India’s in-demand animators ready to draw their own crowds

Large revenue gains give long-time Disney collaborators confidence to strike out on their own

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 October, 2015, 9:02pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 October, 2015, 9:02pm

They call themselves Hollywood’s best-kept secret: India’s animators, long-time partners with the likes of Walt Disney, are reaping the rewards of surging demand for visual effects and gaining the confidence to venture out on their own.

India’s animation industry generated revenue worth 44.9 billion rupees (HK$5.3 billion) in 2014, a 13 per cent increase from the previous year, according to data from a FICCI-KPMG report on India’s media and entertainment industry.

The industry is expected to double in size to 95.5 billion rupees within five years, as Hollywood studios tap a large pool of low-cost, English-speaking animators who are familiar with Western culture.

So far, animators based in India have created crowd scenes and props for the Emmy award-winning TV series Game of Thrones as well as more prominent visual effects for films including Disney’s 2014 movie Maleficent and Dreamworks’ How to Train Your Dragon, among other Hollywood hits.

"We are one of those best kept secrets. We do all this amazing work and no one knows about it," says Biren Ghose, who runs the Indian subsidiary of US firm Technicolor, which includes the India-based animation units that worked on Maleficent.

In a bid to gain more business and build a higher profile, a unit of Mumbai-listed visual effects firm Prime Focus last year bought London-based Double Negative, the studio that this year won an Oscar for best visual effects for Interstellar.

Others like Prana Studios have attracted investment from some of the country’s richest men –   Reliance Industries’ tycoon Mukesh Ambani and Anand Mahindra of Mahindra and Mahindra.

Ultimately, animation is about performance and understanding cultural idioms and idiosyncrasies. The combination is what our clients find helpful
Arish Fyzee, Prana creative director

"Of course cost is a big factor," says Arish Fyzee, Prana’s chief executive and creative director, when asked about the Indian animation industry’s appeal. "But ultimately, animation is about performance and understanding cultural idioms and idiosyncrasies. The combination is what our clients find helpful."

Both Mahindra and Reliance declined to comment for this story.

India’s animation industry is almost as old as its film industry, the world’s biggest in terms of revenue. In 1956, a local movie studio invited a Disney animator to train them, and a year later, India’s first animated production, The Banyan Deer, was made.

Over the years, studios have generated their own animated movies, ranging from 2008’s box office flop Roadside Romeo, a 3D cartoon jointly produced by Yash Raj films and Disney, to this year’s hit war epic Bahubali, India’s costliest film to date.

Indian demand for local animation is dwarfed by business from Hollywood, but some studios like Prana say working on their own films will elevate the industry’s status, and their own profile.

“It’s a departure from waiting for work to come from the United States,” says Fyzee.