Movies

Special effects outsourcing grows in India

MUMBAI: Outsourcing to India, long dominated by software engineering and back-office work, is expanding in new terrain: special effects for movies.

India‘s rise comes at a difficult time for U.S. special effects outfits, some of which have buckled as the 2008 L.A. writers strike cut productions and the financial crisis curtailed financing. Executives in India say cost pressures are pushing studios to send more work to India, where special effects projects are up to 40 percent cheaper than in the U.S.
To be sure, Indian shops are, for now, minor players.


Hollywood‘s special effects industry is still dominated by U.S. companies like Industrial Light & Magic. Production standards are generally lower in India, and many moviemakers still won‘t send creative work thousands of miles (kilometers) away.


But the distance between Hollywood and Bollywood is narrowing, and many say it‘s only a matter of time before the gap in skills, trust, and quality is closed. The domestic market is also maturing as Indian audiences develop a taste for high-tech Hindi flicks.


"Economic conditions are playing out favorably for us," said S. Nagarajan, the chief operating officer of Visual Computing Labs, based in Mumbai, the visual effects and animation unit of Tata Elxsi, one of India‘s most prominent studios. "People are more willing to experiment."


His company, one of 18 special effects studios that worked on "Spider-Man 3," has billed as much in the first three months of this year as it did in nine months last year, he said.


For Spiderman 3, Tata Elxsi VCL cut out studio stunt shots of Spiderman and sent them back to California, where they were fit into urban landscapes so the hero appeared to be swooping in death-defying arcs from one tall building to another.


Khandpur said smaller production companies have been more willing to send over complex shots. For One Night with the King, a 2006 movie about the biblical figure of Esther, the young Jewish woman who became the queen of Persia, VCL used computer software to create and people entire landscapes, filling the land with castles, waterfalls, and hundreds of horsemen, elephants and villagers.


In the last few years a string of acquisitions and new ventures have started to build the relationships and expertise India needs to become a more of a destination for such higher-end work.


Two old Hollywood hands recently opened visual effects companies in Mumbai: Geon, founded by The Lord of the Rings producer Barrie Osborne, and EyeQube Studios, headed by Charles Darby whose credits include Titanic and the HBO series Rome.


Darby set up EyeQube with backing from the U.K.‘s Eros International and plans to release his first film Aladin - an effects-driven live action film featuring top Bollywood talent - in July.

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