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Raizada Rohit Jaising Vaid, chief creative officer of Contiloe Pictures, gets very annoyed when his friends ask him, "When are you making a real film?"
The industry veteran, who has spent 15 years in the television and film industry, rues, "People feel that animation is for the young, but they don't realise that it takes a lot more than a commercial film." For instance, Vaid's Mahayoddha Rama (MYR) is being done by one of India's best post-production studios, Pixion.
A team of 235 animators is working solely on the project. "The screenplay has been written by Ashok Banker, who has written a series of six books on the Ramayana," he says.
Indeed, there is nothing mediocre about the new breed of animation films. MYR's music and background score is by Aadesh Srivastava while lyrics for the songs have been penned by Javed Akhtar.
Animation is serious business today. The industry, buoyed by the entry of players like Adlabs [Get Quote], UTV, Yash Raj Films, Percept and Pyramid Saimira, has woken up to new ideas and, of course, to the possibility of pots of money to be made.
The Rs 13 billion animation, gaming and VFX industry grew 24 per cent last year, thanks to a slew of big banner animation films that were announced.
Adlabs, with Ocher Studios, is out to make a high-end animation film titled Sultan, on Indian superstar Rajnikanth. Yash Raj Films, with Walt Disney Studios, is releasing Roadside Romeo in June this year and UTV has announced plans for several such films.
Shemaroo will be releasing Ghatothkach, its second animation film after Bal Ganesh, this year. Pyramid Saimira is working on a 100-minute-long feature film which will be released along with a game based on the story and characters, reports managing director P S Saminathan.
Filmmaker Govind Nihalani is reportedly working on Kamlu, his first animation film. The Indian Film Company, along with Richard Branson and Shekar Kapur's Virgin Comics, have announced that it will make three horror animation films.
Even ace commercial director Karan Johar is said to be making Coochie Coochie Hota Hai, an animated remake of his debut Bollywood hit Kuch Kuch Hota Hai.
It is clear that animation is no longer being treated as 'kiddie timepass' and production houses are ready to spend big money on the films, albeit ones with relevant storylines.
As Saminathan says, "In India, animation films are wrongly pigeon-holed in the children's genre, whereas internationally, they are often box office hits that appeal to everyone."
For the Pyramid Saimira animated film, the concept creators engaged kids with the narration and even made them a party in selecting the characters and locations.
Alpana Mishra, COO (production), UTV Motion Pictures, is already calculating how to make money on the films the company plans to release next year and later.
"We have three medium- to big-scale animation projects. The marketing team at UMP is busy working on plans for activities well in advance to keep the films alive in the audiences' minds by way of teasers, theatrical trailers, launch events, merchandising, touch and feel experiences for both trade and audiences," she says.
All are under production with release dates from October next year for Alibaba, to a summer 2010 launch for Arjun, and Dreamblanket scheduled for a Diwali release that year. Determined to give the movies a serious run at the theatres, Mishra adds that UMP will be producing, distributing and marketing each of them.
She reasons, "We are looking at not only the domestic market but also the international market as we think the content is universal in appeal and can travel to various markets, including the West and South-east Asia."
Munjal Shroff, director and COO of Graphiti Multimedia, is taking the business of creating animations to a new level. "We have started developing our intellectual property and already have six IPs. This is after a painstaking wait of almost 9-13 months to get our own IP," he said on the sidelines of Ficci Frames 2008.
His company, along with Honest Entertainment (founded by Joanna Ferrone, the creator of Fido), will be co-producing a series of one-minute shorts with Fido that will be premiered on Nickelodeon US. Back home, Munjal is working on a 3D animation film, Shlok, with director Anubhav Sinha.
"We did a 20-minute slot with Sinha in his film Cash which was well received." He also has another big budget animated film with Turner International.
Ram Mohan, called the father of Indian animation, who created the character of 'Meena: The Girl Child' for Unicef and also co-directed Ramayana: The Legend of Prince Rama, has a point.
"We need a string of good success stories in animation films to make the industry serious. Hanuman has set the ball rolling but now if we don't excel, other films in the pipeline could suffer a setback."
One must take reports about Indian creators making 70 animation films in the next couple of years with a pinch of salt, he advises. "I have more than 50 years' experience developing animation, and I foresee that our industry will have to find an answer to the severe manpower shortage in the genre. With the dollar weakening, it could also mean an escalation in the cost of developing animation in India." Let's wait and watch.
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