Haven’t you been captivated, sitting in a darkened theatre in the good old days, munching popcorn and watching sparkling animated movies that Hollywood kept churning out? Whether it was the adventures of the mouse who fancied himself as a chef in Ratatouille or the escapades of a bunny and a fox in Zootopia , or Tintin’s derring-do in The Adventures of Tintin , high quality animation has held audiences spellbound worldwide.

Now, Indian animators have a shot at the burgeoning market for animated movies. While movie-making was hit during the pandemic, animated media grabbed interest on various OTT platforms. For instance, a major animated Indian series that caught eyeballs was The Legend of Hanuman , streaming on Disney+Hotstar.

In the first week (of February 2021), Hanuman garnered 6.6 million views, according to Animationxpress, a web portal focussing on Indian animation, VFX, gaming and comics industry. In the second and third week, the series streaming in seven languages, earned 4 million and 2.9 million views respectively.

Sharad Devarajan, Co-Founder, Graphic India and Co-Creator of The Legend of Hanuman , says, “During the pandemic, there’s been a huge demand for new content of every type, be it live-action, documentary or animated. Fortunately, animation can be produced through remote systems even during lockdowns, which makes it a compelling option for platforms, as part of their content strategy.”

The sector even got the government’s attention. Speaking during the second edition of CII SummitFX 2021 held in August, Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal said that the “AVGC (animation, visual effects, gaming and comics) sector, growing at 9 per cent, has huge potential and is expected to reach $43.93 billion by 2024”.

“Movies such as Star Wars, Matrix and Avatar must serve as inspiration for the next generation,” he said, adding that pre-production to post-production in the AVGC sector can bring cost competitiveness and efficiency. “Production cost in India is one-third to one-fourth of Western countries and 25 per cent of the country’s South East Asian counterparts,” the Minister noted.

Indeed, the cost arbitrage is what draws many foreign studios to work with Indian firms.

However, there is still a long way to go for the Indian animation industry to meet global standards.

Reaching for the skies

Charuvi Agrawal, Co-Creator of The Legend of Hanuman , who runs Charuvi Design Labs, says, “Animation production globally, is going through a renaissance. Increased demand for quicker turnarounds and quality content has spurred evolution. This has created more jobs for animation-centric musicians, 3D artists, sound directors, voice artists, comic book artists.” Milind D Shinde, Founder of 88 Pictures, whose firm has worked on many critically acclaimed animation series, including Netflix’s TrollHunters , points out that since animation has an unlimited shelf life and is for any age, viewers are tuning in, on varied content thanks to the internet and smartphones.

88 Pictures recently did the “theatrical and digital marketing work” for the live-action and animated movie Tom & Jerry released this year.

Pandemic challenges

When the first lockdown began, production houses were forced to work from home. Shinde explains that the “biggest challenge was availability of high-speed internet as animation work requires immense data”.

“Since all are at home, a bandwidth problem arose. Productivity also dropped. It’s hard for work-life balance. Animation business also needs teamwork and creative collaboration,” he said.

To emphasise the point, Agrawal explains how her team worked during the period.

“All the artists were boarded on Slack, with regular team meetings hosted on Zoom or Google Meets. The artist accessed their machines at the studio from home. The flow of visual design and asset production was least impacted during this period. The animation supervisor would record the actions according to requirements (for the montage sequence) and share it with the team online as a reference point.”

Agrawal adds, “The working hours became longer as feedback loops were constant and monitoring at every stage was tedious. Nevertheless, the team was quite determined to deliver.”

Content trends

Content preferences among audiences have changed post-pandemic, forcing production houses to rejig offerings.

Graphic India’s Devarajan notes that “everyone from gaming studios, toy companies and leading tech companies” wanted to make movies while “traditional TV and movie studios wanted to make digital games”.

“There is an increased convergence of media as various film studios, game companies, social media and tech companies, and television networks all begin to compete and consolidate in creating multi-platform, IP franchises, designed to engage worldwide consumers across numerous devices simultaneously,” he says. “This increased multi-platform approach allows media companies to mitigate risk through multiple revenue streams, while providing better engagement with their favourite stories.”

Charuvi Design’s Agrawal says that there’s also a demand for infotainment content. Her team has bagged a handful interesting projects recently.

“Besides TV series, we are commissioned to create two animated films for museums based out of Shrawasti and Kapilavastu. They attempt to summarise Buddha’s life spent in both the places,” Agrawal elaborates. “The Tourism Ministry of Punjab commissioned us to visualise the grand heroic story of 10th Sikh Guru Gobind Singh for the museum at Chamkaur. We are also creating a narrative for the Prime Minister’s museum of India at Teen Murti Bhavan in New Delhi.”

Being a global leader

With theatres slowly opening and vaccination drives rising , entertainment industry players are aiming to make up for lost time.

Agrawal explains that storytelling and character development needs to get better. “We need better sound artists who push barriers, especially for animation and the quality of content needs upscaling, including adopting better platforms of production,” she said. “All of this needs to be complemented with training the resource pool and investment in better technology.”

88 Pictures’ Shinde also thinks so. “I certainly feel that the animation sector is a technology business. If we bring out high-quality production tech, then we can reach global standards, Everyone has to find a way to reach that,” he says. “Also, the world sees India as a huge market, as we are entertainment hungry.” As Shinde adds, if animation becomes part of mainstream education in schools, the sector’s time would have come.