“It was Our Intention to Build Our Company as an Award-winning Studio”
With too many awards to count and a bright future as one of the largest animation companies in Asia, Toonz Animation’s CEO, Mr.P.Jayakumar talks to Georgia Forsyth Sijpestijn about the future of the company, animation and what it takes for an animator to impress him.
1. How do you see the company’s future?
“I think that it’s very good, we have a stabilised now and I see a lot of growth opportunities both in Asia as well as other parts of the world, especially in most of the emerging economics.”
2. Why did you decide to get into animation as a choice of company?
“My background is finance; I joined this company as it’s CFO and I gradually took over. So it was not all of a sudden decision to join animation. Circumstances led me to take over the company.”
3. Back in 2000, your first award was first prize in the ‘World Animation Celebration 2000’ for your short film for UNICEF ‘Stone crusher’. This was the first international recognition that an Indian animation project ever had. Did the team work especially hard for that, as it was the early stages of the company’s development?
“You know the studios basically are the committee, the studio’s standing in the industry is always judged by how many awards you win. You know like an Oscar, or a Grammy or an Emmy. So it was our intention to build our company as an award-winning studio, that has been in our mind…. That won the gold medal; of course it was a very proud moment that was our first one we got. But after that almost every year we get several awards, nationally and internationally, so I don’t know numbers now so it’s quite a lot.”
4. In what direction do you feel Today’s animation industry is heading ?
“As you know animation has always been traditionally hand-drawn. Now the animation is done mostly in 2D by Flash, software called Flash; and CGI computer generated 3D animation. Mostly for feature films, for theatrical releases the preferred medium is always CGI. If you look at all the DreamWorks’s movies, PIXAR movies, now the movies, which really make money, except for one Disney movie last year Prince of Frog that was in 2D, all the other movies are in CGI so the trend is very clear. That is in terms of the feature films. The TV as a medium, the web as a medium I think 3D definitely was at one point but 2D is the preferred medium today. I think in term of number of TV shows currently produced, if that is the yardstick, then more 2D than 3D. 3D is more for the preschool category, toddlers and pre-schoolers, 3D is the preferred medium but the next category which is between 6 to 9, that’s a kind of core category for many of the broadcasters which is, I would say, the predominant medium is 2D.”
5. What do you feel modern animation studios need to stay competitive?
“It depends on various countries and various contexts. In India I think if an animation studio is going to be successful in the context of not having any fiscal benefits from the government you need to be super efficient and you need to be cost-conscious and you need to be quality-minded.”
6. Do you feel there are a lot of opportunities for young Indians to learn animation and get into the industry?
“Yeah as long as they have a passion for it, yes.”
7. Do you feel animation is going to become a big thing in India?
“It really depends you know it needs to be looked at from two different aspects. From [the] consumption aspect I think yes simply because if you look at the demography, population growth is coming down drastically in America and Europe. It is declining at the rate of 4% so if you look at the next 5 years the number of kids in all these territories are very limited. It’s going to be coming down in the next 10 years; European population is going to shrink to 60% of what it is today. So from that point of view India is the only country in the world that still has modest population growth of 11% and India already is the number one kids population of the world, we have 300 million kids. So obviously from a consumption point India is already a major player. And it will continue to be a major player for the next 10 years. So there is cost involved there. The cost is about production. If India becomes a production hub that really depends on various stuff. It already is a production hub in a very small way. In terms of global pie we are less than 1% of the global work. So it really depends on various things and a major party is the government policy. Now if the government comes up with the right kind of policies of course this can become, India can become a major production hub. Otherwise I’m sure it will grow but the growth will be limited.”
8. What would a young animator need to impress you?
“Rather than impressing me they do what we require. You know this is not a job basically, most of the people come and look for a job, a 10 to 5 activity, this is absolutely not, this industry requires a different mind-set. So, I would say a little bit of understanding about the industry, how it operates and mentally that person needs to be comfortable with the working of the industry. For example, we are in film and a film will always have a release date, when the release date gets nearer and you cant change the release date because the broadcaster of the theatrical distributer spent multi-million dollars in marketing and campaigns for the release. So you can’t simply change a date, so changing the date of delivery is absolutely no no in this industry so what will happen as a result, towards the latest time of delivery, people need to work for 24 hours, so Saturday and Sunday. So, it’s a very project-centric work approach, which is quite different from which people in this part of the world are used to. It’s not a problem in other countries, like America. I’ve seen people sleeping in their studios, so it’s not a problem. So that is one thing. They need to be creative; the kids need to be creative. It is definitely a creative job. An animator is basically an actor, he just uses the character, and he basically makes the character act so he needs to be an actor. So that he can translate nuances to the character. There is communication and collaborative spirit because in a film probably 400/500 scenes in a feature film. These 400/500 scenes will be done by 200 different people. So, each scene is done by one particular person. So it is absolutely important that this particular person talks to the person who does the next scene. So there is continuity. Communication between artists and working as a team is very important. So I would put this into 2 or 3 important things – passion, creativity, communication and collaborative spirit. This is what I would say we look for.”
9. Do you try to get moral messages across in your animations? In a recent interview you said that Swami Ayyappan has a moral message.
“From an Indian context, every story has a moral. So, that is part of the parcel of Indian stories. We didn’t have any entertainment for kids. So all the entertainment was these grandma stories for kids. We didn’t have TVs; we didn’t have anything so from ancient years the entertainment was storytelling by grandmas and grandpas. That is actually one way of educating kids on these values… but that is not necessarily the case in other countries, it could just be entertainment. A story can just be entertainment; there is no moral in it. There is a prince, there is a princess, there is no moral just a love story, and they live happily ever after…. It depends on the channels we work with. For example, Discovery Kids they want their stories to be informative, value-based. Some companies like Cartoon Network want their stories to be more comedy-based there is no moral. There is no moral in Tom and Jerry; it is just a chase story a slap-stick comedy.”
10. Are there any upcoming projects, any big ones?
“ I think one of the very big projects we are currently is called Pakdam Pakdai, we have just delivered 36 episodes to Nickelodeon in India and they have just green-lighted a second season, another 36 episodes of this particular project. So that has just started, that’s one. Another big thing happening is Krrish, again it’s a very iconic Indian franchise by a famous Indian actor called Hrithik Roshan. We are producing 4 movies with him on the Krrish character. So the first movie will be aired early October in Cartoon Network, all these movies will be aired by Cartoon Network.”
11. How will you fix the problem of lack of good storytelling?
“Indian stories are very complex and the story telling needs to be extremely simple so that everybody can understand it and that is where Americans won. If you look at any Hollywood movie that has travelled around the world it can because it is all based on very simple themes. Very universal, whether it is animation or live actions but that simple mode of story telling we do not see from any filmmakers, that’s basically story-telling. Today when a new director takes a movie he has a clear audience in his mind. Somebody doing a Malayalam movie says he wants the movie to be viewed by Malayalam people, he is not making the film for Americans, he is not making the film for Europeans and they are going to film making with a limited audience in mind. So if a particular person can think in Malayalam, talk in Malayalam, only knows Malayalam or only knows Kerala state he cannot make a movie for a Czech Republican guy. The way he thinks, his taste is different. There is nothing wrong in doing for Malayalam people, it’s good you can converse with those people but if anyone wants to do a movie for international audience first you have to think it on a wide canvas, you know I really want to talk to the whole world instead of just India, or Malayalam or just a particular state. Another question is how I can converse. What is a language, which basically transcends across the world? And what are the themes, if you talk about a particular ritual in India nobody knows about it. Look at Kung Fu Panda, it is a Chinese story but when Americans tell that story in a universal way. Take anyone, Lion King, what is lion king? What is the plot? The plot is very simple it is the love story between a father and a son and that is a theme that relates to the whole world; in every country the father love loves his son. So it is a very universal theme… There is no complexity there… It’s simple.”