Toons liven up cricket fiesta

Sports channels have realised that sport and animated characters make for a heady combination when it comes to the bat and ball game.

Max got the ball rolling with its `Tiger? animation. This was done in conjunction with 2nZ Animation in the ICC mini World Cup in Sri Lanka last September and the recently conducted World Cup in South Africa. The sight of the tiger hopping on one leg after a batsman is given out leg before defies description! Taking a cue from this was ESPN Star Sports who decided to have not one but four characters. The broadcaster formed an alliance with Hyderabad-based Colour Chips India for the recent Dhaka tri-nation series.

Of course kids channel Cartoon Network played a major part in the relationship between cricket and cartoon characters with its invigorating Summer initative Toon Cricket. Fans got to see Tom, Jerry and the gang battle it out.

As far as the animated characters we see onscreen are concerned 2nZ Animation Co. executive producer and business head Marvin Fernandez said, "Animation has now gained importance, reflected in the fact that ESPN has also done character animations, because of its ability to enhance the value of the cricket broadcast without taking anything away from the cricket itself. Besides this, it also has the ability to focus on certain target audiences and further localisation, depending on individual channel needs." 2nZ is a division of Climb Media India Private Limited.

So what has contributed to the emergence of animation in advertising and television? Fernandez feels it is a combination of factors such as influence of characters from the western region and developments in the Indian animation industry. "It can be attributed to emergence of foreign cartoon channels, more local animation which is a result of greater availability of necessary skills and resources (more studios and trained animators), and greater understanding of the potential uses of animation by advertising agencies and advertising film producers."

Creative director of Mumbai-based Famous House of Animation E. Suresh points out that the usage of animation in cricket was also done way back in 1985. "It is very interesting to see this kind of usage coming back. As far as I remember in 1985 or something they had used animation for the first time during the live coverage of Benson & Hedges Cup Held in Australia. I really liked the animation used for the last world cup and I can see a lot better animation scopes for these," he says. Suresh?s team has worked with Novartis, Kelloggs, MTV, Channel V and Nickelodeon channel US among the others.

So how does usage of techniques such as clay animation, used by Famous House of Animation in recent television commercials such as Top Ramen Noodle advertisement, helps in differentiating? "It is a major visual relief while watching a serious match. Some amount of light air being created while watching a serious match. Also it helps identify the events like a wicket fall or a four or a six, as they come out clear breaking clutter (visually). These characters somehow relate more closely to the real human characters. So viewers do not distance themselves away taking them as cartoons and unreal. It is working very well as it cuts across the visual clutter of the glossy live programmes on television networks," says Suresh.

RKSwamy BBDO Advertising manager-media development, Gowri Arun made the following remarks, "Animation as a tool for communication in my opinion has not been fully exploited here. Animation can help in better recall, has better flexibility. Especially the usage of animation in live shows like cricket is cost effective and is non-invasive, in the sense that the viewer may not switch channels and the it is a fun to watch animated cartoons moving up and down the screen." .

"Brand building is easier especially with no dependence on celebrities. The cartoon character is by itself a celebrity. For instance take Calvin and Hobbes (It is my favourite cartoon). Calvin is the kid with very mature ideas portrayed in a simple manner. There is a difference between Denis and Calvin which is distinct. Same principle applies for products too. Coke can have an animation that drives home the point that it has more fizz and is easy to play with to produce diff. campaigns. As for the technical aspect on production of animated films, it has considerably improved. For example despite a full fledged serial on Mahabharata that ran in TV the animated version of Pandavas (by Pentamedia) also was interesting to watch."

On its part, ESS? characters portray the diversified culture of India as they belong to various cities across the country. The four characters are: `Anda Bhai? from Hyderabad, `Gilli Swamy? from Kochi , `Yogi? from Patna and `Runjeet Singh? from Jullundhar. According to the country?s leading sports channel, "These four animated characters embody the spirit of the quintessential cricket fan - passionate with a capital ?P?, as they laugh and cry with the viewers through each match. All four are proudly Indian cricket fanatics . And because of what they are, they will help us in our ever increasing efforts to relate to our markets."

*The quality of live coverage is enhanced through usage of animation and graphics in overall packaging and identity including the score cards and also use of characters to enhance events/ cricket situations (like the tiger). Suresh feels the operations of animation studios hasn?t changed much though the attitude of clients towards animation is getting positive. "In animation studios there is always a demand for "more creativity per project". It may also be because animation as a medium cannot be explained to neither the clients nor the animation artists unless pre-visualised. (Or created in the mind). So always we have to be in the look out for newer and versatile medium as well as looks."

"The animation awareness has improved and clients are accepting animation as a possible option to tell their brand and product stories. Since TV exposes a lot of these medium on air all the clients also understand readily what we are talking about. Also it helps us to site examples from the TV Programs to give our clients a clearer picture," says Suresh.

With use of animation gaining popularity, the mood is upbeat among the animators. "The `tiger? created the perception that Indian animation is now world class. This is only the beginning of some even more exciting animation products from 2nz Animation Co," says Fernandez. "It will only get better, with more and more new looks getting introduced like clay animation/stop motion etc," says a confident Suresh.

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