Animation Junction

We look at the top studios in the business and the way ahead
Analysis, Content management

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As the Indian animation industry gets back on its feet, Money Sharma looks at the top studios in the business and the way ahead

After a tumultuous year gone by, a flow of new fund money into films and the government’s tacit recognition of the industry’s woes in the form of the Rs52 crore funding for a proposed National Centre for Animation and Gaming, are signs of the good times to come.

The industry is expecting a minimum of eight film releases this year: Dharma-Prana’s Koochie Koochie Hota Hain, Goel Screencraft-Warner Bros’ Bird Idol, UTV’s Arjun, 2nz-Ajay Devgan’s Toonpur Ka Superhero, Soundarya Rajnikanth’s Sultan, Dreams’ Kutti Chetan and Friends, Krayon Pictures’ Delhi Safari and Crest Animation’s Alpha and Omega. And there will be prayers for box-office success, for despite winning awards at Indian and International fora, Indian animation films have failed to set the cash registers ringing.

Industry body FICCI, in a recently released FICCI-KPMG report, said that the Indian animation and visual effects industry is pegged to grow to an estimated Rs46.6 billion by 2014 at a CAGR of 18.7%. The animation industry grew a mere 9% in 2009 over 2008.

The industries major challenges remain lack of capital to fund high-quality animation projects, dearth of well trained talent in the country and the consumers’ damp response to all merchandising initiatives undertaken so far. But there are a few studios that have overcome these limitations by basing their work on sound business models, or creative work of high quality. Let’s have a look at the best of the set:

DQ Entertainment (DQE)

DQE is one of the leading producers of animation, visual effects, game art and live action entertainment content. With a headcount of close to 3,000 artists DQE has an international client - partner base of over 100 producers, distributors, broadcasters and licensors including Walt Disney Television Animation, Nickelodeon Animation Studios Inc., Electronic Arts, Marvel Comics, American Greetings, NBC-Universal, BBC Group, Al Jazeera – Arabic nations, Disney Channels - Asia, Cartoon Network Group and many more world-wide.

Working on majorly a co-production model and IP development, DQE has produced/co-produced and distributed iconic brands such as Iron Man - the first 3D animated TV series, The Little Prince, Little Nick, Twisted Whiskers, Mikido, Casper, Pinky & Perky and many others.

DQE with a library of over 350 hours of international programs for distribution and licensing globally for TV, home entertainment, merchandising and publishing is on the fast track. DQE’s 100% home grown production in high end 3D, The Jungle Book is in production as a 52 episode animated series and a 60 minute TV feature in co-production with international majors including TF1 and Moonscoop , France, ZDF Group, Germany and is to be released world-wide in 2010. DQE CMD and CEO Tapaas Chakravarti says “Team DQ is developing several new IP’s. Our worldwide strategic alliances are aimed at bringing legendary brands to life and and we are excited at the prospect of what lies in store in terms of monetising our IP’s 360o across all content platforms.”

Several aother Indian IP’s are also under production and development, along with Charlie Chaplin Animated TV series, Lassie and Friends TV series, Toomai - the Jungle Boy - A live action - adventure TV series and others.

Toonz Animation India

Trivandrum based Toonz Animation India is mostly known by Indians for animating 2D animation flick Return of Hanuman, Anurag Kashyap’s first animation directorial debut and Tenali Raman, India’s one of the first 2D animated television series. With a wide array of work under the models of co-production and IP creation, the studio has recently signed a 3D stereoscopic animation project with Amitabh Bachchan and director Priyadarshan, titled as Twinergy. The film is set to release in summer 2011. It’s client list includes some of the biggest names in media and entertainment like Marvel, Sony, Hallmark, Paramount, Disney and Cartoon Network.

P Jayakumar, CEO, Toonz Animation India, says, “It has been an eventful journey for us since we set shop in the year 1999. We have grown in to a full-fledged media house capable of delivering world-class animation content for the global market. From producing India’s first animated television series to co productions with the likes of Disney, Paramount and others, every project for us is a learning curve and a newer height to scale.”

The studio, like many, has also forayed into animation education.

Big Animation

Earlier known as Anirights, this studio was based in Bangalore and was founded by Ashish Kulkarni.

Later in the year 2008, it managed to crack a deal with entertainment honcho Reliance Entertainment.

Post acquisition, it got named as Big Animation and shifted to Pune along with all its 250 employees. The studio’s portfolio includes the 3D TV series Little Krishna which premiered on Nick, got rave reviews from the industry and won many accolades too including FICCI Frames – BAF Awards, Golden Cursor Awards and others.

Talking about the production capability of the studio, Kulkarni says, “We have setup the design pipeline along with production and post-production pipeline which makes us a unique studio, capable of the whole process - ideation to script to screen under one roof.”

Currently with a workforce of over 300 artistes, the studio is developing a 2D animated feature Hey Krishna which is poised to release soon. Apart from this feature, current projects in the pipeline are a co-production project TV Series with MoonSccop and two other Hollywood feature projects. Big Animation also forayed recently into animation education space and set up its educational wing BIG AIMS to nurture talent.

Crest Animation Studios

Crest Animation Studios, one of the oldest studios in India, is known for its co-production deals and for developing properties on a variety of platform including television, home video and theatrical as well. Headed by AK Madhavan, the studio has inked a number of co-production deals with companies like Mike Young Productions, Mark Brown, Classic Media, Nelvana, American Greetings, Marathon and Nickelodeon amongst several other renowned clients.

Crest has produced animation for several international TV shows such as Jakers! and Pet Alien that have won many awards including Daytime EMMY, BAFTA, FICCI Frames 2005, Humanitas Prize for Children’s Animation, and a nomination for the Annie Award.

Talking about the industry, Madhavan says, “In India we are still not recognised as an industry. It is necessary to have a pre-production - production pipeline and a good industry relationship to make Indian studios better.“

Crest Animation and Lionsgate Films recently announced the second film in the three film co-production deal between the two companies. Titled Norm of the North, the stereoscopic 3D animated family film is planned for an early 2012 release. The CG-animated film, Alpha and Omega directed by Anthony Bell and Ben Gluck, slated for 2010 release, was the first film under the deal.

Maya Entertainment Ltd (MEL)

Incorporated in 1996, Maya Entertainment Limited (MEL) has worked with premium global clients to deliver prestigious projects in television, film and game animation. MEL¹s facilities in Mumbai employ over 200 artists whose work has been recognized at BAFTA, Pulcinella, Hugo, FICCI and GDC.

MEL’s projects demonstrate a wide variety of formats and styles, demonstrating its creative and technical breadth. The project portfolio include work for BBC, Ragdoll, Rainbow, Mike Young Productions, Electronic Arts, Sony, Activision, Brown Bag, VSI Entertainment and Google.

The studio is currently working on two pre-school TV series for the UK. The content division is gearing up to release our first theatrical feature Ramayana The Epic, and is also partnering on co-productions to develop IP for the global TV market.

According to Jai Natarajan, EVP, MEL “The growth of scope from domestic VFX to game cinematic projects to large international TV series projects and our inhouse own feature film, has been steady and systematic. It has been accomplished by a very capable core team, one of the best in the business.

Maya has always been a very popular place to work and to build one’s career, and has a reputation globally for quality and integrity.”

Graphiti Multimedia

Founded by Tilak Shetty and Munjal Shroff, Graphiti Multimedia has been a dominating force in the Indian animation industry since 1995. Known for its innovative styles of animation, Graphiti focuses on original content creation and has been evangelising content which is not limited to mythologies.

Guided by Ram Mohan, the studio has created a number of properties like J Bole toh Jadoo with Nickelodeon, Fido Xtreme Shorts with Joanna Ferrone (creator of Fido- the 7up character), Krish Trish Baltiboy and Toyzania amongst several others. It also became, in 2009, the official licensor of Fido and represents the same in South East Asia.

Munjal Shroff shares his secret, “With several iconic properties like Jadoo and Toyzania in our kitty, we keep experimenting with new styles and animation content.” Recently, the studio also created animation series Kul-Veera with Cartoon Network which was well received amongst kids. With close to 100 artists, Graphiti has a number of awards to its credit. The studio also has an educational arm, Graphiti School of Animation, founded by Ram Mohan.

Green Gold Animation

Hyderabad based Green Gold Animation is currently one of the leading Indian animation content providers for Cartoon Network (India’s leading channel for kids) and Pogo. One of the first entrants in the Indian animation industry, the studio took a big step with its flagship TV series, Chhota Bheem, which was adjudged as the Top Kids show across all kid’s channels in 2009 at the CNBC Golden Cursor Awards. It also bagged the “Outstanding Indian Content” award at BAF-FICCI Frames 2007 & 2009 followed by TBS’s Digicon’s Special Award for the Indian Territory for 2007.

Rajiv Chilakalapudi, founder, Green Gold, says, “Green Gold is set to change the way Indian content is being received worldwide. Because of our continuous efforts to develop IP products, we now have more hours of original animation content than any other Indian animation company.”

The studio’s portfolio includes, Chhota Bheem, Chhota Bheem & Krishna – TV feature, Krishna Balram, Krishna –Kansa Vadh - TV feature, Vikram Betal - TV feature and Bongo.

Green Gold also publishes and distributes comics and has so far published more than 20 volumes (with approximately 2,00,000 prints), home video and other merchandise for Chhota Bheem.

2nz Animation

A division of the Climb Media (I) Pvt. Ltd, 2nz Animation is spearheaded by animation film director – Bhimsain, and a dynamic team led by award-winning director Kireet Khurana and his wife Tehzeeb Khurana. “Climb Media has 21 National Awards, 8 international awards and more than 70 other awards to its credit for its films across various genres,” says Khurana. The studio is currently wrapping up the Ajay Devgan-Kajol starrer live action and animation film, Toonpur Ka Superhero. The studio also operates a children’s animation division, Toon Club, which has pioneered animation curriculum in Indian schools. Toon Club has now formally tied up with Aptech and under the joint venture runs animation courses.

Elecomtoon

A part of Elecom group, Elecomtoon was formed in 2004 as a subsidiary of Elecom to provide technical services in the field of Media and Entertainment software with special thrust on 2D/3D animation, keeping in mind the rich cultural and artistic heritage of Kolkata. Known for releasing first non-mythological 2D animation feature Cheenti Cheenti Bang Bang (C2B2), in a joint venture with Mumbai based Fiesta Entertainment. Working on the model of servicing and IP creation, Elecomtoon is spread over 3,000 sq ft with all the latest technologies and has over the past three years, managed to deliver more than 300 projects.

It is part of the US$74 million Elecom group based in Kolkata (India) having manufacturing facilities in Kolkata, Nepal and associates in China, Singapore, Frankfurt and Moscow.

Phoebus Creations Media Pvt Ltd

The Pune based studio set shop in 2003 and quickly built a reputation for making original content for the Indian market.

With a talented staff of 105 artistes, the small studio has executed the 2008 2D film Dashavtar, 2D episodic Tales of Akbar and Birbal for Cartoon Network. It also opened a Mumbai setup in 2009.

Projects in the pipeline include a 2D theatrical nearing completion, a 22X52 series for broadcast, and acquisition of IP Faster Fenay.

The way forward:

FICCI likens the evolution of animation sector in India to the IT Wave that surged in the country in the 90’s, and offers the following remedies:
• Maturing from a service driven business to an IP ownership model to yield better margins
• Investing in market research to understand the consumer acceptance and creating products with better shelf life and acceptance across demographics
• Developing scripting and pre-production abilities that have local and international appeal
• Investing in strategic partnerships with studios for co-productions from mature markets such as US , Canada and France
• Continuing to lobby with the government for the incentives for promoting outsourced work and co-production deals

The writer is an industry analyst and currently heads the Animation, Gaming and VFX editorial division at Bollywoodhungama.com. He may be reached on money@moneysharma.com

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