[Reader-list] What's the hubbub, bub?

Shivam Vij shivamvij at gmail.com
Wed Jul 7 15:47:33 IST 2004

  The Next Big Draw for India 
  The computer-savvy subcontinent is moving into a new field: digital animation 

  By Arvind Adiga in Bombay
  Time / 12 July 2004

Sachin Garud, a 28-year-old computer animator, spends a good part of
his day staring at a screen while trying to get a cartoon bull named
Ferny to talk. Although the operation is entirely digital, the work is
nonetheless laborious. Garud, who is employed by a Bombay studio
called Crest Communication, has to manipulate Ferny's lip movements to
match the words the character speaks in Jakers! The Adventures of
Piggley Winks, an Emmy Award-nominated cartoon serial on America's PBS
network. While Garud handles Ferny's lip-synching, a colleague is in
charge of the movements of other taurine body parts; another is making
one of Ferny's friends, a sheep named Wiley, come to life. The work
might be time consuming and repetitive, but Garud insists that it has
its little pleasures. "It's a lot of fun getting Ferny to sing," he

Animators like Garud typically earn salaries ranging from $3,500 to
$30,000 a year, much less than the $40,000 to $100,000 they'd pocket
if they worked in the U.S. But no one at Crest is complaining. India's
animators have never had it so good. In what could be the country's
next outsourcing boom, a growing number of American companies are
looking to India as a place where they can get high-quality
computer-generated animation done on the cheap. Orders for cartoon
serials, computer games, direct-to-home DVDs and demonstration videos
are pouring into India; at least nine cartoon serials aimed at the
American and European markets are in production. "The amount of work
coming into India is phenomenal," says Rajiv Sangari, director of the
animation unit at Padmalaya Telefilms, which recently signed a $14
million deal with Mondo TV, an Italian company, to produce more than a
hundred episodes of an animated TV series.

Although India's tech companies and call centers could sell $12
billion worth of software and services to foreigners this year,
insiders estimate that the animation industry makes only about $150
million in annual revenues. But executives expect sales to at least
double this year and to keep growing exponentially. Animation studios
are sprouting throughout India—there are at least 70 already in
operation—and companies are on a hiring spree. Sangari, for example,
says Padmalaya Telefilms currently has 160 animators but aims to
increase staff to 400 within a month. Even that won't be enough, so
he's planning to fly in 25 animators from the Philippines to help out.

American TV and film companies have been outsourcing animation work to
South Korea and the Philippines for more than a decade, but India has
managed to muscle into the business, thanks to technological advances
and shifting American tastes. Although many animated films and TV
programs still use traditional animation, which begins with
hand-sketched images on paper, the success of movies such as Shrek and
Toy Story has meant that films and TV serials are increasingly being
digitally animated, produced entirely on computers using 3-D graphics.
That's a boon for India, with its expertise in software and computer
skills. While creative control is retained in the U.S.—a team of
American master animators comes up with the look of each character,
and scriptwriters determine the plots and dialogue—the task of
creating each episode is outsourced to Indian animators, allowing the
American company to lower its costs by up to 50%. A typical half-hour
3-D cartoon episode can cost $70,000 to $100,000 to produce in India
compared with $170,000 to $250,000 in the U.S.

The economics are compelling, but it's still been difficult for
India's animators to gain the acceptance of clients who don't think of
India as an animation center. A.K. Madhavan, Crest's CEO, recalls
fruitless sales trips he made to the U.S. in 1999 and 2000. "Had we
known how tough it would be to get a breakthrough," Madhavan admits in
retrospect, "we might not have kept going." Persistence and a little
good fortune helped Madhavan get his big break. While in Texas in
2001, he met with an independent animation producer named Mike Young,
who happens to share Madhavan's passion for cricket. The two bonded
and Young agreed to watch a test animation clip done by Crest. He
liked what he saw—and gave Crest the order for the Jakers! show.
Currently, the studio has contracts to animate three serials destined
for American TV.

It helps that the stigma once associated with "made-in-India" goods
and services is evaporating, thanks to the success of software
outsourcing giants such as Infosys and Wipro. "Earlier, you had to
spend most of your time selling India and a little time selling your
company," says Biren Ghose, CEO of Bombay-based Animation Bridge.
"Now, I don't have to sell India. I can start selling my company
straight away." Because of globalization, cultural differences that
affect production values—the look and feel of programs—are rapidly
disappearing, too. "Ten years ago, when Bugs Bunny said, 'What's the
hubbub, bub?,' most Indians would not have got it," says Nilesh
Sardesai, creative director at Crest. "But today, they do," because
Indian society has opened to foreign influences.

The animation boom is cascading throughout India's entertainment
industry. One offshoot has been the rise of computer-game outsourcing.
In the Bangalore offices of Dhruva Interactive, a group of
twentysomethings sit with comic books and programming manuals while
their computer screens flash with images of G.I.s carrying machine
guns, teenagers shooting pool in smoky halls, ogres and medieval
labyrinths. They're developing games that will be sold to Dhruva
clients such as Microsoft. While some Indian animation companies are
looking to expand into computer games, others, emboldened by the
success of Crest, are dreaming of the big money: digitally animated
films. Rajesh Turakhia, CEO of Maya Entertainment, a Bombay-based
studio, says that Indian companies will next target smaller Hollywood
3-D animation films with budgets of $10 million to $20 million.

India's ambitions could be thwarted by a shortage of skilled
animators. Experts estimate that India has only about 4,000 animators
who can handle complex projects—which is woefully inadequate for all
the work coming in. "We need at least another 2,000 to 3,000 animators
this year, but I'm not seeing that many new people in this business,"
says Animation Bridge's Ghose. One problem, complains Rajesh Rao, the
CEO of Dhruva Interactive, is that few of India's art schools and
engineering colleges offer computer animation courses. Another barrier
facing the industry is cultural. "The Indian mentality is that if I
have to put my child into a science or engineering school, I am happy.
But we don't want our children to go into art or culture as a
profession," says Padmalaya's Sangari. The shortage of talent has
raised concern that some clients could grow disillusioned with the
quality of work they receive from Indian animators. "Many in the
industry do not know how they will execute all these orders," says

India may not have much time to adapt. China, Russia and the Ukraine
are rapidly emerging as rivals. One Indian executive laments that he
just lost out on a contract unexpectedly after offering to do the job
at the standard Indian rate of $4,000 per month for each animator; a
Russian competitor undercut him, agreeing to do it for just $1,800 per
person. India's schools will have to start churning out thousands of
qualified animators each year—before a new generation of Russian and
Chinese animators figures out the fine art of making cartoon bulls

I poured reason in two wine glasses
Raised one above my head
And poured it into my life

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