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$10-million toon deal, but industry’s not smiling

Mumbai, June 10: Two Indian animation studios have bagged a $10-million outsourcing deal from a Korean firm for production work on a toon film and a teleseries based on the film.

Chennai’s CG Studio will earn approximately $4 million for the work on the film Twin Princes while Thiruvananthapuram-based Toonz Animation, a leading studio, will make around $5.5 million from its contract of production work for 52 episodes of the serial.

ANI 21, a Korea-based company, is at the helm of the project. The World Media Group has signed a memorandum of understanding with ANI 21, promising to invest $10 million.

This is the first time that an Indian toon company has been contracted to work extensively for a feature film, says G.B. Babu, who heads CG Studio.

“This is unique. Work for television, video, gaming and special effects is usually outsourced from Indian studios,” says Babu.

The film will be a big one. “The film will be a trilogy and we have been given the contract for the first part,” says Babu.

The story, which is the same in the film as well as the serial, will be “international”, says P. Jayakumar, CEO, Toonz Animation. So will the audience be and so is the crew.

“A team from the US has done the character development. The scriptwriter has worked on projects like Spiderman and The Incredible Hulk. A team from Japan has composed the music and the songs are sung by a star from Philippines,” says Babu.

Plus, it is a multi-million-dollar deal and the animation industry feels that it brings more respect to the toon community here.

So why isn’t it exactly sending ripples of excitement through the industry here' Because the animation industry has become sceptical of big international deals that do not yield as much as they promise.

“We need to be cautious when we talk about Indian companies bagging animation business because most of them are actually bagging ‘headlines’ rather than business. A million-dollar animation business actually translates into a 20 per cent share for the Indian companies, that, too, is split between rights and actual money. The rights, too, have yet to be demonstrated in most cases,” says Jyotirmoy Saha, general manager of UTV Toons, one of the foremost studios.

The major drawback for Indian animators — as in the Twin Princes — is that all the major work and the creative bits are done by others. Twin Princes is emblematic of Indian animation work: Indians are only pairs of hands who have been contracted for work on the “boring” production — the actual execution of the animation — while the creative bits are being done by Americans and Japanese and the post-production, the polishing, in Korea.

The industry sees no way out, because there is no platform for independent creative work from India.

A half-hour of animation on a modest budget costs Rs 30 lakh (while a saas-bahu episode can be shot well within Rs 10 lakh), but Indian animators cry that there is not enough space on television — there’s only Cartoon Network — and not many platforms that will pay them well.

“Cartoon Network would pay us $2,000 for half an hour,” says an industry person. So outsourcing reigns.

And keeps the industry going — though no reliable figures are available for Indian animation and the industry feels the Nasscom figures that project a $1.5-billion market in 2005 from a meagre $0.6-billion one in 2001 are grossly inflated, there is little work done outside of outsourcing.

There are a few exceptions like the Mumbai-based Crest Communications’ Tenali Rama (aired on a Singapore channel) and Toonz Animation’s Tenali Rama (shown on Cartoon Network); but there has hardly been any Indian property.

There is another major obstacle: lack of good training institutes.

“There is a good course in NID, but only 15 students come out of it every year,” says Anish Mulani, business manager of Crest Communications.

“Good training institutes need to come up very soon,” stresses Jayakumar.

The industry desperately hopes for government intervention. In Korea and Philippines, which have stolen a march over India with their animation industries, it has been possible with friendly governments.

“The government needs to promote animation. There should be dedicated hours to Indian programmes, say on DD, and given the cost of production, there should be subsidies,” says Mulani.

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