The government’s nodal IT agency in Saltlec, Webel, on Monday signed an MoU with Los Angeles-based Toonz Animation India to jointly open and operate an animation academy in Calcutta, the “first one in the country”. And while IT and environment minister Manab Mukherjee watched with a smile, S.K. Mitra, managing director, Webel, and Bill Dennis, CEO and president, Toonz Animation, sealed the deal.
First, it was a world-class animation studio in Tiruvananthapuram. Then, it was a boutique studio in Mumbai, to make advertisement films. Now, it’s an animation academy in Calcutta. Toonz India, started in 1999 by G.A. Menon and Dennis, who has worked on Disney’s Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Aladin, has expanded and established a substantial animation base in the country. Be it starting their own The Adventures of Tenali Raman on Cartoon Network or doing the production work on European and American animation programmes.
The academy, to be housed in a 4,000 sq ft space in Saltlec, will impart training in 2-D and 3-D animation, through year-long diploma and six-month certificate courses. To be started around March with a batch of about 50 students, the courses will be taught by five teachers — one supervisor from the US, three Indian teachers and one from “an Asian nation with a strong grounding in animation”. While nine months will be spent in the classroom, three months involves practical experience at Toonz India’s award-winning, 450-employee strong, international standard studio in Tiruvananthapuram.
The initiative was taken by Webel, which has made an initial investment of Rs 1 crore, a couple of months ago, because “animation is specifically mentioned by the government as an area of development in the IT sector, and it has huge potential for growth in this country”. Dennis is equally enthusiastic. “India is steeped in legends, myths and folklore, which haven’t been tapped into.” After the successful Tenali Raman, which the company is now selling the distribution rights to in Europe and North America, it’s The Legend of Hanuman. Made in 2-D and 3-D, production is due to start in December and it will be aired on Cartoon Network around next Puja.
“In the end, it’s the story that counts. During Lion King, we wasted millions of dollars worth before we were satisfied,” explained the former production executive of Walt Disney Studios and president and general manager of overseas production of Hanna Barbara. “There is interest here. Four years ago, there were seven animation studios in India. Now there are 70.”
“Bengal has a rich animation history, starting with the likes of Sukumar Ray. It is not lacking in talent,” added minister Mukherjee.