In­dia’s bur­geon­ing an­i­ma­tion and spe­cial ef­fects in­dus­try

Renowned for its elab­o­rate Bol­ly­wood pro­duc­tions, the coun­try is now look­ing to ex­pand its big-screen reper­toire by be­com­ing more in­volved in an­i­ma­tion and vis­ual film pro­duc­tion. The Jun­gle Book is one such re­cent ex­am­ple, Rebecca Bund­hun writes

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MUM­BAI // In­dia is mov­ing to­wards play­ing a big­ger role in the vis­ual ef­fects and an­i­ma­tion sec­tor of the movie in­dus­try.

It re­cently emerged that BR Shetty, the founder of UAE Ex­change and NMC Health­care in Abu Dhabi, is fund­ing a 10 bil­lion ru­pee (Dh571.6 mil­lion) pro­duc­tion of The Ma­hab­harata, touted as In­dia’s big­gest mo­tion pic­ture. The film will heav­ily rely on us­ing the lat­est tech­nol­ogy to bring the mytho­log­i­cal epic of an­cient In­dia to life. “I loved the con­cept,” said Mr Shetty. “The Ma­hab­harata is an epic of all epics. This movie will be a true ‘Make in In­dia’ made for the world.”

The Ma­hab­harata is an an­cient In­dian story that re­volves around the bat­tle for the throne of Hasti­na­pura.

He adds he is con­fi­dent “that this will be a very suc­cess­ful and land­mark film in the his­tory of film­mak­ing”.

The growth of In­dia’s spe­cial ef­fects and an­i­ma­tion in­dus­try has largely be­ing driven by its rise as “the back of­fice” for Hol­ly­wood pro­duc­tions. US film com­pa­nies are out­sourc­ing work to In­dia be­cause of the lower costs, par­tic­u­larly in terms of labour.

Out­sourced film pro­jects to In­dia last year in­cluded The Le­gend of Tarzan and Sui­cide Squad.

The vis­ual ef­fects and post-pro­duc­tion sec­tor in In­dia is ex­pected to ex­pand by 19 per cent a year over the next five years, ac­cord­ing to KPMG.

But In­dia’s creative in­put into such films has thus far been lim­ited, with firms in In­dia car­ry­ing out tasks in an­i­ma­tion and spe­cial ef­fects pro­duc­tion to meet the spec­i­fi­ca­tion of for­eign com­pa­nies. In­di­ans also have yet to de­velop a sub­stan­tial ap­petite for spe­cial ef­fects in their movies, with the tra­di­tional Bol­ly­wood for­mula of ro­mance, song, and dance still preva­lent in the big hits that keep win­ning In­dian au­di­ences over, ex­perts say. This means there are rel­a­tively few In­dian an­i­ma­tion and spe­cial ef­fects-driven films at the box of­fice. With films such as Ma­hab­harata, how­ever, In­dia has an op­por­tu­nity to show off its cre­ativ­ity when it comes to spe­cial ef­fects.

“It does have potential do well be­cause it is a mytho­log­i­cal film which lends it­self well to vis­ual ef­fects,” says Frank D’Souza, a part­ner and me­dia and en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try ex­pert at PwC In­dia. “It’s a mat­ter of how much pro­duc­tion costs go in and it needs a good star cast to be able to get the kind of open­ings it would need. From an over­all bud­get per­spec­tive, [spe­cial ef­fects pro­duc­tions] are ex­tremely high cost ven­tures. Cin­ema ad­mis­sion costs are rel­a­tively low com­pared to the US, and even China, so it can be dif­fi­cult to re­cover costs in In­dia.”

He ex­plains that In­dian film us­ing vis­ual ef­fects and an­i­ma­tion set in the mod­ern day have largely failed to gain res­o­nance with In­dian cin­ema-go­ers. But when pro­duc­ers cre­ate con­tent out of In­dian mytholo­gies, it tends to have far greater suc­cess.

Baahubali, for ex­am­ple, a two-part fan­tasy movie set in an­cient In­dia which cost 4.3bn ru­pees to make, has proved a huge box of­fice hit. The sec­ond part, re­leased on Fri­day, grossed a record 1bn ru­pees at the box of­fice on its first day.

And suc­cess­ful In­dian films last year such as MS Dhoni: The Un­told Story, about the In­dian crick­eter, had spe­cial ef­fects com­po­nents.

“Sto­ry­telling is get­ting en­hanced by vis­ual ef­fects and mytho­log­i­cal, his­tor­i­cal, and fan­tasy gen­res have been grow­ing in In­dia and all these gen­res re­quire a lot of vis­ual ef­fects to en­hance the view­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, so we have seen a growth in lo­cally pro­duced vis­ual ef­fects con­tent,” says Ab­hi­manyu Singh, the chief ex­ec­u­tive of Con­tiloe, an award win­ning pro­duc­tion house head­quar­tered in Mum­bai. “Ear­lier, as an in­dus­try in In­dia we had a lot of work which was VFX work for hire [for for­eign com­pa­nies], but over a pe­riod of time it has be­come a lo­cal in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty in­dus­try.”

Akash Shukla is the co-founder of Cir­cle Cre­ation, which has had an­i­ma­tion work, in­clud­ing car­toon an­i­ma­tion and clay an­i­ma­tion, out­sourced to it by Amer­i­can stu­dios. “Many Hol­ly­wood pro­duc­tions are ex­e­cut­ing in In­dia to cut their cost,” he says. “In­dia is re­ally grow­ing in terms of an­i­ma­tion. In­dia is one of the largest mar­kets in terms of en­ter­tain­ment.”

In­dus­try in­sid­ers es­ti­mate that In­dia is about 30 per cent cheaper than Amer­ica when it comes to the cost of work­ing on vis­ual ef­fects and an­i­ma­tion for movies.

Mr D’Souza says that growth of the in­dus­try will still pri­mar­ily be driven by In­dia’s back of­fice work for over­seas pro­duc­tions over the com­ing years.

“In­dia is pro­duc­ing a sig­nif­i­cant amount of skill – although I wouldn’t nec­es­sar­ily say tal­ent – where if specs are pro­vided, there are peo­ple in In­dia now who can pro­duce a fi­nal prod­uct which is up to in­ter­na­tional stan­dards,” he says.

But he ex­plains that when it comes to cre­ativ­ity in spe­cial ef­fects and an­i­ma­tion, such as In­dian artists abil­i­ties to cre­ate char­ac­ters, In­dia is lag­ging.

The Jun­gle Book, the 2016 film pro­duced by Walt Dis­ney Pic­tures, was one of very few in­stances “where the cre­ation of the char­ac­ter, the ex­pres­sion and nu­ances, so the orig­i­nal char­ac­ter cre­ation in terms of how they look, feel, talk, were also worked on in In­dia”. The Ban­ga­lore stu­dio of Lon­don-based vis­ual ef­fects com­pany Mov­ing Pic­ture Com­pany (MPC) worked on The Jun­gle Book, with MPC in Fe­bru­ary win­ning the Os­car in the vis­ual ef­fects cat­e­gory for its work on the movie.

But Mr D’Souza ex­plains that The Jun­gle Book “was in essence an In­dian story, so the man­ner­isms, tone and de­liv­ery was some­thing which was closer to the In­dian land­scape, so we could do that bet­ter.”

He adds: “But if In­dia had to do some­thing like Frozen, where char­ac­ters are not from the In­dian cul­ture, I think In­dian artists would still strug­gle to cre­ate an orig­i­nal char­ac­ter”.

The Chi­nese film in­dus­try is “far ahead” of In­dia in the use of “spe­cial ef­fects and an­i­ma­tion in re­spect of both sto­ry­telling and the creative as­pects too”, Mr D’Souza says.

Those within the in­dus­try are op­ti­mistic that work will keep flow­ing into In­dia, and that there re­mains enor­mous scope for In­dia to play a big­ger role glob­ally in vis­ual ef­fects and an­i­ma­tion for films.

“If you look at it, In­dia will con­tinue to ser­vice the in­dus­try out­side be­cause we are a cheaper des­ti­na­tion, so that will con­tinue to flour­ish,” says Mr Singh. “And sec­ondly, be­cause you have so many sto­ries in In­dia that can be told through the tool of an­i­ma­tion, you will have more and more peo­ple us­ing that tool and creat­ing orig­i­nal in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty con­tent. I think that’s bound to hap­pen.”

He says that in terms of In­dia sup­ply­ing more creative con­tent for Hol­ly­wood, “it will take a lit­tle while for In­dia to have the re­sources to pro­duce that kind of in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty in cin­ema and travel across and be competitive in that land­scape”. But he be­lieves it will hap­pen.

“I do see in the fu­ture that with dig­i­tal­i­sa­tion hap­pen­ing, ob­vi­ously ge­o­graph­i­cal bound­aries are get­ting blurred and In­dia will be creat­ing for a global mar­ket.”

There are peo­ple in In­dia now who can pro­duce a fi­nal prod­uct which is up to in­ter­na­tional stan­dards Frank D’Souza Part­ner and me­dia and en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try ex­pert at PwC In­dia

Courtesy Dis­ney

The Ban­ga­lore stu­dio of Lon­don-based vis­ual ef­fects com­pany Mov­ing Pic­ture Com­pany worked on last year’s The Jun­gle Book.

Courtesy Em­pire In­ter­na­tional Gulf

MS Dhoni: The Un­told Story, a suc­cess­ful film about the In­dian crick­eter made last year, had spe­cial ef­fects com­po­nents.

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