Thursday, November 23, 2006

The new box office Heroes

Brad Pitt? No chance! George Clooney? Naah! Ashton Kutcher? Impossible! The way cartoons and animation movies are churning money, it won’t be long before top actors smashingly go...out of business!

Superman, Batman, Spiderman and now Hanuman. Yes, it seems to be a man’s world out there. A mention of the word ‘cartoon’ and probably these are the names that would spring up in everybody’s mind. As little children, we all used to wait for Sunday to watch ‘Spiderman, Spiderman… friendly neighbourhood Spiderman’ to do out of this world antics and mesmerise us. As young teenagers, we all read Archies and fancied going to the same Riverdale school where Archie and his cool gang used to study. Yash Chopra may rule Bollywood with his enthralling triangle love stories, but it’s Archie, Betty and Veronica, whose love triangle entertained us in our teenage years the most.

That’s the impact of animation in our lives. Probably some of our best, sweetest and most innocent memories are around animation. The world of animation is just unique. Just as love breaks all the barriers of language, religion, cast, creed and colour, similarly, animation is a universal language. It appeals to all people of almost all age groups all over the world. After all, from Timbuktoo to Tamil Nadu, every one laughs at the antics of Tom & Jerry. That’s the biggest advantage of making animated films. The world is your market, for cartoon characters face no language or culture barriers. They are watched with the same enthusiasm world over.

The Digital Miracle

The Walt Disney Company was fighting desperately to avoid a corporate takeover attempt in the 1980s. In fact, back then it was finding it so difficult to keep out of the red that it was considering abandoning the production of feature length animated films. Then they decided to give it one last shot and collaborated with Steven Spielberg to produce the animated feature film, “Who Framed Roger rabbit.” The film was a smash hit and suddenly, animation became the buzz word for success. What followed was a line of successful films from the Disney stable, like Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Little Mermaid and, of course, the biggest hit of all, The Lion king. It surpassed the wildest dreams of the studio. Soon, everyone wanted to do an animated movie. All the big movie studios tried their hands with computer animated feature films. From Dreamworks to Century Fox to Paramount Pictures, everyone started making animated feature films. All did reasonably well, but none could match the charm of a Disney film.

However, Disney was so successful because of Steve Jobs and his Pixar Animation. He was the one who had mastered the art of 3-D animation, also known as CGI. In the past, films had been made using the 2-D animation technique, which relies on hand-drawn animation. Today, computer generated or CG animated feature films rule the roost, and Pixar was the first to produce the first completely computer-generated feature film, Toy Story. The movie was a phenomenal success so probably is ‘Pixar’, which is the true star responsible for making animation such a big draw both for children and adults.

With animation, a new life has been infused in films targeted at adults. It has made it possible to let you run your imagination in the wildest of directions. You dream of any situation and think of any idea, animation will help you to achieve it. It’s a digital miracle that made Tom Hanks shake hands with President John F. Kennedy in the film Forrest Gump (shot decades after Kennedy was assassinated). It was the computer imagery apart from Kate Winslet’s beauty, which made Titanic such a realistic and awesome film. It was also the computer, which helped in sending shivers down your spine as you watched hungry man-eating lions in The Ghost and the Darkness.

When Finding Nemo was released, Disney and Pixar kept their fingers crossed. They didn’t expect it to do well. The film went on to become the highest grosser in 2003, earning $340 million in the US alone and an excess of $800 million worldwide. All thanks to the magic of 3D animation. Those are the absolutely stunning visual effects that are fuelling the industry and helping it churn out one block-buster after another. Technology has developed a lot, and animation studios are using novel software tools to develop mind blowing effects.

India, the new hub

The Lion King, Finding Nemo, Lord of the Rings, all have got one thing in common – they all were made with Indian expertise. Ralph Bakshi helped in the making of Lord of the Rings. He also created a well labelled TV series named Mighty Mouse. Ergo, Indians have oodles of talent and apart from that, this talent is available at a very cheap price. The cost of making a movie like Spiderman is $100 million in US. If you make a full length animated movie in India, it costs $15-25 million. No wonder, all eyes in Hollywood are directed towards India. Hollywood companies are increasingly outsourcing cartoon characters and special effects in India. So, a part of the success of Stuart Little and the terror of The Mummy was created right here in India. Indian animation companies are charging very low, and are thus able to divert a lot of work from China, Korea, Taiwan & Philippines. In the past, we have been exporting Tea and making a name for ourselves in the world market. With the amount of work we’re doing in the animated films, this could perhaps be our next big export globally.

After all, we have everything that takes to make us the animation hub of the world. India has the world’s largest entertainment industry in terms of the number of films produced. The Indian Entertainment Industry is expected to grow at 18% per annum and reach over $10 billion by 2009. Animation and special effects are making their presence felt here, too. After all, Hum Tum and Krrish would not be the same without the touch of animation and visual effects. A whole lot of animation studios have mushroomed all over. The prominent ones being Toonz Animation (biggest in India), UTV Toons, Padmalays Telefilms (Zee’s animation arm), Mays Entertainment, Crest Communication, to name a few.

They all have very talented manpower and are considered some of the best animation houses in the world. It’s enough reason for the biggies like Sony, Walt Disney, Imax and Warner Brothers to sign up huge contracts with these Indian animation companies. More so because apart from the fact that our manpower is talented and low cost, another big advantage is the knowledge of English.

At the same time, Indian mythologies are a treasure house of stories, which appeal to all. In fact, those were the Japanese who were the first to realise the potential of Indian myths and made the Ramayan in the 1990s. It was Disney, which made the little Indian jungle boy ‘Mowgli’ popular the world over with the movie Jungle Book.

Indians are waking up to the fact that we have characters like the ten-headed Ravan, which have the potential to mesmerise not just Indians, but audiences the world over. So Toonz Animation has created Adventures of Hanuman and also Adventures of Tenali Raman, India’s first animated television series. We are no longer just servicing western movie studios, but are signing co-production deals too. We are not just low cost content providers to Hollywood. We have moved up the value chain by not just keeping our costs down, but our quality consistent and of very high standards.

We have talent and content, and Richard Branson has decided to make full use of it. He has teamed up with Deepak Chopra and Shekhar Kapoor to come out with Virgin Comics. The three titles – Devi, Snakewoman and The Sadhu are all inspired by Indian gods and goddesses. The world seems to be in love with Indian animation. From Ramayan, to Mahabharat, to Devi – we seem to have it all. The market seems ripe for the animation industry. Is it a surprise then that the market for comics and graphic novels worldwide is exploding? It grew by 44.7% in US and 50% in UK (Virgin statistics). Even the number of cartoon channels are increasing rapidly on TV. What’s most interesting is that the growth in both countries has come due to Asian comics.

Definitively, animation has become widely accepted and is the new innovation of the 21st century. Movie-goers have accepted computer generated characters in films. It would not be long before there would be fully animated films featuring virtual human actors! Not just viewers, even the Oscars have accepted it; and in 2001, they introduced a new category “Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.” That year, Shrek won the award. Animation has made a place for itself in our lives and is here to stay for a long long time.

So what’s common between Titanic, The Lord of the Rings, Pirates of the Caribbean, Harry Potter, Star Wars and Jurassic Park? They all grossed between $900 million to $1800 million in the box-office. They all have the computer to thank, which gave their movie such tremendous aura and awe inspiring look.

According to a survey, Mickey Mouse made $5.8 billion in 2003, while Harry Potter earned $2.8 billion, Nemo $2 billion and Spiderman $1.3 billion. That’s a cool sum for someone who has created with a ‘click-and-enter’ on the computer. These are the new favourites of the world. They are the new celebrities. What’s most interesting is that they come with no star-tantrums, no date problems and no scandle-problems! They work the way you want them to work. They are loved by the whole world and they always keep the cash registers jingling.

So move away Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt and make way for the new box-office heroes!

Thursday, November 9, 2006

The Power of One

One viewpoint, one vision, one concept, one experience, one belief, one opinion, one deduction, one intuition, one surmise, one inference, one conjecture, one premise... for a passionate man, all it takes to change the world is that one big Idea!

A chance meeting of this man, while taking a walk in a village, with a woman who used to weave bamboo stools, changed the life of many poor Bangladeshis. Muhammad Yunus met Sufiya Khatun, a widow, in 1976. She used to make bamboo stools and earned two cents a day. The reason for such low profits was that the person who would lend her the money to buy the bamboo, also bought her final product. No surprise then that he gave her minimum possible. Yunus looked around and found 42 people who required a total of $26, which could change their lives forever. Within two years, he established his first “Grameen Bank” that would give credit to the poor – whom the other banks found worthless. Today Yunus’s Grameen Bank has more than 1,000 branches. He gives $40 million a month as loans. It has over two million customers; 94% of them women. What’s most commendable is the fact that 97% of its loans are repaid – a record comparable to the repayment rate at Chase Manhattan Bank!

It was the vision of one man and his commitment to the poorest of poor that he discovered a clientele, which would probably never have been discovered by the free market. His bank charges four point above the commercial rate, never forgives loans and provides no free services. Yet, it remains profitable and its efficiency is comparable to, and sometimes even better than, many high profile multi-national banks. One man, one vision and he changed the face of poverty.

Henry Ford changed the American way of life when he reduced the price of his best selling car “Model T” by 58%. While the demand for his car was rising, any normal businessman would have increased the prices, but Ford decreased the prices. Not just this, he even doubled the average wage for workers and introduced the $5 per day wage standard. While the industrial world criticized Ford heavily, he firmly believed that low prices and higher wages would eventually lead to greater sales. And his vision proved to be right.

An old story goes like this. A little boy was assigned to draw flowers in his art class. The little one sketched a face in the centre of each flower. His teacher was not impressed and found it weird that a boy could give eyes and lips to a flower. The teacher failed to see the spark which would start a fire in the years to come. The boy was Walt Disney.

With nothing but a suitcase full of dreams and an unfinished print of an animated movie The Alice Comedies, Walt Disney reached Hollywood to start a new business. He was 21. He had nothing but ideas; and many a time, people found them ridiculous. When no one believed that there’s a market for full-length animated films, that’s when Walt Disney launched Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs. The film was a roaring success and even today is regarded as one of the greatest monuments of the motion picture industry.

In 1930s, Walt created a character which changed the future of his company and became synonymous with him. It was Mickey Mouse, which helped Walt reap millions for himself.

One man, one idea and he changed the way children, world over, would dream and play. We owe him a lot!

One idea

When you don’t accept the norm and move away from the tradition, that’s when you create miracles. It is this process of thinking differently that has given birth to new ideas and new millions to the thinkers.

It’s a sport whose origin can be traced back to the 13th century. The first big match was fought in Sussex in 1697. The sport is cricket, which is almost our national obsession. However, it was the rebel streak of an Australian business tycoon, which changed the game forever. Kerry Packer saw how a long-drawn five day match seemed boring to many. It was the era of fast-food, fast-life, fast-cars and if cricket could be made fast too, he could find many more spectators and sponsors. So in 1971, in Melbourne, cricket – which was traditionally played in white clothes – saw a make over. The first one-day international was played and cricketers wore coloured clothing. Since then, cricket has never been the same again. Kerry Packer, whose father once described him as “the family idiot,” died a very rich man. A lot of his millions came from Cricket ODIs!

Low-cost airlines had been there for a long time. It was not a new concept. However, Southwest Airlines showed how to make it a successful business venture. Pacific SouthWest Airlines had been there in the United States since 1949, but it was SouthWest that proved to the world how to make an icon out of something so cheap! When Herb Kelleher started SouthWest, his vision was clear, people wanted to get to their destinations on time and at the lowest possible fares. He did just that. No wonder SouthWest is one of the few airlines that have not made any loss since 1973! Today it’s America’s largest and best-loved airlines. It’s been a major inspiration to other low-cost airlines who have tried to copy its business strategy. It’s called the SouthWest effect!

Steve Jobs changed the world with one innovative idea. While the world believed that a computer had to be a gigantic and an inscrutable mass of vacuum tubes only to be used by big business and government, along came this twenty one year old who changed it all. With just a vision, he and his friend designed the Apple computer in Job’s bedroom. The Apple, whose prototype was built in a garage, started a revolution and changed our lives forever.

Not many know that McDonald’s was not started by Ray Kroc, but by the McDonald brothers: Dick and Mac. They were the ones who invented the “Speedee Service System” in 1948. They were the ones who discovered this whole concept of a “fast-food restaurant”. Not just this, they had also started franchising their restaurant. Ray Kroc’s genius lay in the fact that he realised the tremendous potential of this business model and in due time, spread it at a break neck speed all over America.

There were 1.7 million retail establishments in the United States in 1945. However, one of them grew to become the largest discount chain of the world. The store was Wal-Mart, started by Sam Walton and his brother in 1962. By 2001, there were more than 4,500 Wal-Mart stores worldwide. He knew everybody loves low prices and that’s just what he offered them. The slogan “Everyday Low Prices” turned this small retail shop into a global giant!

There is no dearth of cosmetic companies, but this one, which was started in a kitchen, gave a tough competition to many big established names. Estée Lauder began selling creams made by her uncle who was a chemist. She did just one thing different from other makers of cosmetics. She started giving free samples and free demos of her products to people, and most of them became her customers. Very soon, her company grew into a giant organisation owning many big brands like Clinic, M.A.C., Aramis etc.

River blindness is a disease that had infected over a million people. Now, that’s a large market for any pharmaceutical company. Merck thought too, and the company soon developed a drug called Mectizan. However, when there were no buyers for its product, the company gave it for free to all who needed it. Merck had done the same thing in Japan when it brought streptomycin to help eliminate tuberculosis. It was the long term vision of this company which helped it grow. No points for guessing then, which is the largest American pharmaceutical company in Japan. Yes, it is Merck!

One man or one company’s vision and commitment can change a lot.

Each of us has a tremendous potential within us. We have to sit up and do something. We may, as individuals, appear small in front of large organisations, countries or communities. But one idea can snowball into a large movement.

So look around and take charge. After all, the only thing that ever sat its way to success was a hen! You can change lives. You can build an empire. Don’t underestimate the power of one.

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