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!

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