Thursday, 24 August 2017

Game for animation?

The city's animation, visual effects, gaming and comics (AVGC) sector is starved — of the sufficient number of quality professionals that will enable it to leapfrog to the next stage of growth, says Subir Ghosh.

Every industry has its own singular set of problems. So has the animation industry, fledgling as it is in as yet in Bangalore.

The animation, visual effects, gaming and comics (or, AVGC for short as it is popularly known in the industry) sector in the city is roughly 10 years old, though the first players had probably started tricking in some 18-20 years back. It took a while for the early explorers to grope around and get a feel of things. It was only around six years ago that industry leaders came together and formed the Association of Bangalore Animation Industry (ABAI). It provides thought leadership to members, among other things.

Once the association members put their heads together and took stock of the fluid situation that they found themselves in, they knew what was required. These requirements subsequently became the inputs that went into the collation of the Karnataka AVGC Policy, arguably the only one of its kind in the country. The policy, that was released in February 2012, lays down the roadmap for the industry in the state.

A close look at this document tells one precisely what’s wrong with the industry, and what is needed for the city to become a global animation industry leader. The point is about quality professionals. In fact, most sections in the document are geared up towards developing an ecosystem of quality professionals.

If the animation industry is not able to scale up operations, it’s because companies are starved of quality professionals, contends, Hanif Mohammad of the Asian Institute of Gaming and Animation (AIGA). The industry, Hanif explains, is capital-intensive as well as human resources-intensive. It’s as much people-driven as it is powered by technology. It is nothing like the IT industry at all.

This was something AIGA realised when it was launched, a factor that had already been hardcoded into the AVGC policy. Both the state and industry have already started on the path that was charted out in the document. Two initiatives, that were envisioned and planned in the policy, would soon see the light of day — both aiming to develop quality professionals to feed the industry.

The backdrop to the initiatives is explained by Biren Ghose, ABAI president and country head of Technicolor, “One of the problems we are facing is that of quality professionals, primarily at the entry level. The objective is to create an ecosystem of people with quality skillsets.” The association identified the core issues with the intention of making Bangalore the number one animation hub in the country. At present, it is way behind Mumbai-Pune, Chennai and Hyderabad.

“We (Bangalore) are a fledgling industry compared to the others. We (the association) are barely five years old. It will take at least 3-4 years for us to go to the top,” asserts Ghose.

Here, the Technicolor country head talks of the digital arts centres that ABAI is helping set up in fine arts colleges across the state. The association will seed digital labs in these colleges and provide long distance support to them. It will provide both infrastructure and knowhow to the faculty. These digital art centres will be streamlined with their (that of the colleges) own BFA programmes. Their own faculty will be trained up too.

“Let us give some resource to the fine arts colleges of Karnataka. Let us give, for four years, the same digital tools to these students that they need if they are looking forward to joining animation companies as a professional option. If a student is learning painting, he should learn Photoshop. If she is learning sculpting, she should learn Maya modelling too. They can apply the same things to the digital world that they are learning in the traditional world concurrently.

They will, therefore, now be more ready for us to absorb into production facilities,” says Ghose. Seven such centres have already been identified, one of them in Bangalore and the rest elsewhere in the state.

The other enterprise is a Train-The-Trainer Institute that is expected to be launched in the city next month. The objective is simple: to train up faculty members from across the state who teach animation techniques to young professionals. The institute is being funded by the government, and will be run by the association.

Jai Natarajan, ABAI executive member and CEO of Xentrix, says the objective is two-fold. “The first is to create the next generation of faculties which will enable the standard of education to go up. The second is to provide support for the development of faculties all over Karnataka. Fine arts colleges outside have little access to cutting edge teaching mechanisms as well as industry knowledge.

Moreover, it is very difficult for industry leaders to leave aside their work and travel to far-flung places to teach. Therefore instead, the TTT institute will act as a hub,” says Natarajan.

The other problem that the Bangalore fragment of the Indian animation industry is faced with is that the demand is not fuelled by the film industry as is with Mumbai, Chennai and Hyderabad. Companies here primarily work for those in the West. Ghose contextualises, “The animation budget of a $125 million Hollywood film could well be $60 million. On the other hand, a Bollywood blockbuster might have a total budget of $20 million.

There obviously is a yawning gap.” The Indian film industry’s requirement for animal and special effects has grown phenomenally in the last 10 years. As Natarajan points out, “The kind of visual effects in films that you would have seen 10 years ago are simply not acceptable by the industry itself any more.

There is, for instance, a qualitative difference in the special effects that were seen in Koi Mil Gaya and Krrish 3.”

The film industry may eventually fuel the growth of its AVGC cousin. And this sector could well cater more to the local audience and requirements.

But for that to happen, it will take time. Till the industry has no dearth of quality professionals.