AI in animation will unleash new creative possibilities, says Kireet Khurana

By G. S. Vasan | Published 10 Mar 2023 10:50 IST
AI in animation will unleash new creative possibilities, says Kireet Khurana
  • This is an interview of Mr Kireet Khurana.

  • As one of the founders of AniMela and an AVGC industry veteran, the conversation with him involves a lot of nuggets of wisdom.

  • Let’s have an understanding of the Indian AVGC sector.

I got to interview Mr Kireet Khurana, Director, Aniverse and Visual Arts Foundation (AVAF). Some of you may know him as the director of Toonpur ka Superrhero, the Ajay-Kajol starrer animation film. AVAF and Annency Festival, France have partnered for India’s first-ever international festival for Animation, VFX, Gaming Comics, and XR called AniMela. As a founder of this festival and an industry veteran, his answers to my questions were infused with experience, passion and valuable insights. 

We started off the discussion by talking about AniMela. He tells me the festival’s “mandate is to empower, enable and be the catalyst for change”. It will “showcase films and games from across the world, invite the best professionals and award-winning game designers and animation filmmakers from across the world. All of these are aimed to foster an environment of creativity and innovation for nurturing and mentoring India's leading emerging talent”. 

He also shed light on the relevance of XR or extended reality as “an evolving field and the space of the future”. He finds “AVGC and immersive experience will be inextricably interlinked, a confluence of art and technology. Hence we have decided to have XR too as part of our universe and embrace”.

In this discussion, we tried to touch upon a breadth of topics like that and beyond. So, let’s get rolling.

Interview with Kireet Khurana 

1.    Could you shed some light on the state of startup incubation, patent registration, and IP protection for AVGC-XR content in India?

Currently, India has a very negligent startup incubation in IPs, close to non-existent, save for a few sporadic and inconsistent efforts by some studios. We need to institutionalise this process. Once we create the festival and the platform for emerging talent, we hope to attract the best talent to it. Through our association with the world's largest and best animation film festival - Annecy (The 'Cannes' of animation), we hope to get world-class filmmakers and storytellers to mentor this talent to make them internationally ready. As far as IP protection and other issues are concerned, there is a clear roadmap available for the registration of bibles, stories and artworks and that shouldn't be an issue as it's similar to the process followed by the Indian Film Industry.

2.    Can you discuss any ethical considerations that arise when using technology in the AVGC industry, such as deep fake technology or the use of AI in animation?

Given the proliferation of AI using deep fake technology, and also the advent of AI creation tools like Mid-Journey, Dall.E and many others, understandably there is anxiety and uncertainty among many about the implications of such a powerful technology. Will ChatGPT make academicians redundant? Will myriad image-processing AI-driven software make artists redundant? It's hard to tell, but certainly, the bar will be raised for the basic output expected out of the average individual. And AI technologies will certainly give the intellectually driven superhuman prowess to unleash new realms of possibilities. 

Also read: Why Is India Regulating Online Games And What Does The Indian Gaming Industry Think About This?

3.    Can I get your take on why Indian toons aren’t as mature as the Japanese Anime and American cartoons we used to watch in our childhood?

Unlike in the west which has a long history of Animation spanning over 120 years, animation didn't start to proliferate in India till the early 2000s. We don't have a culture and tradition of watching cartoon films in the same manner or longevity that the Americans have, hence Indian animation is yet to find its roots. Similarly, in Japan, its rich comic book and graphic novel tradition span over several decades, which then took root and formed the anime animation culture in the 70s and 80s. Save for a few low-quality local comic books, we don't have too many stories in this domain either which can be extrapolated into an animation filmmaking culture. Therefore, India will take its time to create its own IPs and will need to follow a longer, more arduous path of trial and error. Due to the unavailability of already established cartoon heroes, it becomes difficult to create commercially viable animation with unknown, new characters and make them identifiable to the masses.

Also read: India Mobile Gaming Report Reveals The Top Performing States And Games

4.    On a similar note, what do you think are the reasons behind clunky VFX in some of the recent high-budget Indian movies?

This is a very unfair comparison. We must know that films like 'Dune', 'Narnia' and 'Life of PI' were done by either Indian studios and/or Indian artists. If we have the talent and ability to do the highest quality of animation, then it's obvious that there are other factors that come into play. And the biggest factor is budget. Whereas even the most expensive film made in India rarely exceeds $20mn. budget, this is typically the cost for an Indie film in America. We simply don't have the markets, distribution, monetization or wherewithal to recover investments for more expensive movies than that. Hence every single head is rationalised, including VFX is allocated a proportionate budget. Hence the quality of our VFX isn't up to world standards in many films. 

5. What advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing a career at the intersection of technology and AVGC?

Focus on the art and creativity! Technology is the enabler, the tool, the means to an end, not the end by itself. If you focus on the art and find uniqueness and purity in your voice, then everything else will follow.

He said from his experience, “the real challenge (while filming Toonpur ka Superrhero) was not of technology, but of uncertainty as the Producers were backing something unique and untested. They weren't sure if the film could be executed in India at all. The technology was in place, but there were no trained animators, nor had India achieved anything of scale at that moment. So I embarked on a month-long training workshop with the animation teams, personally taking them through the creative and technical process of achieving the results expected. The result was that Toonpur was the best film technically achieved by India during that period in India”.

Also read: Google Bard should address these 5 concerns against generative AI chatbots like ChatGPT

That’s inspiring and I hope you found the whole discussion enlightening.

The AniMela Festival falls in line with the recommendations of the AVGC Promotion Task Force (announced in the Union Budget 2022-23 and formed by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting). Among other things, such a festival is envisioned to attract foreign direct investment (FDI), and encourage skill development as well as new employment opportunities. 

At present, the Indian AVGC industry reportedly contributes $2.5-3 billion out of the $260-275 billion worldwide estimate. It also employs around 1.85 lakh professionals in this space. It is predicted to grow 14-16% in the coming decade and become a $40 billion industry by 2025. More jobs to the tune of 1,60,000 are also expected to be created.

Experts believe that these initiatives could be crucial in achieving Prime Minister Modi’s goal of establishing India as a global hub for the AVGC industry, as part of his vision for Brand India.

Well, brand me excited as I look forward to the annual AVGC festival set to debut in December 2023, wherein we should learn more. I shall keep you posted.

G. S. Vasan
G. S. Vasan

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About Me: Vasan is a word weaver and tech junkie who is currently geeking out as a news writer at Digit. Read More

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