'DNA 'Conversations: Animation may be a potential blockbuster industry, it still has a long way to go

Sunday, 7 October 2012 - 7:00pm IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: dna
Animation movies began being made only a decade ago, compared to the West where such movies were embarked upon in the 1920s. There are concerns about a demand-supply mismatch and the industry’s ability to realise its untapped potential.

Animation as a form of entertainment has evolved considerably and transcended age barriers. With its new approach, the genre now appeals to adults as much as to children. Within India itself, experts have envisaged that even though growth for this industry in India will be exponential in the short-term, the industry would need to ramp up the numbers of trained manpower. But India has a lot to catch up on. Animation movies began being made only a decade ago, compared to the West where such movies were embarked upon in the 1920s. Obviously, therefore, there are concerns about a demand-supply mismatch and the industry’s ability to realise its untapped potential. Is it the fault of the students? Do they have expectations beyond their level of competence? What do employers look for?

While animation can be a potential blockbuster industry, it is still at a nascent stage and has a long way to go. However, the potential is phenomenal. At the same time, there is no denying that, as with all industries, trained manpower remains a challenge. Can training institutes help aspirants make the transition and prepare them for the career realities that lie ahead? Where does the animation industry in India stand today vis-a-vis its counterpart overseas? How can its untapped potential be realised? Can aspirants wake up to the ground realities and adapt to the changing requirements?

DNA’s Vijay Pandya, discussed the current scenario and what lies ahead with a cross-section of industry representatives. The panel included (in alphabetical order) Chand RK, director, Digitales Studios and co-founder, cgtantra.com; Arnab Choudhary, director, Arjuna The Warrior Prince; Bhavika Chouhan, Sr VP - marketing, Maya Academy of Advanced Cinematics; Mehul Hirani, creative director, Crest Animation Studios Ltd; Kireet Khurana, director, Toonpur Ka Superhero and chief creative officer, Frameboxx; Easo Thampy Mathew, country head, Arena Animation; Sapan Narula, managing partner, Epic Studios; Ram Warrier, head - corporate marketing, Aptech Ltd.  

DNA: The first question is – how big is the animation market at present for animation and special effects? In terms of revenues, what is the kind of sum you are looking at? And to generate those revenues, what’s the kind of recruitment you would need?
Hirani: I’m generalising right now. I really don’t have an idea about the exact industry size, but it’s scattered across India. There are around 10 to 12 huge studios; we have a team of more than 300 to 400 people. If you look at each one of them — many are even publicly listed — none of them is more than a Rs50-crore company. So that’s the highest cap right now if you look at it this way. So people are doing small, small businesses of Rs50 lakh, 40 lakh, 30 lakh, going up to Rs.50 crore, that’s the maximum bankroll that we can see right now. There may be some studios which might not be listed, which don’t really show the results. And as far as recruitment is concerned, it’s at a very average level right now. There is not too much recruitment.  Maybe, overall, across all the studios, the animation sector must not be even requiring more than 3,000 to 5,000 artistes. 

Don’t consider VFX (visual effects) sector; VFX in itself is an additional industry and the biggest turnaround has happened in the conversion business. They have gone into converting 2D films into 3D, which requires many man-hours. So that equation is completely different.

Narula: I feel personally there are two industries, which are having an impact. One is animation, the second is visual effects. They go hand in hand. Along with that, there is a huge Bollywood industry. If we talk about hardcore general animation, there is a huge market called the outsourced market. So, mainly, all the studios in India which are surviving right now are totally on that outsourced model, which is working out for them. The work comes from outside. There is very little content which is getting developed in India right now. There are very few producers who have the kind of trust or patience or  the confidence to actually invest that kind of money on our own content. Moreover, the Indian content, which is coming out, is actually based on mythology or mostly on animals. I was talking to one of my close friends who just finished an animation feature film. He told me that while the studio created the content, the company itself is not putting out any money on promotions, because they don’t have confidence, because they feel that animation is just for children. So you create a film in five years, you are spending day and night on that work, your own intellectual property, and then you are not promoting it. It doesn’t make any sense.

If you see any live action film, there is a budget of just Rs.12 Cr and then it stops. Additionally, they spend at least Rs.4 to 5 Cr per movie. Then only does it make sense. Then you have studios like DreamWorks and Disney coming in. It is a very dynamic scenario right now.

Chand: If you are looking at hardcore Indian origin studios, then the figures are very close to what we all are saying. There are two types of recruitment.  One is that of artista, the other for is labour. If we are looking for artists, then the requirement is very specific, precise, and that has not really grown as much as it should have during the last few years for various reasons. When it comes to labour, the demand has always been there, because India is a destined outsourcing destination.

People from IT companies go to the US or the UK for any company for which they are creating or doing service. The team sits there, but their salaries are Indian salaries and you get allowances. A similar format has now started developing in our industry as well because they too are becoming global. Our companies are growing from India to other destinations.

In terms of manpower requirements, some of the companies, which are into the stereotype conversion business, need a minimum of 500 to 1,000 people [per project]. So those requirements are very different, and they might be short-lived also. It’s sporadic, and unfortunately temp staffing as an industry has grown in other industries but it has not grown in our industry as much. Temp staffing is actually the way that people are working right now, but we on our part have not accepted temp staffing as a mode of recruitment.

DNA: Moving on to the director’s perspective, when you’re making an animation film, how different is it from making a normal film?  What are the kinds of people you need to back you?
Khurana:
I think the basic thing is the story, that’s where it starts. That’s the important thing. As a director, as a person who runs also a studio, we want to have the creative controls with us, focus on the story, on what we are doing in terms of going up the value chain and outsourcing the rest of it to other service providing studios in India or abroad. This is the same model we are following even for ad films.

So we do the pre-production, designing, story writing and story boarding part of it internally, the rest of it is outsourced to other studios. That’s pretty much how it works.

I think, the first most important skill that obviously a director or IT-related company, an intellectual property generating company, needs is the story-telling skills. Personally, I am not very excited about the outsourcing model, because I feel it’s a wage arbitrage model, which is a very price sensitive model. Typically, when you have an international job coming in, the same RFP, Request for Proposal, will go to other studios in Taiwan or Korea or China.

And as long as India is competitive in its price, we will get the job. Such a trend is very low on the value-chain and it doesn’t really create any value for a studio. Over the long run the transition, the wonderful thing that has happened in India, is that according to my estimate, we have about 20,000 people in this industry.  We have the critical mass right now.

So, we should now be telling our own stories, because we have a 1.2 billion universe here with our own set of people. We have to just figure out the economics and how we have to manage the perception that Indian animation is not really working.  But I think it’s just a matter of time before that is cracked.

Typically big companies aboard, which are making IP [intellectual property material, especially content], outsource a lot of that stuff to other studios and they don’t necessarily make it within them. But they own the rights. They monetise it, take money out of it and that’s where the real generation is and that’s where the real growth is.

Choudhary: I concur. Story and design are critical for any animation project. The way to go is a small story and small design team that can move fast, and move quick. In animation, design becomes critical, because apart from what something looks like, design is also about efficiency, and whether the project is efficient and whether the production of the project is efficient. Therefore, that core team is very, very critical. So story and design remain the key for anyone who is creating IP.

DNA: Now let’s move on to creating the manpower and what goes into the whole process. How does the training scenario in India compare with what’s going on abroad?
Chouhan:
Culturally, the way education has evolved in India is very different than the way education is abroad. There, creativity is built into a child from very early in life. Here that’s not the case. It’s more on academic orientation… So, that has been always a critical factor, to imbibe in students the culture of India, something like creativity. Earlier it was very difficult for a child to go back home and say that I want to do a course in animation. ‘You are going to make cartoons?’ was the immediate reaction of the parent, which is no longer a fact today. At least in the major metros, mini metros, tier-three cities also, animation has evolved; its has established itself as a career. People are quite keen to send their kids into animation as they understand what’s happening in this industry. At the same time, there is enough hard work also. So there are two kinds of people here; creative as well as labour.

Though it’s a new age career, there are huge aspirations, a lot of hype also in terms of the industry’s glamour. So they come into the system thinking that okay, well, we’re going to be James Cameron from day one. We’re going to be Steven Spielberg from day one. In fact, we also have developed lots of things at our end primarily because at times there is a great deal of mismatch, which happens from on account of high expectations. We had a dedicated two-month sketching program initially but slowly realised that students don’t want to go through that kind of a rigorous training program.  From day one they want to be on software. So we tried to evolve; we tried some other ways, so that creativity is still instilled in them. So the generation is also very different and the expectations are very high.  Plus they are very impatient. Everything is immediate.

Khurana: I do not agree with the distinction that we make in India about creative and labour. Because I think most of the animation education space is actually dominated by training institutes, where people are essentially being trained in software. Take just one specific skill like modelling. If you do not know anatomy, design, form, if you do not know sculpting or clay modelling, that skill remains pretty much like knowing Photoshop, without really knowing how to paint. How long does it take for somebody to learn Photoshop, without learning how to paint?

That’s the way we started, which is need-based training. Someone needs 100 modellers, someone needs 50 labourers, so he approaches an institute and the institute quickly churns out the people and gives them to him, as per his specifications.

That was an initial incubation phase of the industry, and the industry is still at a nascent stage. What needs to be done is to move from need-based training to value-based education, which is a holistic understanding and a holistic revamp of the entire curriculum.

Even if somebody is doing the modelling, make sure that all those aspects about education are being provided. At the same time, the person who is doing the modelling, should know what the story of the film is. How this particular piece of whatever he or she is creating is going to fit into the entire scheme of things. So they don’t lose a holistic perspective of the entire final product. That is very important.

Right now we have lots of people who do not think at all.  They work just like labourers with very little of creativity. So, the job is to create thinking animators, because that’s how we’ll be going up the value chain. That’s how many studios have gone up the value chain where there are some co-producers as well. Many of them have contributing ideas in terms of storyboarding and pre-production and designing. So, value-based education is an area that I think we need to move into. It is just need-based training right now, at least most of it. 

Narula: At the end of the day, it becomes too difficult to find the right people.  Most of the people in the industry are all operators; they can operate software and stuff like that. But finding a person who can understand the entirety, even for visual effects, is good with colours and can visualise how it’s going to be at the end of the day, how the output is going to be, even for animation for that matter, is not very easy.  First, such persons need to be trained in aesthetics. It’s becoming very difficult for us also. Out of 100, not even two or three of them are actually good enough to be taken up.

Matthew: The student perception of anything is to find a job. That’s the very core of his  strategy. And if you look at animation, the perception started with the IT base. So the student's approach was from that angle; he was trying to learn how to use the tools.  The student's goal is: 'I need to get a job.  And so if learning this tool is going to get me a new job, that’s it'. That’s where he will start. But if you look at the international market, there the perception is totally different; there is a culture of understanding. So all of a sudden we cannot say that the animation training institutes or animation industry should only be creating intellectuals. The industry required labourers or the tool-oriented people at that point of time and it’s evolving since then.

Khurana: My question is, how many of them are actually getting jobs and how long do they stay with the jobs?

Matthew: I said the student perception of any trade, I never said animation, IT or whatever it is.  What I said, is that student perception of going for any vocational training is to get a job. So therefore, he extended that to this also. I logically concluded – they came from the IT field. At that point in time industry needed tool-based people. That’s all there is.

Khurana: Fair enough.

DNA: So there needs to be change in awareness?
Matthew:
Of course.

Choudhary: Studios operate by making a clear distinction among various job roles ranging from the artist to technician. They hire people to their workforce accordingly. A studio will typically hire people with the stipulation: “30% of my staff needs to be technically sound, but need not be visionaries. They need to be able to operate the tools, but they don’t need to be able to create original IP or design a character or anything else.” So there is a certain balance that needs to be maintained and as long as that balance is a healthy one, we’re heading in the right direction.

Chouhan: There are not enough jobs. Currently just when the industry is shaping up, it pains us equally when a student has done a very full-fledged career course, a dedicated course in animation and VFX, and ends up doing a purely technician type of a job. And the guy is creative; it’s not that he is not being creatively employed.

So it’s not a blame game in any which way. Somehow we have to learn to work in hand in hand in with the industry, get the right kind of placement opportunity done. In India, it’s still time for people to accept India made animation movies. The acceptability has to be there.

Chand: My creative team is asking, “Who gives the guy coming through an institute with the choice [of career]? Who makes them realize that after five years or six years or seven years, is he going to be a technician and work ahead on the path like this, or you’re going to be a thinking animator or a director and then, how do you guys handle it?” Because what we are facing, and I’m sure all of us are facing, is a similar question: “Is it that the guy who comes to us as a fresher doesn’t know [the growth path of the job he is meant to do]? Is it that he doesn’t know maybe because when he was being taught, or he was undergoing training, that part of training was not part of the course?” I mean I don’t know if that’s the missing part of the puzzle.

Warrier: Obviously, the guys who come to us are pretty young and not probably clear on what they we want do. They haven’t decided or maybe don’t know what this field is really all about. Our job is to first of all educate them on what this industry is about, what are the jobs on offer, what’s the kind of genre they can grow into. If you take the MBA course or you take engineering or take any stream, you’ll find obviously a huge number of people; some are very good, some are average, some of are not up to the mark and that’s true with animation as well.

We take all possible ways – as improving the education business – to give them a perspective of what they are getting into and what they should be doing. But then I think they are also pretty young at that age, to decide about what they want to do. Once they get into the field, they will soon be able to decide whether that they want to become a regular or an xyz by the time they get around.

I think the focus at our end is largely to keep them informed about what the actual needs are and also prepare them for what the industry looks for and requires. We do a lot apart from just training and teaching -- add-ons in terms of what we think the industry is looking for – and trying to give them that edge when they get there.

But yes, it’s like a fresh MBA coming in and joining as an intern. Typically if you look at that incumbent or a new engineer who has walked in, I think the onus is on both sides to mould the guy and to actually hold his hand and take him to where he wants to.

Chand: The scary part in the last three years -- 2008 onwards -- is that in the last one year we have got five people quitting and not joining a studio, but setting up a restaurant somewhere else. And this after spending a couple of lakh rupees in getting educated in this field.

We are a passion driven industry, but has the passion become pseudo passion? Or is it being viewed only as a job opportunity? We are actually just close to the peak, at a stage where there are people joining. So when a person quits because he has found better prospects in the same industry that’s acceptable; that’s great for his career. But if he quits, and moves into an unrelated field – and I know people who have opened up brokering agencies and set up restaurants – then it is saddening. …

Chouhan: We get a lot of people changing, opting for animation as a shift in career. We do get lot of people who are in a particular industry today and are looking at a complete shift in career and move into animation.

Hirani: I agree that the number of students, who come out, whom you can really absorb into your studio, is not adequate. But my personal experience has been that I have found some really, really clean freshers, who have performed amazingly well, so I don’t want to take away that skill from them. But there are students, even artists, who do not know why they have come into this industry – it is not very clear to them. The day the student’s understanding becomes clearer -- that I am here just because I really love to do what I am doing – that is when his work will cease to appear as hard work.

So if a student is driven by the passion of this work, he doesn’t feel the pressure of work.  I have seen people who are performing extremely well. There are some people who have been with us for four, five years, we call them experienced artists; and there is somebody who has just joined six months ago and he is performing better than that those guys with four or five years' experience.

Thus, though the numbers of students enrolling for such courses is quite high currently. if there is no filtration of entry point, it could have adverse consequences. So if there is a filtration system for getting him into this training, maybe it would have been differed.

Unfortunately, most students are here because someone said this is a booming industry, or there is lot of money to be made in it. They have no clue about it.

Warrier: There is importance for filtration at the entry stage level. What’s equally important is also the exit gate, which we’re working on. Because we don’t want to just send guys to the industry who are unprepared or under prepared. So we need to also tighten the exit gate.

DNA: Do you feel there is a need for greater industry academia interaction?
Warrier:
That is always welcome. And I think there is a fair amount of it in any case. It’s not as if it’s absent.

DNA: Do you feel there is a gap between what the studios are looking for and what’s being prepared right now?
Warrier:
The way I understand it, studios typically operate with their own proprietary software, with their own methodologies of what they prepare. So we prepare students only up to a particular stage. Then they are absorbed by studios. What is important for us is to impart the tools and knowledge of software, the very fundamentals of the concepts. If we are able to work on that and give the student who is going there those basics, that would be more than welcome for studios.

DNA: Do you feel that fly-by-night operators are also contributing to the problem? You know, bringing out people who are not really ready for an animation career, but have a certificate which says they are?
Warrier:
Absolutely. I couldn’t agree more. It’s very unfortunate that it’s happening. But it’s because the private sector is open and you have anybody and everybody catering to the student demand. One big difference between what happens abroad and here is that abroad it’s funded by the state; the government intervenes far more often and it’s been there for a much longer time.
There it’s a career. Here it’s more like, ‘let me try it out; let’s see if it works for me’ and stuff like that. So lot of these fly-by-night operators come in, they are undercut on price, compromise on teaching quality and so on which certainly add to this problem.

It is only the big guys, the serious guys who are surviving and who have survived for about anywhere between 5 and 20 years. In comparison these fly-by-night operators typically come and go every one or two years.

DNA: Where do we stand today in India compared to the scenario abroad? What can be done to make sure that India realises the potential it has, in the field of animation?
Warrier:
I came across somewhere that by 2020 the average age of an Indian would be 29, but the Chinese would be around 39, and a European would be about 49. So we are obviously heading towards a great youthful era and the average age of India coming down to 29, is peak performance age. I think making our youth productive obviously becomes a huge imperative in that context.

Hirani: As far as animation is concerned, India is standing pretty well. As for the television outsourcing module, right now we are competing with a lot of Malaysian companies, Korean companies, and China is coming up big time in that space. We are set. Lots of students have delivered a lot of work internationally, and we are clear that, if we really focus on it, we can deliver.

When it comes to developing or working on future feature films, there are studios, which are backed by the international studios. So they have a different kind of approach. They also have a different kind of market that they can access. Now when we are planning to work on features, we are really lagging behind as far as the level of demand in terms of quality and technical standards is concerned. Now, can we do it or not? We are not set up or we are not planned obviously for that right now. Maybe we don’t have the right budget; maybe we don’t have the right patience.

Having said that, everybody is taking small steps towards making international films. Lots of studios are making their own films, so that they are ready when the market opens up. People are really taking a chance, and saying, ‘I’m going to make a film.’ The numbers, the statistics say that, in India, it’s not going to be successful in making films. But you’ve really got to make a film and then actually release it. So that’s where we are right now. We have to decide where we should go.

If we continue putting content into the market, there is a huge possibility of going international because of the story that we have, because the content that we have. If your design is production friendly, then you’ll be able to work a little bit on the cost, and then say, “okay, I have worked on the cost well, I’ve made a film, now it’s ready for people to see.” The more people see it, the more market share you can hope to capture. So you really have to take that step -- not trying to make cheap films, but trying to work smartly. You can make films and make them available. That’s what I feel would be the next stage.

Narula: Looking at the Indian content for TV, nobody has that much of budget to go into 3D animation content. That’s why they have turned to 2D content. Animation in 3D costs much more. The fact is that none of the channels has that much of budget. They need content, they need loads of content.

But everybody, even the institutes, I think, right now in India, are teaching 3D animation. Yes, nobody is teaching 2D animation, which is what the market wants and gets. At the end of the day everybody is telling the same story.

Along with that, there are lots of visual effects for the Bollywood industry. Everybody wants to see movies; thus there needs to be lots of entertainment related content. You need visual effects and want to see the introduction of animation in between as well. Animation not the core of the entertainment businessx right now, but utilising it more into Bollywood channels makes more sense right now.

Along with that there are lots of different things like 2D to 3D conversion, which is happening. There is restoration business which is there, game design, lots of alternate fields around it, which make more sense rather than creating an IP related full-fledged feature film or even 3D television content for the Indian market.

Chand: The main challenge that we are facing for moving up the value chain is that we don’t have a body or an ecosystem, which can help nurture or convert us into a market. This ecosystem is there in younger animation industries like Malaysia and Singapore when compared to India. They have a better ecosystem. We don’t have it. We all have been running from pillar to post for ages now. And there have been announcements from the government every year. And whether it is a government body or not, we need some ecosystem to be in place.

I agree that almost 90% of the training is actually 3D animation because if we look back to our history, we have always been an impatient industry. Even before the 2D industry could bloom we could make enough content in 2D or in Flash. We moved on to 3D even before we realized the business of animation. Most of the studios who were doing 2D actually grew up to become 3D studios.

Unfortunately, TV animation worldwide is more than 80% Flash and 2D. It’s not that it is only Indian broadcasters that need it. The programming content boundaries actually favour Flash and 2D not because of the media, but because of the research into its likeability. It is not even pricing.

Secondly, we need to do animation and push animation as a medium for the content part whether it is in 3D or 2D.

So we are in an industry, we’re not restricting ourselves to be only doing one medium of animation. We should be looking right now to creating properties or franchises, which can go the Spiderman way from comics to live action heads.

From a film perspective, we have the market, the audience and the story tellers with us. Unfortunately, we do not have enough businessmen who understand the filmmaking animation business. If that can somehow be cracked and if we have someone who can put in money, we can make films, which are better story telling movies than almost anyone else -- and not kid-stuff-story-telling alone.

As a suggestion, I would request most education people to think like creative people or as thinking operators even though that though there is a requirement for both technicians as well creative people.

I come from an IT background. People with me who were only labourers have shifted and joined some other course. They are no longer software engineers. So, I guess, the thinking part has to be part of any education whether it is animation or not.

Khurana: I have a very different take on Indian animation. Actually there is a lot of not-so-good news about animation, which people are talking about. My perspective is that we are saying how we are as compared to what is happening in the west. Basically Europe is not really doing that well in animation; much of the animation over there is subsidised by the government.

So we’re looking at an industry that is self-sustaining. It is a private enterprise, which has no government support whatsoever. And it does better than much of the world, except for America, which has obviously a pond of its own IP business by making movies in Hollywood. Except for that I think we’re doing phenomenally well.

Now, historically, when we put things in context we see how in 1936 Disney came out with Snow White and Seven Dwarfs. That was a level of storytelling that excellent for 1936.

And in 2002, we came out with Hanuman, which is maybe 70 years later.

So, we really cannot compare both industries. But if you see from 2002 to 2003, you had a whole lot of big international studios actually coming to India and setting up shop and doing a significant amount of international work over here as well.

So, we are doing phenomenally well even in the international space as well as in terms of outsourcing work.

I am a very strong advocate for teaching animation at the highest level. But we need to get these students to get relevant jobs at the entry level.

For example, where I studied in Canada, today some of them are modellers, some of them are riggers, some of them are just animators... they are not directors. But they chose those areas, because the foundations were so strong and they have a holistic understanding of what the movie business is all about, what the entertainment business is all about, how to make animation movies.

They chose an area within that universe and, therefore, their level of expertise is at a completely different level as opposed to somebody who is coming to the industry with a need-based training. I think we should be teaching at a much higher level, education should be imparted at a much higher level; curriculum and foundation should also be at a much higher level. This is the way forward.

I am extremely excited about the Indian animation space. I think it will take a few more movies. But that will eventually open up and I think we are also beginning to understand what the Indian audience requires. It will take a couple of more shots, before we get that right too, provided it’s made for a certain budget. If you are looking at making a film within a certain budget, with a strong story and a great functional design, you can make a great movie, recoup your costs and make the whole project viable financially. It will be a great starting point.

Choudhary: Going by the fact that we have a really healthy outsourcing backend industry, I don’t think there is any dearth of the required skill-sets. We have skilled writers, riggers, and modellers. You know the quality of people out there, and we have plenty of them. So, I don’t think manpower is an issue. Selecting manpower might be an issue. People coming to your door might be an issue. But people exist. The fact that our industry is healthy and we’re servicing television content from around the world is a sign of good health.

So going back to the 2D, 3D conversation, much of the successful television content in the world is 2D. And we, as an industry, should not lose sight of that. Hanna-Barbera in the West is one of the greatest examples of economical 2D storytelling with really successful characters that run even today. Scooby-Doo, Tom and Jerry, and the like are still running, and still hugely successful all over the world. If they could do that, 60 years ago, why can’t we do it today?

In terms of features and being a world player, name one other country in the world that has six animation mainstream releases in a year, apart from the US? By the end of this year, we’re going to have six mainstream animation releases. Name the last Brazilian animation film you know or Portuguese or Spanish? No one has that. We have that. We are releasing, distributing and are visible internationally. So we are healthy. I like to look at the glass half full, the fact that the industry is willing to bag six films in a year is commendable. Most countries do not have that. Yes, we’re headed in the right direction.

Warrier: If you look at it from a futuristic point of view, there are two governments today who seem to be getting into supporting the industry: the Karnataka state government and the West Bengal government, which in not bad news at all. Government funding can add more spice to the whole thing and make things happen faster. Being an optimist, I think the future is extremely bright. We just need to be there and seize it.

DNA: Do you feel that getting the government more involved, in much the same way as it happens overseas could help?
Warrier:
Absolutely. It will make a huge difference. But it’s a long process. I think people have been in discussions and slowly, it’s beginning to happen. I think they’re trying to do something more serious now.

Chouhan: The more we talk about it definitely it’s going to grow the industry to that extent. At the same time, the other challenge is from an institute angle.

The awareness is so high, there are a lot of people in smaller cities and towns who would like to take up animation as a career option. The infrastructure requirements are also a cost to the institutes, so the fees cannot be subsidised beyond a point.

The government is not really doing much in terms of aiding them with an educational loan. Today, whatever loans are available are in the form of personal loans. So we face a challenge. There are dedicated and creative people who would really like to get into this segment, but then due to lack of funding they don’t.

Matthew: When you decide to operate in the market currently, as a student, as a training facility, as a recruiting person, as a studio, an an outsourcer, or as a creator of content, it’s all about competence. As a student, I should be competent enough to deliver on the promise, which I have. Whether I’m going to be a modeller, rigger or technician, whatever it is. So the competence has to be there.

And if it’s a training institute, which is trying to deliver course content to the student, they should ensure competence. It is only later that you come to a studio person who is recruiting this particular talent to create content, which needs to be consumed by an audience.

Many of us have made statements about the potential of this country. Look at how Japan has evolved as a market in itself, and we have an outsourcing industry to support it. But still we are not flourishing.

Maybe we can do a parallel to what IT industry did. They benchmarked themselves to standards, built up a competence. Of course, the government did support it to a large extent because of the foreign exchange which was coming in and which India badly needed.

On top of that, every benchmark control possible by multinationals was put into the IT industry. Every time they put up a benchmark, the companies in India lived up to that benchmark faster than the MNCs themselves. That was competence. Subsequently everybody began adopting this model.

Today even MNCs flock to India and hnire people, because they have realised that there is a successful model, a competent model and that you can get quality output as well.

As a training institute, I need to be aware that the student coming to me has to be competent as an input, and must come out as a competent output. He is highly impressionable. Somebody told him that animation is good or somebody told him that go and learn. So he is impressed. So, it is the responsibility of a training institute to deliver the right advice to him and to direct him. Somebody has got a skill set to become an animator or someone else an animation director; somebody wants to be a modeller, rigger or whatever. So that education process should identify itself at some point in time. You may not be sure about that on day one or in the first six months. At some point, it should be identified.

Chouhan: It also helps that an average life of a student in any institute today is around 1.5 to 2 years. And to keep his passion, his motivational level, at the same pitch as it was at the time of enrolment during the entire period which he spends in an institution, is also very critical. Every day he comes to the institute, you need to throw certain things at him at various stages, which will keep his level of passion very high and active. So these are initiatives which also help them. Itg could be an award function or a competition for that matter.

DNA: Do you have a wish list for the animation industry?
Warrier:
I think the first and foremost thing is involvement. Second is funding. If there is funding coming from the government, you have one big worry off your chest. So that’s a big plus. Third is the need for the government to help set up and enforce benchmarks and standards. If that can be done, we can address the issue of competence. These are the three top concerns that I have.

Khurana: I think the first expectation I have of the government is the lower the tax structure, get rid of the service tax and a whole lot of other taxes that are actually hurting the studios a lot.

If the animation industry was being equated or was being seen at par with the IT industry, please remember that at one time the IT industry got tax breaks for almost 10-15 years. So why shouldn’t the animation industry also be entitled to those tax breaks because it’s also a nascent industry? That would be a very, very good starting point for us to engage the government.

Chand: If the government can clarify which industry we belong to — are we IT or are we entertainment — that would help a lot. Because if we ask a banker or a lawyer or a tax consultant to clearly tell us, ‘does this or that provision apply to us?’, it takes weeks going through all these books to find out which law is applicable in what context. And if you ask someone else, he would have a completely different answer altogether.

So it has not been clearly defined. We have been put under ITeS in 2009, right now all the benefits of ITeS have been given to us. But in other situations many of those laws are not clear. So you are left in a lurch.

We are at a stage where we are not creating as many animation directors or film makers, or directors, as people abroad are doing. I think one of the major reasons for this is the absence of grants. There are no grants, absolutely no grants or funds, for students to be encouraged.

In between we fund one or two students in a very small way for something or the other. If somebody wants to do an animation film there won’t be anyone to back it. On the other hand, if you compare that with a documentary filmmaker the situation is different. I think around two months back there was a release from the government saying that now CFSI would start funding and releasing films.

So, we never have had any kind of support from anybody, which could encourage filmmakers to make or take animation as a medium. They have never really explored animation as such. If we can have some fund like an NFDC or anyone to encourage filmmaking, then besides the business part of it, there will be more filmmakers, who have explored animation filmmaking. That would make more thinking animators and will reduce the pressure on their institutes.

Choudhary: If you can wind back to 40 or 50 years ago, you will find that they worked with these same old constraints. They would say, “okay, that’s my budget; that’s the maximum a television session is going to pay me. How do I create memorable IP within those constraints?” So that was the start point of the design, of the storytelling.

So if you look at something like Top Cat, there is barely any animation that happens, but it’s a great character and that show ran for almost 30 years. So there is no reason we can’t do that, even given the limited skills.




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