Why the Indian animation industry needs to up its game?

There is still a possibility for the Indian animation to redeem itself, writes Suchetana Bauri, but all will be lost if it doesn’t sharpen its business skills.

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The nomination of the 3D Animated Short ‘Clouds’ at this year’s Annecy Cristal Award in the Graduation Films Category must not give rise to self-satisfied crowing from sections of the Indian Film and Animation Industry, and in the media. One can  be forgiven for thinking that the Indian film Industry is in good health, because Bollywood churns out box office hits on a regular basis.

Vivek Pandey, animation faculty at Annapurna International School of Film + Media says, “It’s really sad that India remains awash with astonishing animation talent, and while we continue to enjoy a patrimony that comprises a treasure chest of stories we can plunder — Mahabharata, Ramayana, Sinhasan Battisi, Vikram-Betal, Krishna. We need to be careful, however, that we don’t end up manipulating the essence or the message of the story. We may, however, play around with the style of animation. Having said that, these stories are something that Indian viewers are familiar with, so they prefer something new, and hence that explains the popularity of American or Japanese animation in India.”

It seems Indian animation and VFX companies are only good with providing back-end-support to global studios. Just look at the graph below to understand this phenomenon better.

Indian Animation Industry data1

These back-end-support service companies suck the creative life out of our best creative talent, then throws them over the side, never to be seen again.

Vivek in this context, says: “These outsourced projects limit the creativity of the artist because they have to work under very strict supervision of a person who is not even around, so we don’t get the time to fine tune and create probably a masterpiece.”

According to the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM), India’s premier apex chamber data, the Indian animation and gaming industry derives most of its revenues from outsourcing. International production houses outsource work to Indian studios while international game publishers outsource work to Indian game development companies.

The domestic share of the Indian animation revenue was only 30% in 2009. Shocking! The figures just get worse! The Indian domestic animation and gaming is a minuscule 0.6% of the worldwide animation and gaming market.

TV contributes the largest (55%) to the domestic animation entertainment market in India. This trend towards a one-time-only cartoon show ‘career’ has accelerated, with 80% of animators and animation industry professionals achieving a single credit.

Consider that 50% of the animation industry workforce is self-employed, many of them are making a precarious living at best. Or that last year the Indian animation industry produced just two movies – Chhota Bheem and the Throne of Bali (Hindi) and Once Upon a Time (Malayalam).

Indian Animation Industry data2

“This is partly because our viewers are probably not interested in watching animated movies made by Indians – because Indian animation is more often than not based on Indian mythology and folk tales. The story is not narrated properly, there is no building of the story, we need to narrate our stories a little differently to engage our viewers,” says Vivek Pandey.

But the beauty is that despite these sad figures and statistics the Indian animation industry can boast of more than 300,000 companies and professionals across the country and seven major studios, each of which ties-up with a cinema circuit, a film library, theatrical and home video distribution divisions, foreign sales divisions, film studios and production companies. Clustered around their skirts are a host of reasonably well-capitalized production and sales businesses teams. These are capable of making award-winning and crowd-pleasing animation.

Between them, these large and medium-sized companies provide the infrastructure within which creativity can flourish. But in order to move up the value chain, the Indian animation industry faces a few daunting challenges, which it needs to overcome to come close to realizing its potential.

Skilled manpower is the basic requirement for producing quality animated content. As per Nasscom Industry Report 2009, the manpower requirement for animation in India has grown from 17,500 in 2009 to 29,500 by 2012. However, lack of employable resources poses a large constraint, which is primarily due to the following reasons:

  • Low awareness of animation as a career

  • Non-existence of a standardized and quality curriculum across the handful of institutes in India

With the non-existence of qualified professionals there has been an obvious decline in professionalism. The animation industry has been forced to pick up bad habits that have infected other segments of our film industry, with a significant increase in unpaid interns and people working on a deferred fee basis (working for free).

We are lucky to still have a core of expertise and infrastructure – studios, post-production and special effects houses – on which to build. We also have talent, not just in animation but in animation’s constant cross-fertilisation with television and the comic book segment.

Further, we benefit from the injection of capital and expertise provided by  Hollywood studios, who continue to outsource work to India and without whom our industry would likely be dead in the water.

But the creative side cannot continue to flourish in the absence of a healthy commercial side. We need viable companies. We need to take a leaf out of the Hollywood book and learn to help ourselves.

Animation professionals, especially on the business side, must make themselves better equipped. In Hollywood, it is commonplace to find animation executives, even lawyers, who have attended both film school and business school. In India there are probably no more than a dozen MBAs in the entire animation industry. If you want a career in animation, get equipped. Hard work and talent are not enough.

Annapurna International School of Film + Media is doing useful work in this regard, especially in technical and craft grades.

“We at AISFM, teach the students everything that a filmmaker needs to know, from storytelling to business.” says Vivek Pandey, adding, “It is also taking care of the creative side. But we still need executives and entrepreneurs who can talk the talk and walk the walk. That means getting a business education, becoming familiar with the vocabulary of finance and being confident in how to go about building and sustaining a business.”

The opportunities are certainly there, as screen entertainment flourishes in India and on new platforms. But those opportunities will be seized by others if we in India don’t sharpen our business skills.

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Comments

  1. We do animation and VFx of good quality. Where’s the work ?

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