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."
Sunday, February 26, 2006
Rajan has tempted me to blog about this contentsutra post.