Friday, September 01, 2006

A Tidal Wave of Indian Animation??

The question has popped up here (again), "Is all the animation going to be swept away to India?" At almost exactly the same time, Kathleen Milnes of the Entertainment Economy Institute sends us this: Animators eye Kolkata market Pradipta Mukherjee Kolkata -- August 28, 2006 Industry demand surging. Indian animation industry is rapidly growing as a major animation outsourcing hub with a growth rate of 30 per cent. The present industry now has over 5,000 professional animators in India although Indian animation industry kick started only in mid-90s, said Kireet Khurana, creative head, Metaphor Studios. About 95-98 per cent of contracts that India receives are for international firms. Mumbai, Hyderabad, Bangalore and Chennai led the industry in that order. "Calcutta, so far, has not been able to attract many investors, reason why we are planning to tap the eastern India market as well. We have already chalked out close to Rs 2.5 crore investment in eastern India," said Khurana. "Animators are made, not born. They need to have a creative bent of mind and a good aesthetics sense, and of course, the ability to licence and merchandise characters. One positive thing about Indian animation industry is that a lot remains to be explored. So there is a lot of scope for growth in India." For example, Disney created Mickey Mouse and is still cashing in on this character. But in India, there is hardly an animated character as popular as Mickey Mouse. "Just that, good animators have the expertise in licensing and merchandising characters, like Disney did with Mickey Mouse. Unless India has such animators, animation industry in India may lag behind," explained Khurana. Now, the above sounds ominous, but consider this: In 1970, the animation industry in Southern California was 95% unionized and encompassed 1700-2000 animation employees. Today, the L.A. animation industry has 6,000 or more individuals working in it with 50-60% unionization. Yet the 'toon business in the southland has been fighting "ruanawy production" since the early 1970s -- far longer than our cousins working in live action. Most animated television production is done offshore, and has been for years. A small portion of theatrical animation is created overseas. Thirty-five years ago, 97% of it was done here. So shouldn't the business be smaller now? Why is there more employment in 2006 than in 1970? We think there's a pretty straightforward answer. Thanks to new technologies, new markets, and new delivery pipelines, the pie is continually expanding and morphing. That explains the business's growth, and you don't have to have 20/20 vision to see the specific ways in which it has changed. Films have far more special effects today, and virtually all the effects are digital. Dress extras have less work on live action sets now because crowds, when they're needed, are digital. Filmed stunts are often created digitally in a computer. And where there once was one hand-drawn animated feature released every two or three years (usually by Disney), there are now more than half a dozen released in a year. Delivery systems now include cell phones, DVDs, hundreds of cable channels, the internet, and a twenty-screen theatre near you. There are, in short, thousands of hours of multimedia time to fill, and both conglomerates and garage entrepreneurs are working overtime to fill them as efficiently and inexpensively as possible. Theatrical animation. Television animation. Commercials. Sixty-second shorts on your computer or cell-phone screen. Video games stacked high in every mall and downloaded over the internet. All this means that India's animation industry will continue to grow, for there is always a market for cut-rate animation. But at the same time, Los Angeles animation will also expand because this is where quality animation has been done for three-quarters of a century to overwhelming commercial success. And the talent pool in Los Angeles is both wide and deep. It does Viacom or Fox News Corp little good to pick up a thirty-million-dollar animated feature from a studio in Mambai, India if that feature generates only twenty million in worldwide box office and negligible DVD sales. What the conglomerates are looking for, now and always, is artistic quality that will produce billions in cash flow. So far, that has only been done in studios in Los Angeles...or Emeryville...or White Plains, New York. Every corporation out there weighs quality against low-cost quantity every day. Sometime that equation will work for us, sometimes against us. It is a reality we all have to deal with, but I'm an optimist. I believe animation in California north and south will continue to thrive. But none of us will be able to rest on our laurels, ever.


Anonymous said...

HI Pradipta.
A very articulate article. I would like to add that we need to put this dilemma in right perspective as it would help understand the problem better. Whereas N.America has the best animation schools in the world some of them subsidised by govt. funding and scholarships, in comparison India has not a single animation school of same calibre, nor has the govt. taken any intiative to subsidise or give tax breaks to the animation industry.

Apart from the huge lacunae in animation education, we also have to look back in retrospect. Whereas Disney produced its first feature film "Snow white..." in 1935, India had just managed to finished a paltry 5 mins. of experimental animation done by Dadasaheb Phalke. If Mickey mouse was the 1st licensed animation character way back in 1928, India's first was only in 2003 in the form of Chhota Birbal.

I am confident India will get there in another 10 years and will also become a creative hub. Its just that we are building critical mass of animation experts currently which would be a launching pad for creating our own Intellectual properties.


Unknown said...

Indian animation market, fairly static until a few years ago, is suddenly waking up to a host of global opportunities that promise a lot of action for the country’s leading design specialists.

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