Friday, May 05, 2006

Meanwhile, in India . . .

Okay, time for me to start pulling my weight around here again. About two weeks ago I attended an interesting panel entitled The Indian Animation Industry: Pencils to Pixels to Prominence. I've frequently heard the lament, "the current success in CG doesn't matter -- soon all our jobs will go to India!" I've never been a fan of knee-jerk, chicken little-type thinking, so I thought this panel might be enlightening . . . Unlike many such panels, this one boasted panelists who actually knew what they were talking about: Mike Young, whose studio is doing three Indian-animated series; Richard Rich, whose animation company was purchased by Crest Communications of Mumbai, India six years ago; Karen Malach, 3D development producer at DisneyToon Studios; Arish Fyzee, co-founder of Prana Studios (animated the upcoming Tinkerbell DTV movie); and Mallika Chopra, daughter of Deepak and co-founder of Virgin Animation of India (the Virgin part comes from backer Richard Branson). The moderator was Ken Silverman, prez and CEO of Interactive Teamworks, who has spent the last decade involved in Indian media. Mr. Silverman started things off with a few informed estimates -- about 90% of the Indian animation business is work-for-hire, and only about 10% original content. There are probably about 100 companies, with less than 20 doing meaningful volumes of work. The total current dollar value of all the work is probably a little more than $100 million a year, virtually all in CG. The biggest buzz in India currently was about Hanuman, a primarily 2D feature that had made about $3 million in India and another $5 million on DVD, and which apparently soon will get a US release. What was refreshing about the discussion was that it was largely free of the hyperbole and gloss that usually creeps into news articles about the "limitless potential" of Indian animation. There was even some joking about the naive Bahrainian oil billionaires who thought they could come to India, buy a building, pay for 100 computer seats, and somehow they'd magically tap into some huge market. Apparently this has happened more than once. Mike Young even listed off some substantial (and expensive) failures among Indian animation companies, so whatever the potential, it's no picnic to make a go of setting up an Indian animation studio. Mike Young, who came from Wales to the US 16 years ago, and has used his expertise in coproductions and targeting outside markets (the norm in Europe, not so common here), stressed the need for Indian companies to follow that model, with the emphasis on coproductions. He also noted that straight work-for-hire would not lead to a viable industry (which certainly seems to be true in 2D television outsource countries like Korea and the Philippines). Interesting side note -- Mike was dressed in a tux for the Daytime Emmys later that day -- MYP had seven nominations, and I believe won 4. Congrats! Richard Rich* detailed his journey from being the youngest feature director at Disney (The Fox and the Hound in '81), to forming Rich Animation (The Swan Princess among others). Rich Animation has now done 65 (!) DTV titles. The were purchased by Crest in 2000, which initially had 100 CG seats and now has grown to 400, in a new 44,000 sq. ft. facility. They have a deal with Lionsgate for 3 full features, one of which is William Steig's Sylvester and the Magic Pebble. Like Mike Young Productions, they continue to do virtually all pre- and post-production work here. Karen Malach described her path into animation ("I graduated with a degree in Liberal Arts and fell into animation when a friend said, hey, are you interested in a job in animation? There's an opening at a place called Rankin-Bass."), and evolved into supervising visual effects at Hanna-Barbara and Sony before going to Disney. She discussed the process of finding an Indian studio to handle the Tinkerbell DTV animation, and how reel after reel came across her desk full of less than impressive work, so she was thrilled when she finally saw the work of Prana Studios. She emphasized that, given Disney's reputation, character animation is one place the company cannot compromise. Arish Fyzee spent 15 years in the US entertainment industry before returning home to set up Prana Studios. In addition to Prana's work on Tinkerbell they also worked on Hoodwinked, handling some of the non-animation work that the Philippine studio couldn't. Both Karen and Arish declined to give any specifics of the Disney deal. Arish also mentioned that his studio had previously been approached by DreamWorks, who was interesting in buying an Indian studio, but Prana preferred to remain independent. Mallika Chopra's goal for her studio is to create home-grown content. They're both a comics and films studio, and plan to emphasize comics initially (which seems like a smart, cost-effective way to start). Their model comes from Japan, and the interaction between manga and anime, and they plan to partner with others for actual productions. Their primary goal to create content for the Indian and Asian markets, with the expectation that some projects will cross-over to Western markets. I'll post the rest of my notes and thoughts tomorrow. In the meantime, I look forward to your comments. *In an interesting anecdote, Mr. Rich discussed the challenges of doing Muhammad: The Last Prophet, a film in which they could not show the film's namesake. Why didn't you hear about this film? Final dubbing began on 9/11. Timing is everything in Hollywood, and probably in Bollywood, too.


Steve Hulett said...

I remember Rick Rich when he was an assistant director at Disney Features. Before becoming a director, he worked with Don Bluth on the featurette "The Small One" And wrote songs for it.

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