"We have to create awareness of the quality work being done in India": Alice Manuel Escotoonz head


She has been in India for only five years, but is already a key person in the Indian animation industry. Alice Manuel, who joined UTV Toons in 1998, is currently head of production in the fast emerging Faridabad-based Escotoonz.

The studio, which has 195 artists working on various projects today, recently finished its first international project King. Co-produced along with Ottawa-based Funbag Animation Studio and Toronto's Decode Entertainment, the 13-episode, 22-minute series was premiered on the Family Channel in Canada recently.

Now Escotoonz is working on two more international projects including assignments from the US and European studios.

Indiantelevision.com's Ritesh Gupta got in touch with Manuel on Escotoonz's operations. Excerpts:

When did Escotoonz commence its operations and how many artists are working with you now?

Escotoonz formally commenced its operations in July 2001. Initially, we had a team of only 30 artists. The first year of operations was basically about training our own team and setting up our processes. We also worked with advertising agencies and television channels for local content.

In December 2001, we bagged our first contract - the animation series King, co-produced by Escotoonz, Funbag and Decode. We worked on this project from July 2002 to April this year. In the past two years, we have also strengthened our operations by expanding our team strength to 195 members.

What is the core competency of Escotoonz?

At Escotoonz animation studio, a majority of business comes from 2D animation. But we have done some pilot project for a UK company in 3D and flash, as well. The client is happy with our effort and if we get to work on the contract, then we will strengthen our operations in this arena too.

What kind of organisational structure does Escotoonz follow?

It's a mix of fixed and variable or contractual model. For instance, if we have an employee on a 12-month contract, we let him work on a new project after the previous one is finished. In that case, we just extend his contract for another period.

Most of our 195-odd team is either in the animation department or in cleanup, creative supervision or managerial department. But it is tough to break them into fixed or variable model.

Which international projects are Escotoonz working on right now?

At present, we are into some 2D animation production for the international market. We are doing some service-oriented work as well as co-production, so we have a share of the property rights.

We are working on two projects; both are co-productions. We will be retaining rights for certain territories but I can't reveal them right now.

The first one is a TV Christmas Special called Christmas Dinosaur for PorchLight Entertainment, U S.Christmas Dinosaur is an one-off episode or 48-minutes film.

Primarily, we are doing animation production from layout through digital ink-and-paint in Christmas Dinosaur. A team of 160 members is working on the project and it is expected to get over by October end. As for the pre-production and post-production work, it will be taken care of by Porch Light.

Our second project - which we have just started to work on - is a 36-episode series called Cyber Dodo. This project is being done in partnership with U K's Sparkus Animations. The end client is Cyber Dodo Productions, promoted by UNICEF and WWF. Escotoonz, Sparkus and Cyber Dodo will be co-producers of this series. Each episode will be of five minutes and primarily talk about children's rights. Each episode will have a different script.

We are handling Cyber Dodo's pre-production work - such as character design - along with Cyber Dodo Productions.

This series is a sequel to an earlier series on children's rights from Cyber Dodo. The project is about to enter its production stage and is scheduled to get over by March 2004.

Indian studios are getting more work due to cost effectiveness, even while sustaining quality

Why do you think are Indian studios gaining more work?

It's obviously is due to cost effectiveness, while sustaining quality. Besides, it is easier for the US and European countries to coordinate with Indian studios as there is no hassle in communication, unlike Chinese, Korean or other Asian countries.

Here in Escotoonz, there is not a single foreigner, besides me. Majority of out artists are from other studios and they have a minimum of five years experience. They are as good as their counterparts in other Asian countries. I personally feel this, as our work is being highly appreciated by our clients.

Do you handle part of the creative side as well?

No, I have always been into management of operations. I am not into creative work. Besides handling marketing of Escotoonz operations, I am involved in training.

Like other studios, Esctoonz has in-house training too and we are into our third batch.

I have become an adopted child of India. My colleagues call me 'Filip-Indian'

Escotoonz is focusing on co-productions. Why?

I think going for co-productions, through which a studio retains the property rights, is the correct way.

If you have the property rights, then the sales revenue you get either from broadcasters or merchandising, provides more opportunities for growth. This is true even if it comes after two or three years. Consequently, you would anyway have covered your operational costs through the service work. So it sustains the whole studio. That's how the Korean studios survived in the past and to date.

The difference between Korean and Philippines studio was that the latter didn't have co-production mindset whereas the Koreans took the plunge into this arena. They partnered with the western companies and even if they reduced on their cash portion to cover their costs, they stressed on having a portion of revenue of the series.

Do you think Indian scripts will work out for original content?

I don't think studios in India are in the same league as those overseas. Animation scripting is very different from scripting for live action film. Having a script writer from international market makes a huge difference. That way, you are able to understand the needs of the international market in an appropriate manner.

The Indian channels do not pay the same kind of licencing fees, as the international broadcasters. And to make it universal, you need expertise in original content.

How has attitude changed towards Indian studios?

I have been involved in the animation industry for the past 14 years now. In Philippines, I have worked with Manila-based Fil Cartoons, a subsidiary of Turner Broadcasting, for eight years.

My first international fair in India was MIPTV in 1999. Since I had met a lot of international clients when I was working in Philippines, I knew them. Their first reaction frankly was: 'Is there animation work really happening in India?'

So it was and is more about creating awareness of our existence and quality of work being done in India.

Do you intend to continue working in India?

I have become the adopted child here. My colleagues say I have become 'Filip-Indian'.

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