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3D movies breathe life into animation studios

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Crest, Toonz and are working on global releases with a lot of production work done in India.

Indian movie fans will soon see the Big B play a lead role in a 3D feature film to be released by Amitabh Bachchan Corp. Similarly, Cartoon Network will feature Taj Mahal as a 3D feature film while will soon release Howzatt. The animation work is being done at the Toonz Animation India studio.

This is not all. Animation Studios, a public-listed animation company in India in association with Lionsgate has completed Alpha and Omega — Asia’s first 3D stereoscopic (which enhances the illusion of depth) movie to go to Hollywood. It is set to release in over 3,000 screens worldwide later this year.

Noah Fogelson, chief operating officer, Crest Animation Productions, Burbank, California, says: “Alpha was produced by Crest in both our US and Indian facilities, with pre-production (development, story boarding, animatics, voice recording, designs) and post-production done in Los Angeles and the animation (models, rigs, animation, colour, lighting, texturing, rendering, compositing, etc) done at our Mumbai facility. The film has been co-produced with Lions Gate and Lions Gate will release the film in the US in stereoscopic 3D.”

Indeed! India may have seen its first 3D stereoscopic film with the Malayalam movie Kuttichaathan dubbed in Hindi as Chhota Chetan in 1984 but it’s only with the success of 3D films like James Cameron’s Avatar that have got a new lease of life.

Crest, for instance, spent years working in concert with the Los Angeles studio to devise a production pipeline and system designed to achieve studio quality computer generated imagery (CGI) at a fraction of the price most studios pay for their animated features, according to Fogelson. Alpha and Omega, for instance, is a 90-minute film which was made in two years with a $25 million budget. Such movies typically take three to four years and a budget ranging between $50- and $130 million.

P Jayakumar, chief operating officer of Toonz Animation India, meanwhile, is working on a slew of TV series for the international market. They include Speed Racer- 2, HTDT (nursery rhyme character Humpty Dumpty who turns into a crime fighting superhero), Jolly Rabbit for Lions Gate and Brave for Cartoon Network, Europe. On the feature film front, work is going on on Life and Adventures of Santa Claus for Hyde Park Entertainment and Gaturro for Illusion Studios Argentina, which would hit theatres world-wide by the end of this year.

The animation and VFX (visual effects) industry in India is home to more than 450 animation and VFX companies including large companies and medium-sized ones. Software body Nasscom expects the Indian animation industry to grow at 22 per cent annually to reach $1 billion by 2012.

International studios also want to invest here. All major international studios have set up shops in India or will be here very soon. Will Smith’s production company and Steven Spielberg’s Dreamworks, for instance, have started working with Indian counterparts on various projects.

But India has only around 70 3D screens. Digital distributor company UFO Moviez has plans to make 500 screens 3D compatible by 2010-year end. For this ambitious project, the company will invest Rs 7 lakh per screen for conversion to be 3D-enabled. Also, Scrabble Entertainment is to add 45 3D screens also by 2010 end. UFO Moviez has a fancy plan to showcase the Indian Premier League matches in 3D in more number of screens. The company had digitally distributed the last four matches of IPL 2010 in 3D.

Big Animation, on its part, has just finished the first season of Pak Pak Pakau for Nick. The second season of the series will commence in the next few months. Then there is Big Bees in 3D — a concept for kids about wonders of nature, and Shaktimaan in digital 2D. Both of them are international projects, according to Ashish Kulkarni, chief operating officer of Big Animation.

Incidentally, estimates are that the otsourced work done by Indian studios adds up to $200 million a year. Within the media and entertainment space, animation has outperformed its peers in recent history, growing at 20 per cent in 2008 to become a Rs 1,560 crore industry.

Seema Ramanna, managing director of Crest Animation Studios believes there’s a consensus that the domestic market is the “next big opportunity” for both animation as well as VFX firms. She concludes: “The Indian appetite for animation is increasing very fast but companies haven’t been able to capitalise on it yet.”

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