Indian animators sketch roadmap for success

June 4th, 2008 - 6:31 pm ICT by IANS  

By Arpana
India’s entertainment industry is in animation mode. Tom and Jerry may continue to be favourites, but Indian children have found a new mascot in the likes of Hanuman, the monkey god, and Bal Ganesha, the elephant god, who have changed the economics of the animation film industry. It’s boom time for the Rs.13 billion ($approx $306 million) Indian animation industry. The turning point came perhaps in 2005 with “Hanuman”, about the cherubic monkey god of the Hindus, that was made with a budget of Rs.15 million (a little over $353,000) and grossed more than thrice that at Rs.70 million ($1.6 million).

Percept Picture Company (PPC) followed the success with “Hanuman Returns”, paving the way for other big players to get into animation films too.

Shemaroo Entertainment, which made the successful “Bal Ganesha” about the childhood exploits of the elephant god Ganesha, took it forward with their second animated movie “Ghatothkach - Master of Magic” that was premiered at the Cannes Film Festival.

“Yes, our film is going to Cannes. Last year when we were at Cannes testing waters, we realised that there is a market for Indian content. I am getting a lot of queries for the film that will be released in seven languages. Indian content can be sold in other countries and this film will give a boost to the animation sector,” said Smita Marooh, vice president of Shemaroo.

Shemaroo invested about Rs.80 million ($1.8 million) in “Bal Ganesha”, but almost doubled its investment for “Ghatothkach - Master of Magic”, made in the song and dance style of a Bollywood production that depicts the escapades of the son of Indian mythological strongman Bhim.

The growth story of the animation industry is not confined only to Indian films with Indian companies tapping on the abundant talent at home. Global players like Walt Disney and Cartoon Network are also increasingly looking at the country for content - with the same level of specialisation but at lower cost.

“The animation industry in India has grown in recent years with a lot of talent in creating world-class animation. The talent has been spotted by Hollywood majors who are outsourcing some of their own animation projects to companies in India,” said Sanjeev Kohli, director and chief executive officer of Yash Raj Films (YRF), one of the Indian film industry’s biggest production houses.

Hollywood media giant Walt Disney Studios has signed a three-film deal with Yash Raj Films. “Roadside Romeo”, releasing Oct 24, will be its first offering.

“What Disney has brought in an international sensibility, apart from ensuring excellence in the actual animation output. Colleagues from Disney have been regularly at the YRF Studios and the animation studio being used - Tata Elxsi - to work on this project in a cohesive manner,” said Kohli.

Walt Disney is also poised to invest Rs.13.14 billion ($327 million) in the two UTV group firms.

There are other deals too.

Pritish Nandy Communications (PNC) has stuck a Rs.1.8 billion ($45 million) deal with DQ Entertainment (DQE), one of the world’s leading animation and gaming production companies, to co-develop and co-produce six animation movies over the next three to four years.

PNC had also signed a five-movie deal with Motion Pixel Corporation (MPC), a Florida-based animation company that has its animation studios, Estudio Flex, in Costa Rica.

Other than these, media conglomerate Adlabs forayed into animation films in collaboration with southern superstar Rajnikanth’s studio, Ochre Studios. The film is being budgeted at around Rs.100 million.

With such massive financial backing, the Indian animation industry is projected to reach the $1.5-billion mark by 2010 from the current combined revenues of $550 million.

As of today, India has about 200 animation, 40 VFX and 35 game development studios and more workstations are expected to come up to make optimal use of the potential that the industry has.

Indian inputs have gone into blockbusters like the Ben Stiller starrer “Night at the Museum” with the Mumbai branch of the Los Angeles-based Rhythm & Hues working on the modelling and animation.

“I expect that the upcoming big-budget films from Yash Raj Films, UTV and Adlabs will take animation films in India to the next level and revive the animation market,” said Ram Mohan, the doyen of the Indian animation industry.

Another positive change that the industry has witnessed is that Indian animators working abroad have shifted base to come back home. For instance, Chetan Deshmukh, who worked as an animation and special effect expert for Hollywood films “Chicago” and “Shanghai Knights”, recently shifted base from the US to the western Indian city of Pune.

Jesh Krishnamurthy, after working for 13 years with some leading animation companies in the US, Canada, Germany and Britain, has returned to India to float his own company which is again based in Pune. There are many more who followed suit.

The burgeoning Indian animation and gaming industry is creating job opportunities in the country as the demand for skilled animators has shot up. Going by the speed with which the industry is expanding, India will need 25,000 more professionals by the close of next year.

The industry currently has only a little over 10,000 professionals working in this techno-creative field. But this is no cause of alarm. Thanks to many institutions that have come up of late to provide animation education, there are now about 100,000 students who are undergoing training in animation, VFX and gaming in different parts of the country. The first batch of these will fill the gap by turning professionals by next year.

Today the sky is the limit for the Indian animation movie production, which had a shaky start in 1984, when Ram Mohan wanted to make an animation movie on the Indian epic Ramayana in collaboration with Japanese filmmaker Yogo Sako. But he was not given permission by the government to go ahead.

However, Mohan went ahead and “Ramayana” created a revolution in the international market. It made the Western world aware for the first time of talent available in India to make animation movies.

After him, UTV was the first corporate entity to plan animated versions of India Book House’s popular “Amar Chitra Katha” series in the 1990s. But the project did not get off the ground. A decade later, PPC brought to India its Hanuman series of animation features.

The rest, as they say, is history.

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