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South Asia, Apr 21, 2005
India animated by special effects outsourcing
By Siddharth Srivastava

NEW DELHI - It is a tie-up that is likely to catapult the outsourcing of animation - which has the potential to generate more than US$1.5 billion for India - to another level. Barrie M Osborne, the legendary producer of Hollywood blockbusters like The Lord of the Rings, The Matrix and Face-Off, will partner with N Madhusudhanan, a visual effects veteran in India, to found a visual effects studio here that will cater to a global audience already high on three dimensional (3D) and special effects.

The studio will be modeled along the lines of the famous Weta Digital in New Zealand, renowned for its work on The Lord of the Rings trilogy. What is more, Osborne is set to produce his next blockbuster in India.

"The joint venture will be fully functional six months from now. Our first movie will be based on the best-selling novel The Alchemist by Paul Coelho. It will be a $100 million, big budget film," Madhusudhanan said.

In various interviews to the media, Osborne, on his first visit to the country, said he was impressed with Indian films. "I believe that India has a great potential to make world-class films. There will be a paradigm shift in the entertainment sector in India. Soon India will also have significant catalysts, just like Lord of the Rings was for a catalyst in New Zealand." Expressing the hope that full-length 3D animation films would be produced in India, Osborne said with the huge talent pool in the sub-continent it was possible for international productions to take work from them to produce great films.

"It will not be long before we can start seeing most of the Hollywood work moving to India. We have already started doing some work for Hollywood films. Though Indian animation firms have the skill sets for visual or special effects, they lack the right direction. We are planning to hold a series of training workshops in digital visual effects to develop the talent pool under the guidance and supervision of Osborne," Madhusudhanan said.

India's animation advantage

The arrival of such Hollywood bosses as Osborne brings into focus the confluence of movie and information technology, an arena that India enjoys a distinct advantage. In the recent past, 3D films have raked in business worldwide, smashing ratings around the world. Shrek 2, the DreamWorks-generated cartoon sequel, as well as Pixar Animation's Finding Nemo have already smashed all records to become the highest Hollywood grossers. Popular movies such as Spiderman, the Harry Potter series and spin-offs like the latest Keanu Reeves movie Constantine, reinforce the genre.

Industry experts have a lot of hope. The business being generated can be broadly classified into two areas - special effects, animation, editing and post-production work at Indian studios, including work for TV soaps as well as commercials. The second area includes strategic as well as back-office IT-related work sourced from Indian software giants such as Infosys, Wipro, TCS and Cognizant to plug specific requirements that are a result of the convergence era. These include low-end jobs such as digitizing visual content to tools for restricting unauthorized online video and music downloads and protection from the misuse of DVDs.

India's area of special interest to international players is animation and special effects. Given the time-consuming and labor-intensive nature of the job, it is ideal stuff to be routed to India. With low-cost, high quality engineers available, India is likely to make a killing in this field. The total animation outsourcing market in India is currently valued over $100 million and it is exploding by 200% annum. The global computer graphics and animation industry is expected to touch the $50 billion mark by the end of this year.

The National Association of Software Service Companies (NASSCOM) estimates that on the whole, computer graphics, character animation and data digitization raked in about $200 million in 2001, with over 27,000 people employed in this sector. NASSCOM forecasts huge revenues from this segment of the entertainment industry. "By 2008, the digital content development, animation and engineering and design industry would touch $1.5 billion, employing about 300,000 people." A study by India's Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry suggests that Hollywood's entry into India is a spillover of the immense image that India enjoys as a software and IT destination.

The latent talent has also been honed by India's huge movie industry (Bollywood, a coinage that has stuck) that churns out over 800 films every year. Over 2.5 million people are involved in this cauldron of creativity with movies being produced that sink without a trace at the box-office, and others that make an international mark. This has resulted in cities such as Mumbai, Hyderabad and Bangalore, which offer a state-of-the-art mix of software skills, production and animation expertise and studio infrastructure. These are being continually upgraded to meet international standards.

Till now post-production of movies from the US has been outsourced to locations such as Japan, Taiwan and Korea. India is the new entrant. As a matter of fact, Asian countries, too, are passing on their work to India, given the enormous savings involved. Going by the money saved, it is not hard to see why India will make it as a business process outsourcing base for digital content, special effects and animation. According to estimates, the cost of outsourcing one hour of animation work to India is estimated to be close to $60,000, versus the $160,000 to $200,000 that other leading animation centers in Korea, Taiwan and the Philippines charge. In the US, it would cost anywhere between $250,000 to $300,000 to produce one hour of animation.

While global entertainment and media giants such as Walt Disney, Fox Entertainment and Time Warner are looking to tap Indian resources, Indian firms have not been lagging behind. Given the vast business opportunities, animation companies have mushroomed across India: Pentamedia Graphics in Chennai, Jadoo Works in Bangalore, CD India in Chandigarh, UTV Toons in Mumbai, Moving Picture Company in Film City, Noida, Heart Entertainment Ltd and Color Chips India in Hyderabad, and Toonz Animation India in Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala. Ramoji Film City in Hyderabad has been involved in the making of Hollywood motion pictures by providing equipment, crew, sets and post-production facilities. In Mumbai, ace director Subhash Ghai's Mukta Arts now boasts of worldwide clients.

Pentamedia Graphics has implemented 3D animation films such as Sinbad and Alibaba and its clients include players from Japan, Korea and France. Kerala-based Toonz Animation India has been dealing with UK-based Treehouse Production for a fun, spooky animation series. Animation company Color Chips has entered into an alliance with a South Korean government agency to explore possibilities for Korean film-makers to tap the low-cost technical expertise in India.

Indeed, unlike call centers, where the verbal skills of Indians have been questioned by clients as well as customers, nobody can point a finger against India's technical expertise.

Siddharth Srivastava is a New Delhi-based journalist.


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