Bangalore: When Antonio Banderas drawls, “Is it hot in here or is it just me?” in Puss in Boots, DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc.’s spin-off from its Shrek movies, 200 animators in a Bangalore studio will probably concur that it is indeed hot, with the here being the business of animation.
For Indian animation, Puss in Boots, which has topped charts for the second straight week in the US and Canadian theatres, is indeed a milestone of sorts.
As much as a fifth of the animated sequences in the movie was done at Technicolor India Pvt. Ltd, which put a 200-strong Dreamworks dedicated unit on the job. This was the first time a part of a Dreamworks full-length feature film was made in India.
“What we did here is integrated with the work done back in the West. Nobody can tell which sequences came from here,” says Biren Ghose, country head of Technicolor India. “Today we do what they do.”
Puss in Boots, a story of the cheeky cat bandit before he meets Shrek and Donkey in Shrek 2, has taken in $34 million in its opening Halloween weekend. It is expected to be released in Indian cinema halls on 4 December.
To be sure, full-length animated movies targeted at the US and global markets, the world’s largest, have earlier been made with Indian involvement.
Mumbai-based Crest Animation Studios Ltd co-produced Alpha & Omega, a story of two wolves, which opened in the US theatres last September and grossed $25 million as on 28 November 2010, according to the Internet Movie Database, a unit of Amazon.com Inc.
India’s fledgling animation industry, which has been the next big thing for several years now, is likely to see more work coming its way.
Dreamworks’ studio in Bangalore has earlier worked on television episodes and supplementary content for DVDs and the successful Shrek spin-off was a significant evolution.
“Puss in Boots is a beachhead for Indian animation,” Ghose says.
“It really is a landmark. The Indian animation industry has grown up both in terms of skills and investment. Many top studios come here,” says Timmy Kandhari, entertainment and media leader with audit and consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers India. The country doesn’t yet have all the “skill sets” admits Kandhari, but those that are available “are available at reasonable cost in comparison to the West.”
PwC India puts the size of the local animation and visual effects industry at Rs 2,300 crore last year, a growth of 24% over 2009. It sees the industry growing at an average annual rate of 20% over the next few years to reach $1 billion by 2014-15.
After investing more than $10 million over the past three years, DreamWorks has turned the Bangalore studio into an increasingly important piece of its production pipeline, the Los Angeles Times newspaper reported on 29 October.
The work from India was “terrific, and stands up to anything that was done here,” Puss in Boots director Chris Miller was quoted as saying in the report.
Technicolor India, a unit of Technicolor SA, the 95-year-old motion picture technology company that is in businesses such as creating content, 3-D conversion, and delivery on a range of platforms from DVDs to set-top boxes, employs 1,200 people in the country.
Besides Dreamworks, Technicolor India has teams working for other studios and television production houses in the US and elsewhere, doing not just animation but visual effects work.
For example, its teams are working on visual effects for a prequel to Ridley Scott’s cult film Alien, as also other projects for Dreamworks, including television episodes for Kung Fu Panda. Another unit has animated many episodes of Nickelodeon’s Penguins of Madagascar television series.
“It is no longer about simple and cheap,” says Ghose, “Higher-value work is happening.”
Still, making full-length animation films out of India is a different ball game.
“A world-class film can cost in the region of $100 million. You can make live action films here for (a fraction) of that budget,” says PwC’s Khandari. “We still have some distance to go in terms of distribution, especially worldwide, marketing, merchandising and so on.”