Friday, May 12, 2006

indian animation scenerio : Why are we the way we are ?

Its been a long since I have heard people complaining about the Indian animation scenario. But what we forget down the line is the animation industry in India is way younger than its counterparts or protégé’s ie Philippines and Japan. Forget west it’s almost a century since Thomas Edison invented Kinetoscope and Muybridge captured humans and animal in motion. Compared to them we have not yet started. Late start, although, being one perspective, isn’t the end all of discussion. Indian animation sure has few issues that have to be addressed. The issues range from, the way industry is structured to the part a individual plays in the whole industry. A individual animator or a CG artist or a Layout artist or anybody working in the industry is alone as important as the Industry itself. I don’t want to preach on the issue because I am rather new to the industry my self but I do have certain observation which I thought I should share with who ever is interested. I remember the year 1999-2000 had been a very good year for the industry. And I think that was the last time the picture looked so good. May be , that’s one reason for the kind of predicament the industry is in today ( Which is not actually bad, but the things might have been much better.) . There were lot of Organizations that started in 1999-2000. The reason was that while the IT boom was happening the investors saw animation as a good business or may be the next best thing, most of this organizations were actually into IT before they decided to try there hands in animation. The only mistake the made was that they made rather impulsive decision instead of doing there research. The people who had been around the industry would second me when I say Animation is a business where patience is a virtue. You cant invest today and expect that the returns will start flowing in from the next day, next week, next year maybe or maybe not. The real trick of the trade is aggressive marketing from organizational point of view, spend good amount of time working on your showreel and then let the work speak for your company. Remember there is no such thing as easy money. Animation takes a lot of time to get you return of investment and lot more time to get you a return on your investment. So if you are planning to invest do not expect the returns for atleast 2 to 3 years ,period . Coming back to the point I was trying to make about the industry is – As I mentioned earlier there were lot of organizations who saw animation as the next best thing to IT and decided to put in lot of money and give it a shot. But then they do need employees ,don’t they ? Where do they come from, I mean India has never struck a equilibrium of demand and supply of manpower ,demand has always been high . And around that time when there was so much going for animators. The demand sky rocketed, what happened was bodyshopping and poaching of very high proportions. The companies who had been in business for long and had continues projects happening felt the shockwaves when suddenly they saw half there team deciding to join some other company. And suddenly there were organizations who has projects but no one to do it and organizations who had a pool of talent but were clueless where to go from there.As one would expect, suddenly Indian Animation ( 99 percent of which is offshore work.) lost lot of clients because they were not able to deliver. What was worse was that the reputation India had built up as an industry in international market was suddenly lost. The happiest people were the one who were right out of some animation academy, that time, and had a job worth five figures waiting for them which was as much as a person with 2 to 3 years experience in the industry. Later that year and earlier next year , most of these organizations decided to retrench, make salary cuts or even close the company. Cause they were not getting the returns they were expecting. Lets leave that aside, If u look closely there is a lot of bickering inside the industry itself. There are several companies pitching for the same offshore project most of the time they under quote as a part of the strategy and then when they have the project , either of the following two ensues 1. The work is more than the team could handle , and since they cant recruit anymore people because they have already under quoted , So the team’s endurance is put to test . Result is over worked under payed employees, ready to leave the job at the drop of a hat. 2. The organization realizes they have taken a bite which is more than they can chew and they would need to offload the work to any other company because its impossible for them to complete it on time and meet quality norms. In both cases , the margin of profit for a company is minimal , so when its filtered down to an individual it actually comes to nothing.
Another very serious issue is that of training, its funny – now a days if you pick up a news paper ,there will be several animation and multimedia training centers claiming to be better than another and then when you look at the curriculum and the duration of the course , you cant help but wonder that how does a person suppose to learn to animate in 6 months or a year. No doubt that animation has become a commodity but one should have integrity not to make it all look so cheap. And this holds true for both the person who is selling as well is the one who is buying it. The last thing I would like to see in a induction is somebody who walks in with a diploma but seems to be clueless when you ask him the frame rate of NTSC and PAL. Off late since I had got some time off from my regular 9 to 5 job , I had been doing a lot of traveling and meeting lots of people especially in the area of training . And I was surprised to notice the level of ignorance while a casual chat with a gentlemen who claims to have been studying animation. Which was disappointing because you realize that here we have a new breed of animators getting ready who is interested in the job just because someone has told them that there is good money in the field. NID is one institution which offers a course in animation but there batchs are so small that they are like a drop in the vast ocean on Indian animation. Heart Animation Academy and ZICA ( zee institute of creative arts) are the only few places who means business when they say Training but even in these places most of the batches get absorbed into the production , leaving barely anything for the rest of the industry.
If lately you go through any animation news magazines , there is a very common thing you get to hear very often and that is IP ( intellectual property) which is a good thing . Indian television showing Indian shows that’s as good as it gets . But IP creation should not be the primary objective of an organization .Mainly because it takes a lot of time and besides it has got lots of ifs and buts attached to it. There are a few companies I know which started with the sole purpose of creating IP’s but they either gave up mid way or switched to projects. Right now , the best bet for bigger organization is off shore work .Simply because it has fast turn around and continues inflow besides it gives a good platform to the animator to build his career because the lavel of exposure to international market is the highest here. IP is something that could go on side by side. As far as the animation boutiques(the kind of place I personally have a liking for ) are concerned they have a lot of flexibility so they can choose between making experimental short films, advertisement, film special fx, web design actually there is no end to the kind of work they can take up,all they need to do is not to get over ambitious. If a client doesn’t expect very high quality standards then don’t give him that.Pricing is the key ..Besides they have more chance of getting recognition in film festivals than any one else. All said and done, the fact of the matter is Indian animation has come of age. Of course it has been through some rough weathers but then here we have a industry which didn’t mimed any other country and learned from there own mistakes. It will be good if people instead of being judgmental, start suggesting solution and taking steps to implement them. And the whole industry, with a better vision, together as a team works for a better tomorrow.

2D or Not 2D

Is 2D over..?? People keep asking me the question over and over again..and I keep reassuring them and myself by saying ,” of course not ! 2D will always stay.” But is that really the truth. I mean, when was the last time when we saw a feature length film that was done with good ol’ fashioned traditional style of animation.. Its apparently been three years now and I haven’t seen any thing other than 3D animation films getting nominated for the Oscars. Walt Disney studio’s decided to shift the focus primarily to 3d feature films..though they will still be producing episodic animation done with the traditional style. So where do these figures leaves us. Why the shift, why not 2D, is that because 3D is cheaper. Obviously not , 3D episode costs almost the same as it would if it was done in 2D ,which is something like $300,000. Maybe producing a film or an episode in 3D is easier. Which is, once again, not true? If you have been lucky enough to witness the making of any3D episode you would notice that even a 3D animator has to slog as much as any 2D animator, any given day.. The matter still remains unresolved..the other perspective could be that of the masses ..people don’t like to watch 2D films anymore. And why is that so. Well! I think what missed in last few 2D animation films was the originality and novelty of a idea . There was a ‘Treasure planet’ and then there was ‘Sindabad’ , big budget over the top animation films personifying heroism ..But what’s new? Haven’t we heard same stories over and over again? In the meanwhile we had films like shreak, Monsters Inc, The Incredibels, Medagascar etc. these films were ingenious in there subject and there approach. And the script demanded them to be executed in 3D. Personally I cant think of Monsters Inc being equally effective if it was done in 2D. Where as, I guess it wouldn’t make much difference if a ‘treasure planet ‘ or a ‘sindabad ‘ was made in 3D. Think of ‘Bambi’ , Jungle book , Hercules, Snow white or Lion king .. and now for a minute just try to picture them in 3D doesn’t works for me and I am pretty sure it wont work for the most of us. So you see, the reason 2D features are not being produced is because the chain of demand and supply has been altered. Or , it has been assumed so. But who is to be blamed. I think I would blame the half hearted approach of film makers and there bias towards 2D animation. Human have inclination towards technological advancements and we are all a participant of a rat race to adapt to the technology as and when some radical changes happen. And that’s exactly what’s happening now 3D is new kid on the block , which has opened various avenues for the right side of the brain . Suddenly we have discovered things which would take days if we decided to animate them in 2D, can be done in an hours time now. Besides, If we look at the whole picture with a broader perspective, we also need to keep in mind that when it comes to episodic animation, most of the work is offloaded to Korea and India. Now, these countries have a huge pool of talented animators who had been working for U.S and European clients for a very long time, but it has all been 2D animation series. Ever since the shift has taken place from 2D to 3D, things have never been the same for these countries. India is having a hard time coping with the increasing demands for 3D animators. Although there are lot of individuals who knows the software’s but the implementation is the problem area , because very less of such people are actually people who knows animation , and the people who are seasoned in the industry (I am talking about animators with more than seven or eight years of experience) are even lesser. I think its time for us to realize that the only way to change things is to pick traditional animators and train them in 3D . Its going to take a lot of effort from organizational point of view because training animators means lot of unproductive man hours but then these man hours are like investment which will yield results a little later. But once we break out of this vicious circle there will be no turning back. I always dream of a studio where there is no 2D animator or no 3D animator, but it only has animators who are eqully proficient in all the styles of animation. The idea is .., ‘there is no such thing as 2D or 3D animation its just a tool like a 4b or 6b pencil. Whatever you do with them or how ever you use them, the end product will always be the same. ‘

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