West Bengal to spruce up animation biz

MUMBAI: Seems like animation is the industry of future. Joining the animation bandwagon is West Bengal. The state that has been thus far striving to project itself as a preferred destination for IT firms is now eyeing animation.

The industry hopes to establish the animation business by capitalising on its pool of low-cost skilled professionals.

In a bid to turn itself into a hub for outsourcing animation projects by local as well as overseas companies, the state government will be setting up a state-of-the-art animation academy as the first of a series of measures.

"Animation is certainly going to be a focus area for us in the coming years. We believe we have all the requirements to emerge as the animation outsourcing hub," said West Bengal IT minister Manabendra Mukherjee.

"We already have a huge base of creative professionals and now many technology companies are setting up their centres in the state," Mukherjee, in the Indian capital to take part in an IT industry seminar, told IANS.

"I think we will be in an ideal position to offer animation services to companies all across the world if we merge the creativity aspect with the advancements in the field of IT. The animation academy is just a first step towards this."

The West Bengal Electronics Industry Development Corporation Ltd (WEBEL), the government-owned nodal IT and electronics industry body, has tied up with the Kerala-based production house Toonz Animation India to set up the academy.

Likely to be unveiled in May, the academy, the first of its kind in the state, is being set up with an investment of Rs 10 million, said Mukherjee, adding all financial requirements would be met by the state government.

"We have tied up with Toonz Animation for academic requirements. They will help in framing the course curriculum and recruiting international faculty members comprising veterans from the animation industry," he said.

Mukherjee said "Toonz will also use its industry linkages for placing students with animation studios in India and overseas. The academy will offer a one-year diploma and a six-month certificate course to around 100 students in the first year."

Set up with an investment of $7 million in 1999, Toonz Animation has emerged as one of the leading players in the nascent Indian animation market.

Besides focusing on developing its own cartoon animation, skits, serials and full-length feature films for the export market, Toonz also has a co-production deal with Britain-based Tree House Production for a fun animation series.

The proposed academy is coming up at a time when India is emerging as a potential player in animation software supply, with the convergence of talent and low production costs.

According to an animation industry study report, Indian animation production costs are the lowest, as compared to production rates in the US, Canada, South Korea and the Philippines - the major global centres for animation production.

While the rates for production of a half-hour television animation programme would be around $250,000-400,000 in the US and Canada, it is in the region of $60,000 in India, the report says.

The total animation production by Indian companies is expected to rise from $600 million in 2001 to $1.5 billion by 2005, while the total global animation production would touch $51.7 billion.

The animation market in India today is characterised by the presence of multiple players including Crest Communications, UTV Toons, Pentamedia Graphics, Padmalaya Telefilms, Moving Pictures and Toonz Animation.

The animation studios are catering to the requirements of segments such as feature films, television programmes, advertisements and computer games.

"We expect the success of the animation academy will on its own draw a large number of Indian and overseas animation production houses to West Bengal and enthuse them to step up their development centres in the state," said Mukherjee.

The communist-ruled state, long seen as an industrialist's bane with labour unrest and poor infrastructure, plans to go all out to roll out a red carpet to animation firms by harping on its competitive advantages.

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