Issue: Volume: 32 Issue: 5 (May 2009)

Bollywood


By: Laura Dohrmann

A World-Class Animation and VFX Community

A dusty car crawls through a flurry of barking dogs, women in swirling saris, and children scampering about in the traffic-choked streets. It could be a scene from Slumdog Millionaire, but it is a typical scene from my life in India. 

This cultural mosaic captivated me when I arrived three years ago to help drive Digital Bollywood, an initiative started by Nvidia in 2006 to support the fast-growing Indian animation and visual effects industries. We had an ambitious agenda that included bringing in Western experts, providing training and educational opportunities, building community support, and assisting with technological and workflow issues. 

A solid foundation for digital animation and visual effects already existed because of India’s strong filmmaking tradition, the so-called Bollywood industry. One of the world’s biggest film industries, it releases approximately 1000 titles a year. With a high percentage of musicals and melo­dramas, Bollywood did not delve into animation and visual effects very often. That has quickly changed, not only in Bollywood but worldwide, as the international filmmaking community has discovered India’s wealth of animation and visual effects talent.

India is a country of determined, passionate people. They are enlisting support for the animation and visual effects movement from multiple sources, including government officials and business leaders. The city of Pune, for example, was the hub of the IT industry in the ’80s and ’90s. Now, Pune is committed to becoming the animation and gaming hub of India. The entire community is behind this effort, including the MCCIA Chamber of Commerce and local studios, and construction is under way on a 25-acre animation complex that includes studios, artist spaces, schools, and a technological park.

India-based studios
India-based studios, including Anibrain in Pune, are showing their strength producing shots for film projects such as Redisent Evil: Extinction.

Recently, the first students began classes at Pune’s DSK School of Gaming and Animation, an offshoot of the internationally renowned Supinfocom School in France.

Similar to the way in which digital content creation developed elsewhere, the initial focus in India was on animation. Since the Digital Bollywood initiative began, hundreds of animation studios have sprung up across the country, in small towns and major cities alike. Large animation operations are being launched now in Pune, Hyderabad, Chennai, Bangalore, and Mumbai. They join a network of existing facilities that are already producing outstanding work on the world stage.

For instance, the animation by Bangalore-based facility Tata Elxsi, Ltd. for Roadside Romeo was nominated by the Visual Effects Society in the Outstanding Animation in an Animated Motion Picture category, alongside big Hollywood-animated films such as DreamWorks’ Kung Fu Panda and Disney’s Wall-e.  Released in 3D, it is widely regarded as India’s first “super animation” feature.

Other established Indian animation players include Paprikaas in Bangalore, which has a collaborative operation working with both DreamWorks Animation and Thomson Technicolor. Big Animation in Pune, with impressive credits such as Little Krishna, has a top R&D team. Other noteworthy facilities already established are Krayonz, Crest Animation, Prana Studios, and EttaminA studios.

Visual Effects on the Rise

After the initial focus on animation, the visual effects industry is now developing rapidly. Its output could one day eclipse animated production because of the pervasiveness of visual effects in films of all types, which increasingly includes Bollywood releases. A sign of the times is the first educational facility in India focusing only on visual effects, aptly named “fx school,” which is opening in Mumbai later this year. 

One of the early VFX leaders is the small Pune studio, Anibrain, whose work on Ang Lee’s film Lust Caution won awards and acclaim at the Venice Film Festival. Anibrain founder Jesh Krishna Murthy spent many years working abroad in the US, Canada, and the UK before opening his Pune facility. Another prominent visual effects house is Red Chillies, founded by superstar Shah Rukh Khan, which most recently swept India film awards programs for Best Visual Effects with the movie Om Shanti Om. As in Hollywood and elsewhere, the movement includes world-class boutique facilities as well as ones with large international operations. Primefocus, based in Mumbai, has studios worldwide, including the operations of Frantic Films in its quiver. 

A solid infrastructure is rising up to support the Indian animation and VFX industries, including trade shows and outreach efforts aimed at young artists. CGTantra, an industry association led by RK Chand, provides a voice and venue for all artists and technologists. The CGExpo event, held each May, which Chand likens to India’s version of SIGGRAPH, attracted more than 10,000 attendees to its inaugural event last year.

Rhythm & Hues Studios, celebrating its seventh year in India, regularly hosts CG Meet-Ups in Mumbai and Hyderabad to discuss topics such as modeling, sculpting, rendering, art history, animation, and skills needed to advance in the industry. Other active community groups include Asifa, Tasi, Abai, Women in Animation, and Toon Club, and there are ongoing efforts to globalize and work with ACM SIGGRAPH. 

Looking ahead, the ecosystem that has been built for India’s film industry supports professional filmmakers and artists as well as students. Despite setbacks, such as the current economic downturn and the tragic terrorist attack in Mumbai, the industry continues to expand. Studios are not only working on feature films, they are also producing domestic Indian-themed content, winning rave reviews. A skilled local labor force is emerging, and this will grow steadily as new schools and training centers open around the country this year.

Digital Bollywood is becoming a reality. I’m grateful to have had a front-row seat to witness the unleashing of a major new creative force benefitting the animation and VFX communities worldwide with fresh energy, skills, and ideas. 

Laura Dohrmann is the business development and marketing manager for Nvidia’s Digital Film Group.

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