Who watches animation? Children? Youth? Adults? What is animation’s potential? Who’s going to see Hanuman Returns, to be launched in a week’s time? What is India’s opportunity in animation? What can animation be used for? Can animation break geographical and cultural barriers?
The questions are endless and so are the answers. According to Orion Ross, VP creative and original content, Turner Entertainment Network Asia, Inc., we appear to have come full circle on animation, in one respect. “In the early days of cartoons (Tom & Jerry, Bugs Bunny), the creators couldn’t distinguish audiences, so cartoons had to be smart enough to straddle both children and adults. Bugs Bunny said some really smart truths. We could be seeing that coming back.”
His point is relevant. “Cartoon Network was watched by kids when we launched it,” says Ross. “Today, adults also watch it.” And if animation was only for kids, why would as many as 10 animated films be under production in India for launch in 2008? Surely the appeal has to be much bigger.
NASSCOM’s projections for the growth of this industry (see box) are big. The fact that Percept is ambitious enough to think of Return of Ravana as an internationally viable product shows the optimism. The combination of films and digital games is a highly attractive area for animation. Jump Games has tied up for a Hanuman Returns digital game creation.
“The first Hanuman became the largest selling home video over 2005-06,” says Shailendra Singh, director, Percept. “We had 20-odd merchandising products with it. For Hanuman Returns, we have 270-odd products on merchandise. Hanuman has the potential to be a true global hero. Return of Ravana, Hanuman 3, will be a truly global 3D film.”
Animation will reach more people in more genres, says Ross confidently. “It can become general entertainment.” The success of Beowulf that blended animation with live action, followed by the box-office success of Bee Movie, another animation film, supports his argument. The just released I am Legend, however, fails somewhat on the animation/computer graphics front, is the widespread view. The film does create genuine moments of jump-in-your-seat fear…until we actually see the CG-created ‘dark seekers’. The thrill of the fear gets completely wiped out thereafter.
In fact, both Ross and Singh are not in favour of animating what can be delivered well by real-life. “It has to have an imaginative extension that cannot be delivered by a regular old TV show”, feels Ross. Ricky Ow, general manager, SPE Networks – Asia (AXN, Animax, Sony), thinks differently: “I find the art form to be less important than the story. I’d like to see a live action film turn into animae, giving it a lot more depth and breadth. We’re seeing animae becoming live action – Matrix drew out from animation. Animation has to be compelling.”
The field is wide open. In animation, the potential is still without rules or borders. Every market will look at where it can leverage its advantages. We are already looking at growing opportunities in outsourcing, even as we develop our own finished products. For now, entertainment and new media (Second Life, mobile phones) is where animation seems to be drawing interest – that’s where the money is.