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Life @ 24 FPS..

By Team Digit | Published on 01 Apr 2006
Life @ 24 FPS..
When Garfield wakes up to press the snooze button-or closer home, when Fido Dido checks out the beach scene- much labour has been expended to add life to, or animate, those 24 frames that move in front of your eyes in a second. Animation is traditionally associated with big Hollywood studios, but according to a NASSCOM report released in January 2006, India's animation industry is expected to reach revenues of Rs 4,223 crore by 2009, from the 2005 figure of Rs 1,270 crore.

Why India?
Wage levels for animators in offshore countries are attractive to production companies and movie studios looking to save a penny. Billing rates last year for animation work in India ranged from $2,000 (Rs 90,000) to $5,250 (Rs 2.35 lakh) per minute for two-dimensional animation, and between $4,500 (Rs 2 lakh) and $7,000 (Rs 3.15 lakh) per minute of work for three-dimensional animation films. Rates in the US and European markets are in the $17,000 to $25,000 (Rs 7.7 to 11.25 lakh) range.

Analysts estimate that Indian companies have won some $50 million to $100 million (Rs 225 to 450 crore) in business, a small slice of the $10 billion (Rs 45,000 crore) global animation industry. But that could change, as major US studios such as Disney, Warner Bros Studios and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, who previously have done much of their animation in-house, try to cut costs. Companies such as UTV Software Communications (UTV), Toonz Animation and Crest Communications are leading the way.

For those looking out for careers, these figures offer comfort. But let not the moolah drive you where talent does not! If you've spent your school days doodling cartoons of the maths teacher rather than listen to his ramblings on trigonometry, and your classmates have cheered not when you got caught but at the canny likeness of your toons, animation might just be the field for you.

Software are just tools. Anyone can learn to use them. The essence is to have the inherent creative talent to be able to use those tools to create works of art"
Rajesh Pai Technical director Rhythm & Hues Studios

The Path To Toondom
The traditional path would be to graduate in Fine Arts from a school such as Mumbai's JJ School Of Arts and apply for a trainee position. India's premier design school, the National Institute of Design (NID) Ahmedabad, has a two-year post graduate course in Animation Film Design. Entrants typically have to be graduates in Fine Arts, Applied Arts, Design, Architecture, Communication Media, Film & TV, or Mass Media, or graduates with experience in the animation Industry. But with just 10 seats in the program, competition is fierce.

Akhil Succena, activity chairperson, education, NID, says, "Since this is a post-graduate course, we expect some level of proficiency. An applicant has to present a portfolio as part of the admission process. This criteria leads to people already working in the sector such as 'in-betweeners' and others to apply." According to Mr Succena, an NID animation diploma holder typically starts off at a salary of Rs 30,000 per month.

For a beginner, options include private institutions such as Arena and Zee Institute of Creative Arts (ZICA). According to Atul Vohra, country head, Arena Multimedia, "The animation industry has a current requirement of at least 50,000 trained persons. Only 20 per cent of this is presently fulfilled. This translates into almost 100 per cent placement and entry-level salaries of Rs 10,000 per month." We ask Vohra about what makes a skilled animator. "The ability to express oneself through drawings and acting is the fundamental requirement. Computers only provide a tool."

According to Mr Vohra, getting carried away by the "cool factor" associated with animation is easy. But success in the field needs talent and application. The two Arena training centres in Mumbai have only 40 seats each, and every applicant undergoes a screening process before being admitted. 2D animation is covered in the first year and 3D follows suit. The course fees of 1.8 lakh per annum also might deter the casual hobbyist.

And it's not all software training, either. About 50 per cent of the classes are on drawing, anatomy, study of motion, acting and cinematography. Software such as Toon Boom, Solo for 2D, and 3DMax and Maya for 3D follow. Composition is taught on Combustion, while Flash and Photoshop complete the package.

In a typical animation set up, the roles include the storyboard artist, audio specialist, character designer, background artist, in-betweeners and the key animator. Of these, the key animator designs the first and last frames of a 24 fps sequence. "In-betweeners" fill in the gaps. While students at Arena are exposed to every function during a course to figure out what fits them best, Mr. Vohra recommends the talented ones to focus on the role of Key Animator.

A Reality Check
Many institutes also offer shorter six-month module-based courses which, though cheaper, may also be riskier. Be warned that in a country like ours, the demand-supply equation is tilted in the direction of the employer. A typical example is that of Sindhu Nair from Mumbai, quoted in a Wired News article:

"Nair's father owns a small shop in Mumbai. Although he earns about Rs 11,000 every month, he had great dreams for his 22-year-old daughter, Sindhu. After reading countless articles in the papers, he was sold on the great IT revolution. He borrowed money and paid about Rs 31,000 for a six-month animation course.

"Nair completed the course, but spent another eight months looking for employment before finally landing a job in the field that pays Rs 900 per month."

The Industry-Side Story
When The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was nominated for an Academy Award in visual effects, there was rejoicing in the Mumbai subsidiary of the California-based animation studio, Rhythm 'n' Hues, because part of the animation process was completed here. We asked Rajesh Pai, technical director, about what this means for the sector in general and jobs in particular. His answer: "The visual effects industry, though at a very nascent stage in India as compared to the global scenario, is witnessing rapid growth. Naturally, there will be an increased demand for talent to meet the requirements." As for the areas of critical requirement, says Mr Pai, "By its very nature, this work requires talented individuals with a background in art and with creative sensibilities.

"While most people only see the opportunities in the artistic field, very few people consider the technological challenges that this industry presents. All this creative magic-animation, visual effects-would not be possible without the amazing technology behind it. The requirement for technical people is equally, if not more, critical for the industry. There is definitely a demand for technology professionals, both on the hardware as well as the software side. We, at Rhythm & Hues Studios for example, are a totally Linux-based facility. We are constantly on the lookout for Linux professionals to grow our technology team."

From an industry perspective, Mr. Pai says that irrespective of one's training, it has become an accepted norm that resources need to be trained and developed in-house for them to be productive in a real-life production environment. The key factor, therefore, in selecting candidates, is the spark of intelligence and passion.

Mr. Pai advises aspirants to the field, "One would like to dispel the common misconception that getting into the animation or gaming industry requires one to learn or gain expertise in the latest versions of imaging software. The fact is, the various software are just tools. Anyone can learn to use these tools. The essence is to have the inherent creative talent to be able to use those tools to create works of art. That is what students should concentrate on.

Animation Schools Teach... 
Editing                                      Visual Effects
Avid                                           Combustion
Final Cut Pro                             Adobe AfterFX
                                                 Digital fusion
Softimage XSI
MAYA                                         Image Editing
Autodesk-3DxMax                     Adobe Photoshop                      

Career Profiles In The Field Of Animation 
3D Layout / Background Artist
The layout / background artist must be an excellent cartoonist, capable of following the basic design of characters. He needs to research costumes, architecture, and landscapes. Sound knowledge of perspective and composition is essential.

3D Character Animator
Should have mastered the mechanics of animation (squash and stretch, overlapping, anticipation, timing, weight, body dynamics, secondary motions, etc.), and should have versatility in animating various styles of characters. Should be proficient in acting theory and practice. Fine draftsmanship is essential, as is the ability to make humorous drawings and actions. 2D key animation skills are essential.

3D Modeller / Rigger
Character Modellers: Should be able to model organic and complex forms. Must be proficient in polygon modelling, and should understand texturing and rigging requirements.

Sets Modellers / Props Modellers: Should understand texturing requirements, and should have a strong sense of proportion.

Rigging Artists: Should be able to design strong interactive rigs and simplify complex animation tasks. Should have good understanding of anatomy.

3D Special Effects Artist
Must possess a strong sense of dynamics. Should be able to visualise and render natural phenomena such as fire, water, smoke, cloth, etc. Should have strong technical problem-solving skills, and know all the special effects tools and software.

Lighting / Texturing Artist
Must understand how to set scene mood and feel. Should be able to deliver photo-realistic frames. Must possess a minimum experience of one year.

Should have knowledge of colour correction, masking, tracking and wire removal. Proficiency in online editing software is required.

Should have Knowledge of MEL scripting, C, C , VB, Perl Scripting, the RenderMan Shading Language,XSI and Maya.

"Technology professionals should also widen their horizons and look at the wonderful opportunities that this industry provides, rather than following the herd into staid careers in programming with software giants. As the industry grows, their careers will grow proportionately."

Rajesh Turakhia, CEO of Mumbai-based Maya Entertainment Ltd (MEL), which also has a training division, the Maya Academy Of Advanced Cinematics (MAAC), says, "Outsourcing projects for TV and film typically extend over a period of two to three years. During this period new projects keep coming in, which require more manpower. According to Turakhia, when 2D ruled the roost it was Korea, China and the Philippines which were locations of choice. "But India, though a late entrant, has managed to gain ground in 3D. Also, we appreciate the American sense of humour and timing better," adds Turakhia.

"3D is where the action is, and aspirants should consider this avenue. Growth is only limited by one's creativity. From a starting salary of Rs 8,000 per month for a trainee, three years can see one taking home Rs 75,000 per month as a Team Lead," informs Turakhia.

Turakhia's advice to young aspirants: "Animation, the universal language, can form the skill set for a serious career. Apart from entertainment, opportunities exist in sectors such as education and architecture. Considering the potential of the industry, a well-thought-out decision should be taken by parents and youngsters."
Micheal Laxman, member of the technical team at MAAC says, "This is the field for those who are fascinated with visual effects." Though proficiency in drawing or sketching is a welcome pre-requisite for the one-year course the academy runs, they have a month's foundation course for those lacking the basics. The Maya course covers areas of 3D animation, visual effects and editing for film and TV.

  • NID, Ahmedabad
  • Aptech-Arena
  • Zee Institute Of Creative Arts: 3-year diploma in Animation
  • Industrial Design Centre (IIT Mumbai, IIT Guwahati)
  • National Multimedia Resource Centre -CDAC Pune
  • Toonz Animation Academy, Trivandrum
  • Toonz Webel Animation Academy, Kolkata

According to Laxman, of the 300-odd students who pass out of the institute, 12 have been placed with MEL. Towards the end of the year, this figure is set to go up to 100.

Hotting Up
The animation industry is getting ready for more projects and revenues. Avenues for the display of talent are coming up. 24FPS-an animation film festival organized by MAAC-is scheduled for April, and invites entries from across the country. In a creative field, the need for recognition is high, and these are avenues for hidden talents to make themselves known.The message seems to be to look beyond the glamour and fancy salaries and take a leap into the field only when one is convinced about talent and the ability to use the medium to communicate.

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