"India is ready to do a sequel to Finding Nemo"

Crest Communications, one of the leaders in 3D animation in India, has big plans up its sleeve. It is constantly looking to set benchmarks in this arena. One of the major projects it is making compares favourably with the Disney Pixar hit Finding Nemo. In addition, the company is currently negotiating with European and Canadian companies for contracts worth several millions of dollars.

Indiantelevision.com's correspondent Ashwin Pinto met Crest's international business head A K Madhavan who spoke about the company’s projects, why it is shifting out of the Indian market and why 2D animation is restricted in scope.


What major projects are you working on currently?

One of our major projects is called Jakers! The Adventures Of Piggley Winks. This series is on air on PBS - the largest terrestrial station in the US. It is a Sunday prime time show. All the work including the set design, the animation was done here at Crest. It comprises of 40 half-hour episodes. We delivered the work to a studio called Mike Young Productions. It took around 10 months to deliver it.

The story deals with Piggley Winks, a spunky eight-year-old pig and his friends Dannan the Duck and Ferny the Bull on Raloo Farm in Ireland. All the while, Wiley the Sheep offers wild and woolly advice to his all-too-sheepish flock. The opening and closing of each show features Piggley as a granddad, recounting tales of childhood shenanigans as entertaining life lessons to his three, city-dwelling young grandpigs.


Anything else?

Yes. We have also delivered five direct-to-home (DTH) videos which mix 2D with 3D animation calledKids' Ten Commandments. The content is targeted at a specific niche Christian market and sold through Bible distributor Tindale. Five DVDs have been delivered to them.

While staying true to the basic story of Moses and the Israelites wandering in the desert, this Exodus tale offers a kid's perspective on why God set out clear rules for us to live by. Each commandment is translated to a real-life situation.

Right now, production is on for five DTH videos for a series called New Testament. We are also doing multiple 3D television series and have installed 100 graphics machines for the same. By March, we would have added another 100. The purchase orders have been placed. Our aim is to deliver three television series every month by June.


Which international studios does Crest have agreements with for outsourcing of animation content and what are the contracts worth?

We have multiple contracts with the US. The delivery of Kids Ten Commandments was through studio TLC, an independent studio in Los Angeles. We are doing New Testament through our subsidiary in LA, Rich Crest Animation. We have already delivered two episodes and are in the process of delivering three more DVDs.

Crest has more than $ four million contracts right now and are negotiating for another $15-20 million worth of contracts.

So far Rich Crest has produced six full-length animated feature films and over 60 half-hour animation projects for various studios, including its own Animated Hero Classics series. This enjoyed a two-year run on HBO in the US. We are also working with the European and Canadian markets. Animation is primarily from these three spaces. I don’t think that any Indian company is delivering the kind of contracts we are doing.


"In 2006, all revenues will be coming in from overseas "


What is the revenue growth of Crest and to what percentage does the international business contribute to it?

Our focus is primarily on international markets. We are not looking at India at all. By the end of this year, our revenue from the overseas market is expected to hit 70 per cent. By 2004, 2005 the figure should go up to 90 per cent. In 2006, all revenues will be coming in from overseas.


How many of your shows are on Indian television at present?

None. We were doing serials for India earlier. Our focus has now shifted to the overseas animation television market and the animation film market. We are, however, delivering a series called Tenali Raman to a Singapore broadcaster by January.

This will air in Singapore first and come to India later. We are not doing any live action content for Indian television channels right now.

Crest started off as a production and post-production company concentrating on the Indian market. But later our focus started to shift more towards children’s programming. Currently, a revenue model for children’s content in India does not exist. Therefore, we are not talking to any of the Indian broadcasters.

"Crest has more than $4 million contracts right now. And we are negotiating for another $15-20 million worth of contracts"

What breakthroughs has Crest made in the area of 3D animation in the recent past?

A few of our software are ahead of even what some studios in the US use. Jakers! The Adventures Of Piggley Winks was developed using a software called XSI, which was made by Soft Image. It is the industry's first truly non-linear animation (NLA) system for the film, commercial/broadcast and games markets.

The XSI software’s integrated use of the mental ray-rendering engine allowed us to achieve rich and photo realistic images. The mental ray renderer is the most important feature in XSI. We took advantage of the intuitive and user-friendly interface. The XSI environment also provided major productivity benefits to the workflow, such as allowing for fewer keystrokes and more alternatives than any other software. Its highly sophisticated texturing and rendering capabilities allowed our team to create a lifelike and precise look of the characters.

Our shows are setting standards, benchmarks and raising the bar of 3D animation in the television space. Our client is very happy and the viewership of the Jakers! series is steadily growing. In my opinion it is one of the best 3D animated shows that Asia has delivered to the US market.

"Our shows are setting standards for 3D animation on TV. In my opinion 'Jakers!' is one of the best 3D shows that Asia has delivered to the US markets"

What are the main challenges facing the growth of 3D animation in India?

Primarily, in India, there is a shortage of skilled people. There are not enough skill sets available. I need 300 animators in the next year. The talent pool does not exist.

Another challenge will be train and motivate them by giving them exciting projects to work on. The technical side is there. In terms of the infrastructure like delivery platforms India, is ready.


What is the cost of making a half-hour film that fuses 2D with 3D animation?

If it is for television, it ranges from $300,000 to $ three million. The cost depends on the show's complexity. Whether it is 2D or 3D does not affect the cost much. Kids' Ten Commandments has a 3D background and 2D characters. These cost between $350,000-$500,000 per half hour.

The cost also depends on the quality of the graphics being used and the voice talent. For instance,Piggley Winks has an American sheep voiced by veteran comedian actor Mel Brooks. His is a branded voice. For Kids' Ten Commandments there is a rich pool of television stars lending their voices.


How far away are you from producing a film like 'Finding Nemo'?

We are already there. We have made a television series once again for the US market, which is entirely set underwater. This is the first time television has seen animation of this high calibre. It is certainly comparable to the marvellous work that Pixar did on Finding Nemo in terms of the quality of animation.

This series is going to outperform what we have already done. In fact, I can safely say, India is ready to do a sequel to Finding Nemo. The story is all about a few submarines. It is a preschool series.

Animation on water is very difficult to create and render. It calls in for a huge computing power. The lighting effect underwater is very complex to create on the computer. This is yet another example of us setting benchmarks for television. The cost of each half hour episode is in excess of $ two million and will start airing next year. The coral reefs, the fishes were all created right here in Mumbai.

Some insight on the latest state-of-the-art-equipment you use...

What we are using today in our studio is state-of-the-art whether it is networking solutions, storage, switches. We are using almost on the same day the technology that has been leased in the US. The transport of software is very easy.
"We were the first guys to bring morphing to India. That was an ad where a Cheetah turns into a Kawasaki Bajaj"

Is there still scope for innovation in the 2D animation segment for you and the industry as a whole?

Yes and no. Yes, from the point of view that animation as a business opportunity is relatively new to India. There is scope to develop quality deliverables.

However, there is no sense in going beyond a point because the other Asian markets have been delivering it for the past two decades. Beyond a point, you cannot increase the returns on investment.


In India, what is the scope for content that mixes live action with animation like what was seen in the movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

Market for such films is slow moving. But the amount of animation and special effects used in our feature films is increasing. We did Main Prem Ki Deewani Hoon. We created a parrot that talks to Hritik Roshan and Kareena Kapoor. The animal was a computer-generated image. I am sure that audiences have enjoyed Koi Mil Gaya where the extraterrestrial character in a spaceship is again computer generated. The Indian market is still not ready to completely accept an animated character that sings and dances.

However, this will eventually happen. A lot of television commercials feature animation. The markets are moving in that direction.

On television the mix of live action with animation is already happening. Star’s Khulja Sim Sim has an animated character talking to the host of the programme.


Are you planning to significantly increase your activity on special effects soon?

Absolutely. We are the ones that introduced and pioneered special effects in this country. We were the first guys to bring in the technique of morphing to India. That was an ad where a Cheetah turns into a Kawasaki Bajaj. Having done special effects for various movies, we know it is a growing market. It has till not matured. So there is a huge opportunity there.

Currently, we are talking to quite a few Indian film producers. I am referring to action films, which are shot on blue screens. Here the sets are entirely created using computer graphics. We are also talking to overseas independent producers.


How is India faring in outsourcing compared to Singapore, China, and Taiwan?

India is a newer market. We have been into outsourcing for only five years. The last few years, the outsourcing market has seen a growth rate in excess of 100 per cent. We do offer a cost advantage. For example, India can produce movies like Shrek, Monsters Inc at a third of the cost.

The skill sets that we have in computer graphics and imaging are comparable and cost effective.


You are planning to increase the number of computer graphic workstations from 120 to about 300 by the end of next year. How are you faring as far as funds are concerned?

We are going ahead with our GDR. We should close it by the end of this month. We have received approvals from our shareholders and so we are raising $ ten million. We are proceeding on schedule.


How many additions has Crest made to its workforce in the last few months? What purpose will they serve?

We have constantly been recruiting people. We just recruited 30 animators last week. We will need another 70 animators by the end of this month. I will need 300 by the end of next year. There is a huge demand.

We are looking for people with an art background who are creative. Then we will train them on computer graphics software. They will be working on 3D projects as animators, compositors, texturing artistes, lighting effects artistes, special effects artistes.

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