Classical vocalist Bombay Jayashri may be getting a lot of attention for an Oscar nomination for her song in the movie Life of Pi, but she is not the only Indian interest at this year’s Academy Awards. Unobtrusively, India’s Animation Inc has made significant strides in Hollywood and in the most coveted award in the entertainment arena. Two of the shortlisted movies in the animation category, Life of Pi and Prometheus, owe a good deal to the work done by a Bangalore-based firm, Technicolor India. What’s more, two other movies — Delhi Safari and Hey Krishna— whose animation was completely done out of India, made it to the long list in this category. India’s animators believe this signals their arrival on the global stage, a recognition that eluded them despite being one of the world’s favourites for visual effects outsourcing and growing at a pace of over 20% every year.
Biren Ghose, country head for Technicolor India, said they were the prime agency for VFX (visual effects) for Prometheus and contributed about 400 shots in the film. For Life of Pi, its team contributed about 130 shots out of about 960. The shots handled by Ghose’s team, comprising about 1,300 visual artists and technicians, included those of two major storms and the sinking of Pi’s ship. Technicolor has earlier worked in blockbusters such as Pirates of the Caribbean and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. It has also worked in Kung Fu Panda and serial The Penguins of Madagascar. The $200-million (about Rs 1,100-crore) Indian animation industry has been working for many Hollywood biggies for years. But until now, they have been mostly regarded as bit contributors even though a majority of the 3D conversion work for Hollywood films is done from India.
“An Oscar nomination just validates what we are doing and increases faith of the global entertainment industry in India’s animation and VFX companies. It will definitely lead to more business for the Indian studios,” said Nishit Takia, co-founder of Pune-based Krayon Pictures, the producer of Delhi Safari. If either of the movies – Life of Pi and Prometheus – wins at the awards, it may bring in more business for the industry, which gets about 60% of its revenues through outsourcing. Most the work is sub-contracted to small studios employing under 100 people, often in smaller cities and towns such as Patna, Pune or Ahmedabad. But these firms say they are forced to look elsewhere as there are few takers for animation movies in India.
Krayon Pictures, which has about 150 employees, had to find $7 million on its own to make Delhi Safari. “Indian producers or the entertainment market have very little faith in animation films, which makes studios look to overseas for work,” said Takia. “We are trying to sell the movie in 14-18 countries. The problem in India is that the audience will pay Rs 250 for a Bollywood movie but not for an animation movie.” Even startups like Bangalore-based Xentrix have been able to make a mark abroad through its animated TV series Care Bears, targeted at the US market. Xentrix pointed out animation was more prevalent in the South Indian film industry. “Use of VFX is gaining in Telugu and Tamil movies such as the recently released Makkhi (Eega in Telugu and Naan Ee in Tamil), which is making animation startups prosper,” said Xentrix CEO Jai Natarajan.
Despite the low acceptance of animation by the mainstream audience in India, talent has flourished due to outsourcing. But Technicolor India’s Ghose said, “It will be much easier for a Bollywood animation film to win an Academy Award and appeal to a global audience than other films.” “You can’t make out the nationality or ethnicity of a Mickey Mouse, Puss in Boots or a Doraemon, can you?” he asked.