At Pixion in Bandra, a group of young men in designer jeans are smoking cigarettes outside the office. Inside, in the square reception area, a blond girl discusses a script on her silver laptop with an Indian man. Pixion, one of the larger studios in Mumbai, wants to be the third Indian studio to snap up a foreign studio. It already employs ten foreigners.
Last year, Crest Animation Studios in Ghatkopar (West) purchased US-based Rich Animation while Prime Focus Ltd in Goregaon (East) bought North American Post Logic and Frantic Films.
This is a sign of changing times. Mumbai studios are more confident, they are buying foreign studios, demanding to co-produce Western films and many are working on their own animated feature films.
Until recently, the bulk of work carried out in Mumbai was outsourced from studios in the USA, Canada and Europe. Western artists there wrote scripts and designed characters and sent them here for technical execution.
Then, the turning point came in 2005 when Hanuman made a profit at the box office. This spurred financiers to pump more money into domestic animated flicks.
A growing domestic demand for animated special effects in Bollywood action films, the expansion of e-education, web, computer game, mobile phone entertainment is also fuelling growth.
Industry body Nasscom predicts that the total revenue generated from Indian animated movies will grow fivefold to US$77 million (Rs 308 crore) by 2010, matching the revenue generated by outsourced films. Already more than 70 Indian animated films are in progress in India.
The mix of co-productions, Indian films and outsourced work means city studios have full order books, soaring revenues, and salaries are going through the roof.
But a lack of quality training institutes and awareness of the career means they face a talent crunch. There is now a huge demand for people with scriptwriting and character sketching skills on top of a shortage of people with software skills.
Poaching is rife: some studios have annual attrition rates as high as 30 per cent and the growth of the sector may be held back.
There are other problems too. As real estate costs in Mumbai soar, the city’s status as the capital of animation, owing to its connections with Bollywood, could soon be lost to Chennai or Hyderabad.
Other Asian nations are also vying for outsourced work, and there are question marks over whether Indian animated films will attract a big enough audience to sustain the sector.
“Seventy-five Indian films have been announced, that’s all,” said Pixion CEO Naresh Malik, sounding a note of caution. “We are yet to see whether they are all released, let alone make a profit. We don’t know whether the Indian audiences will watch them. We don’t know what sorts of budgets they have been allocated. I think we need to stop using Indian mythology and have more unique Indian animated characters. We are not experimental enough.”
But Virendra Chauhan, executive vice president creative, Maya Entertainment, is more optimistic. “Domestic demand for Indian films will grow just by the sheer vastness of our population,” he said. “There are a lot of stories and folk culture that Indians want to see made into animated films.
Indian comics have already created famous characters that could be made into films. Indians are dying to see an Indian animated film. Outsourced work will continue to come too because India has the edge in that it has more experience of animation than other countries have.”