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.

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