Update: According to NASSCOM, this story “has been interpreted from statements made by speakers at a NASSCOM event and that nothing in this article represents the views of NASSCOM or the NASSCOM Animation and Gaming Forum.”

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Original Story: Curiosity drew bankers, e-learning, IT and mortgage industry specialists and ‘visual computing’ entrepreneurs to a half day seminar on “Indian Intellectual Property – when will it have local and international following” organised by Nasscom Animation and Gaming Forum in Chennai. The forum’s chairman Biren Ghose, who is also Executive Director of EROS International Films and CEO of animation studio Kahani World, moderated discussions on how IP owners can secure their designs, addressing budget constraints by releasing animation movies and serials not just in domestic markets but international ones and the current lack of branding and merchandising in the Indian animation industry.

Mistakes By Little Krishna; Why ZooZoo Was Not Animated

If Little Krishna took Rs 50 crores to make but only returns 3-5% of investment, or even 10%,  how is it a hit? This question brought out the issue that the animation industry is facing – high investment for low returns. Producing an animation movie typically costs 15 times that of a camera based movie, which is why ZooZoo, the funny egg like characters in Vodafone’s ads, are not an animation, according to Ghose. Want proof? Check the making of a ZooZoo ad below:

In the case of animation TV series Little Krishna, its creators, according to Ghose, committed several mistakes, one being that it was made for a very specific demographic – only India – and not the global market. “It would not work in Dubai or Kenya or Germany.  Its name is not very pronounceable, the colour palette was too dark,” he said. Little Krishna was developed by Reliance ADAG’s Big Animation.

Jumbo & Roadside Romeo; Merchandising Is Key

Another example of a flopped animation is Jumbo, in which starred Akshay Kumar. Roadside Romeo could have avoided being depicted as just another movie, Ghose said, adding that the absence of buzz and collateral marketing was an error. With high initial costs for animation production, creators must start looking at other avenues than just box office success to bring in the bucks – such as merchandising, which is not very popular in India. Understanding the market, and developing a bouquet of products that will make the brand and movie linger on in people’s minds is important, Ghose said.

Going From Local To Global Budget constraints are a nightmare in the animation and gaming industry – it not only requires heavy initial investments but also continued support through the launch to ensure it becomes a hit. A failure could be disastrous for the makers, since crores are spent in making animations. A way of increasing revenues is to cast a wider net – create for the global market, Ghose says. But for this, there are many aspects makers should consider.

Giving the example of his company’s production Raju the Rickshaw, he said that the character’s not-too-Indian-neither-too-American lilt, the colours and the length of the animation (7 minutes, to suit the short attention spans children have) – everything was made to suit a global audience.

Universal Appeal: The failure rate for products targeted at the global markets is high and only a few companies such as Youtube have succeeded at building a universally appealing brand. How did they do it? By ignoring traditional marketing pillars such as age, gender, ethnicity and region; by getting insights into how to connect to the consumer; by finding opportunities where there is customer frustration and by innovating. Indian mythological characters are becoming popular across the world, as can be judged by the video Sita Sings The Blues by Nina Paley, an American cartoonist. (Thanks for the tip, Dhananjay). The video, done with a singularly impressive combination of narrative and jazz, is being shared openly online:

Quality: We ask – could this be a matter of quality? The animations produced in India currently are just not up to the mark and this is probably why broadcasters are not picking up and paying more for them. Companies may not need to look at making games and animations to suit global audience but instead work on how they can make it look good and like a world-class product for the domestic audience.

Spare No Expense: The ‘make it cheap’ mindset Indians have is a good way to run a business but it can not be used to build a global brand, Ghose said, saying ‘Spare no expense’ must be the mantra for animation and gaming firms today. Aesthetics, the colour pallette, getting the ‘Wow!’ factor and easening out the customer’s experience – in all these ways the brand has to move beyond just being appealing to the eye and enter the realms of other senses. Calling it creative energy, he said it is what makes the brand’s value become more than the sum of its components.

Usability: Many firms are yet to tackle basic challenges, however, such as making software or games simple to use and responsive so users do not waste time in loading them, or ingraining relevance while building a product that will give it added value. This seems to be more of an innovation related problem – there are companies that are coming out with friendlier gadgets and software every day that are changing the way we will watch animations and play games in the future.

A checklist that creators should perform before launching a product for global audiences is: Will I use it? (if you can use it, you can market it) Do I know what customers do and not just how they think? Have I experimented? (go with what is interesting and try not to fall back on set conventional thoughts).  Is it overengineered? (think about the experience of using/ viewing the product).

Do not Advertise?

Calling advertising “a tax you have to pay for building a good product,” Ghose opined that advertising does not deliver, does not pay and adviced others not to opt for classic advertising strategies. Not that many have the money to do so these days, but we do think that this is quite radical to completely write off advertising. Ghose exhorted, “If you are coming out with a remarkable product, do not spend on big ads to promote it and be clever. Use social networking sites, put the idea out into the universe.” Is online advertising (and conversational marketing, which uses blogs and social networking websites to play up the brand) the choice for animation and gaming firms because it is a closer medium to reach the target audience – online or computer-savvy youngsters?

India Not Ready For Animation; VFX & Content

Though he agreed that India will be successful at producing visual effects (aka VFX) for global markets, Ghose added that India itself is not ready for animation. People are not yet tcomfortable with graphics unlike countries like Japan where supplements of papers are entirely in graphics and the culture is more suited to anime.

In movies today, VFX stand out separately from the storyline, and are jarring, unnatural to the viewer, Ghose pointed out. “The flow is broken and this is what VFX shouldnt do. It should gel into the movie,” he said. Content is king, industry experts at the summit concurred. It is what drives a product to success – be it an animation movie or a series or cartoons. The storyline, the characters, the moulding of the story and processing to suit the target audience is vital. Today, however, most producers are focussed on repackaging and not paying attention to the flow, the story, which could be one of the reasons why there are so many failures, he added.

Safeguard Your IP

Stressing the importance of defending one’s IP before launching it, Ghose gave a few tips to help IP owners. The first step would be to mail your script and designs to yourself so you have proof with the datestamp of the post that you designed it, he said. Keep the entire history of your development and documentation safe. Make contracts with your staff – disgruntled employees can register an IP which you may have missed during your design process. Maintain confidentiality agreements with all those you deal with. He also advised those planning to patent their work to step up security, check for chinks in the patent, refresh copyrights, watermark and protect content. Giving the example of Hanuman, which was undoubtably India’s first big animation movie, but is unable to benefit from its IP as there is a glut of merchandise that has come up that look like the character, Ghose said that content should be made uniquely yours so the IP will back you up when you go into merchandising.

Kahani World’s Production Stalled

Kahani World’s 3D animation series Raju the Rickshaw‘s launch is hung with partners backing out due to tough market conditions, Ghose told us. The 52 episodes of an autorickshaw called Raju is targeted at 3-5 year-olds. It is waiting out the recession and will be released later this year, probably in the holiday season. “It’s a tough market, partners are cutting costs,” rues Ghose. Kahani World has completed three of five IPs in its basket. Of the other two, one is 40% complete and the other 25%.

Nasscom’s Other Initiatives

The industry body has seen a reduction in number of conferences as members and guests are less willing to travel to attend them but is keenly working on other initiatives to keep the momentum going. It has identified 3-4 small mobile computing companies in Coimbatore which are performing well and plans to aid them in scaling up. It will be organising a conference on recession and the Indian game development community at the end of May.

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