Sunday, February 26, 2006

A n i m a t e d I n I n d i a

Rajan has tempted me to blog about this contentsutra post.

... From outsourced sweat shops to co-production deals, that's the way to go for Indian animation companies. India's animation talent cannot be underestimated. For instance, Walt Disney’s 2005 blockbuster Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe was done out of India. It was executed by a 700-strong team in the Los Angeles and Mumbai offices of animation and visual effects studio Rhythm & Hues. ...


I am a computer graphics researcher and am very interested in the entertainment industry. I would even like to take a job in India but I haven't done so ! The reason ? I disagree to the fact that Indian animation industry has come of age.

This is a problem not just with the animation industry, but with the Indian industry in general. Most of the revenue that India earns through software is by offering services. In fact, major companies such as Infosys, TCS, Wipro etc. have hardly developed any products !

Sometime last year, I had the opportunity to ask a question to the very vice-presidents of TCS, Infosys, Satyam and Wipro themselves. This was during a seminar in ISB on the expected rates of growth for the Indian software industry.

"Sir, inspite of making huge dollar profits, your company doesn't develop any products. Why ? What problems do you face in building an image and marketing the product ? Why doesn't your company see this as a good source of earning revenue ?"

This question made them all uneasy. The VPs of Infosys and TCS mentioned the names of a few products that their companies built.

"But what is the percentage of revenue that these products are earning for your company ? What is the corresponding ratio for companies of similar size in the Silicon Valley ? "

At this point, the VP of Satyam was visibly angry. He beckoned me and said, "The conditions in Hyderabad and in the Silicon Valley are very different. They have good universities up there and they have a totally different mode of thinking."

Then I replied, "Sir, I belong to IIIT which is just next door. Our university is research oriented and we have good developers in our student community."

Then he said, "Yes, I know. Why don't you meet me in person and we can talk this over during lunch ?"

But I didn't/couldn't meet him during lunch :)

Even though none of the VPs admitted the reason to me, I knew it already. Indian companies are notorious for averting risks ! Developing a product has several inherent risks and invites ferocious competition on the global scale. Indian companies want to play it safe. In other words, they are chickened out ! I am not saying that chickening out is a bad thing, it surely has some merit from the perspective of the chicken. :))

So where am I ? Yeah, this is the same reason why I don't expect Indian animation companies to do anything wonderful on the global scale. These companies are too scared to take any risks and to develop any products (in this case, a movie or a videogame). During the inception and the development phases, they are wont do cut down costs, overwork the employees, use terrible/incapable managers and miss deadlines. No client is waiting for the work to get done, and thus nobody becomes accountable for the product ! After all, nobody has believed in the first place that the product would be any good anyway !

The first 3D animation movie to come out of India "Pandavas" was so bad - not only in artistic detail but also in script and animatics ! Though relesed years later (in terms of graphics, years = ages), this movie pales in comparison to the first 3D movie ever produced "Toy Story". Can we ever expect the magic of Disney such as "Snow White and the 7 Dwarfs" to come out of India ? Would anybody ever conceptualize a sequence such as the birds chirping and dancing, as snowwhite draws water from the well ?

In India, animation houses are equivalents of BPOs and sweatshops. They grow laterally rather than vertically. They accept too many work-assignments, and they overwork their employees. And their workplaces are too crampy with very little space per employee. (Not that it is a bad thing, they are solving the unemployment problem after all)

I have recently visited an animation house which also offers training to novices who want to get into the business. "Why don't you encourage short-movies from your employees/students so that they can send them to SIGGRAPH ? This will show good on their portfolio and will be good for your publicity." To this, the HR has replied "What is SIGGRAPH ?"

I have also recently visited a very good art school - the JNTU school of fine arts. I was trying to build a partnership with the art-students for my students in the computer graphics course. Such partnerships are commonplace in the USA but are virtually unheard of in India. The art students were super-cool and they were pretty interested in our ideas. But they were also clueless - "What is SIGGRAPH ? "

The major complaint that is heard from animation houses is that there is a lack of technical talent / motivation etc. in India. This sounds suspiciously close to what I heard from the VPs of Satyam, Infosys etc.

Rhythm & Hues is an exception to the rule. Firstly, their Los Angeles unit is extremely good. I have visited their LA quarters when I've been to SIGGRAPH in 2005.




I have observed some work-in-progress for "The Chronicles of Narnia" too ! R&H has a breezy workspace and an ultra-cool work culture. This will prove to be in stark contrast to my later experiences with Indian animation houses. Secondly, they truly trust their unit in Mumbai and are cheerleading it very much. Indeed, I am very happy that the Mumbai unit has participated in the production of the "Narnia". But personaly, the Narnia movie didn't please me much. I would be surprised if it wins the Academy award. The biggest killer in the movie is the sloppy editing - the VFX are pretty cool, though there are some lighting mismatches (bad cinematography). And also, the credits for this movie include ILM and Sony Imageworks along with R&H.

Some MNCs (such as Google, Oracle, Adobe and Microsoft) are doing product development in software at their Bangalore offices. But this is mostly in conjuction with the main team in the USA, similar to how R&H has executed the Narnia movie.


Do I see a time when an entire movie/videogame is conceptualized in India for a major production house and then receives world-wide acclaim ? Do I see a time when the art-schools incorporate a radically-upto-date syllabus ? Do I see a time when short-movies from India get accepted to the SIGGRAPH animation festival (France had 6 movies last year, and India had zero. Sounds like the Olympics ?) Do I see a time when Indian animation houses tend to attract & to keep really talented people ?

The answers to all the above questions are "No, not in the near future."

9 comments:

Kapil said...

Hi K

While you raise some good points, I would like to add another perspective to the dilemma over products by Indian software companies. To understand why most of the Indian companies do not have products you have to understand their genesis. TCS was formed out of need to process punching cards for Tata Steel. Infosys was formed out of people who mainly worked at Patni, a services company. Similarly a host of other companies Satyam etc established during the Y2k and the Intenet bubble. It was easier to start earning revenues if you placed a few engineers in Software services (read software maintenance)rather than paying high dollar to create new new products which may or may not succeed.

Secondly, there is this mindset amongst most indian programmers only by working on hundreds of new technolgies they are going to make their resume stand out unlike say US, where people continue to work on the same project for years.

The decision to go into services was an objective decision, based on the ground realities and pure busines logic.

The situation might be changing. while services companies like TCS, Infosys, I Flex. are trying to create products traditional products companies are turning their products into services.

So while TCS has Mastercraft, NCS and Mastercraft, Infosys has Finnacle, IFlex has FlexCube, Microsoft may be trying to package its word package into an online service.

Now would you term Microsoft ans being risk averse or progressive is totally a question of perpectives..

Cheers !
KS

http://bbirds.blogspot.com

Kiran said...

You call it pragmatic, I call it chickening out. The basic reason is that they are averting the risk of putting $ into product development.

If you look at the demographics of high-income countries, 75% of the population work in services. Since most services are turning into ITeS (it enabled services) I expect every IT company to have a services wing. Even Microsoft.

But only through product development does a company stand out. I keep my fingers crossed about these products of TCS, Infosys etc.. They are still not thinking big.

By thinking big, I mean they should actively give freedom to minor teams and let them go as start-ups. This way, we would see a plethora of product-development companies in Bangalore and in Hyderabad. This environment will also be motivating for young engineers to do a start-up on their own.

Only then can India produce its own Apple. (or HP or Google or..)

Halley said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Halley said...

True the animation scene in India is pretty bad.There isn't a single technical university in India that goes beyond Computer Graphics.
Forget about doing true blue SIGGRAPH stuff !!.

Now the more philosophical questions :D.

Does India need Animation ??..
Beyond Entertainment Industry do you see any application for animation in a developing country like India ??.
Without corporate support you think these applications (if at all there are any :) ) will transform into reality ??

How is the animation scenario in IIIT (Yes..i am asking this question despite being in CVIT under Dr.PJN for the past 6-7 months :D ).

Kapil said...

Hi K

Yes, that would be great. Wipro already does that, ie fund ideas within the company, TCS already has pune centre dedicated to R&D and product development. Once someone succeeds, others would follow suit... Right now,definitely, the focus is on services but that is just the character of certain companies and certain people.

Ofcourse with people who think like you we sure would have products rolling out but that is some time away. The big question is would anyone do it if it did not make business sense. Maybe there are some great products yet to be discovered but do not make the come out because nobody has noticed them yet. Well I am only thinking out alound.. but who knows ...!!

Cheers!

Shiben Bhattacharjee said...

@Halley:

animation comes under product, CVIT is a research lab.

practical words:
i bet if u ask sir: if u can take, creating a big game, as a project; he will say u can do it urself out of interest, no need of credits for those.

This is the reason even Vakiba dint mention IIIT in his post regarding animation, he projects to companies which develop "products"

but yeah, i will defend ur skeptism on animation for a developing nation like india; but again i wud like 2 b commentless reason being my limited knowledge in industry

Kiran said...

@halley:

Animation is an artist-intensive job. The animation festival of siggraph should be targeted by the students of fine-arts. CVIT is a research lab and we should target the technical paper session in siggraph.

About your other questions, yes, animation is relevant to India and is useful for entertainment, advertising, education etc.

v_tel001 said...

I have observed that the undergrad Computer Science courses in most univ.s in India (except IITs, IIIT), do not have a strong Computer Graphics course curriculum (if at all it is offered). It is mostly theoretical, and the practical part is usually restricted to rendering some 2d images, along with bresenham & other algorithm implementation. There is no OpenGL, or graphics pipeline taught.

Probably one reason for this could be that computer graphics requires the latest hardware in terms of graphics cards, & faster machines, which is one reason why it hasn't taken off in India.

Even in the US, most Indian grad students you will likely find working in networks, or databases. I was a grad student doing work related to 3d visualization/graphics & medical imaging, and except me, my research team was entirely Chinese. Of course, this is not directly related to animation, but basically what I want to point out is that India has a lot of catching up to do in Computer Graphics, be it animation or research.

Hopefully, in the future, as 3d graphics cards become ubiquitous on every machine, and softwares like Maya gain greater popularity, along with more animation movies produced in Indian languages, there will be animation & game programming culture established in India.

Haripal singh said...

about animation industry in India, if its animation is bad , so how do they outsource animation project to western countries. I mean to say its a starting stage of animation in indis as like 15 yrs before with IT industry in India. I am student learning animation .