio, Pertamedia Graphics, Prasad Studios, Acropetal, Jadoo Works, Color Chips, Heart Animation, Ocean Park, Padmalaya telefilms and Toonz Animation. These companies are spread across cities such as Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Thiruvananthapuram.

The NASSCOM survey of 2002 summed up the following as India's strengths in the animation Industry as follows:

  • A vast base of English speaking manpower: animation, which requires a familiarity with the English language, benefits when the work is outsourced to India. Besides, a number of initiatives are underway in the country targeted at creating skill manpower for the animation market.
  • Presence of animation studios: a number of Indian cities already boast hi-tech animation studios (equipped with state-of-the-art hardware and software), which are successfully completing projects from overseas companies. There are at least 12 animation studios in India that are global class with the relevant hardware, software and communications infrastructure, experience, skill sets and consumer profile. For example, Toonz is the only studio outside North America and Europe to make it to California-based Animation Magazine's top 10 multistudios in the world.
  • Low cost of animation services: India's edge in terms of pricing is stated to be unmatched, Compared to countries like the US and Canada or even South Korea, and the Philippines, Indian animation costs are the lowest. NASSCOM's study shows that while the rates for production of half hour TV animation programme would be around US$ 250,000-400,000, in the US and Canada, it is in the region of US$ 60,000 in India
  • India's large entertainment sector: Owing to a prolific entertainment segment, India has a ready supply of content developers
  • Heritage of traditional literature: Indian content developers also have exposure and access to rich heritage of traditional literature. This would offer the potential for content-based partnerships.
  • Studios that are well equipped: The larger film production studios in India are equipped with state-of-the- art computer hardware and software platforms

BLOCKS IN THE ROAD AHEAD

The road to success, however, is not so smooth in this budding sector. One of the biggest hurdles is the shortage of human resources. Currently, over 10,000-12,000 professionals are employed in the aimation industry of which only 1,500-2,000 of them could be considered world-class. If one goes by the industry growth rate, it would require aout 30,000 more animators by the end of 2008. There are no established academic networks to churn out animators by the thousands. What we have are only Fine Arts Schools, which teach the fundamentals, but not the technical skills required for production. To fill the void a number of private and Joint Sector institutes are coming up in different parts of the country.

Then it is relatively new industry. Not much animated stuff is locally available in India. The only experiences most animators have, are from commercials and special effects fields, there is a lack of awareness about the industry and absence of substantial venture capital inflow. Access to venture capital funding, debt or equity financing for animation firms are preventing the industry from gaining stakes in coproduction or bringing more work into the country. To make Indian animation industry world class, there is a need to develop and strengthen the supply base of animation production studios by importing hardware and software equipment. Tax benefits to the industry for importing these equipments can serve as an encouragement followed by granting industry status to the animation sector to enable it to gain access to funding from banks and financial institutions.

And then there is competition from other countries like the Philippines, South Korea and Japan, which are matured markets for animation. Though India provides great cost advantage, these countries have been in the business for a couple of decades and have got a head start in this space. The other Asian studios have the back up strength of financial resources, when competing for Western world content productions, as compared with countries like India.

Western studios are looking at Asia not only for cost arbitrage, but also to financially participate in the project. Taiwan, China, South Korea and other countries including new entrants like Singapore have found govenrment support forthcoming, for financing co-productions. As a result, the flow of deals and the value captured by the studios and producers based in these countries is increasing.

India also does not have any international co-production agreements. The animation industry has been lobbying for this and, to enhance the industry's global profile, a group of Indian animation houses have banded together to form the Animation Production Association of India. The NASSCOM Survey came out with a series of recommendations to position the Indian animation studios to global excellence. Some of these recommendations are:

  • Set up animation parks on the lines of the software technology parks.
  • Increase the level of interest of audiences in the domestic market in animation.
  • Enter into co-production tie-ups with countries such as Canada to develop animation content, and arrangements with producers/studios in the US.
  • Increase the range of applications for animation such as documentaries, etc
  • Develop a national brand indentification in animation.
  • Strengthen the interface between local studios and producers.
  • Have a representation in major international animation markets and festivals.
  • Create assured off take of locally produced original animation productions by domestic broadcasters.
  • Provide relevant funding and infrastructure for animation product development.
  • Take a series of strategic initiatives to build a body of manpower talent to fuel the growth of this market.

There is no doubt that the future of animation in India is brilliant even in the domestic market the animation is being praised at various platforms. Success of recent Disney ventures in Indian market has well established the fact that not only kids but also adult viewers are appreciating the animation shows. Not surprisingly, Bollywood has already picked up the hint and started making attempts to incorporate animation with their standard masala fare. As for international markets, we have everything going for us—great talent, great prices, great stories. We just need to package the whole thing so well that our productions become irresitable business propositions for the clients.

So what next? An Indian movie winning an Oscar in the animation category? A flight of oriental fancy you may say! Ask indians working in the animation industry and they will convince you that such a thing is just around the corner. After all, in 2002, the made-in-India Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves was nominated for an Oscar. Experts say the future of animation in India is bright. India has great stories, good cartoon characters from mythologies and folk tales, good artists and technicians, Above all, we offer a competitive price, which nobody can match.


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