So what has changed Happily, many things have remained same. And you dont want the basics to change, he says, settling down into the conversation.
Technicolor has matured and has become a tighter team, he says, with a chuckle.
The animation game in India has been changing quickly with the level of detailing that goes into it having increased tremendously, with the specifications getting better all the time. Imperfections, if any, stand out more these days. The kind of detailing that goes into creating any one character is high, says Biren, looking very relaxed in his blue sweat-shirt and jeans.
Biren has been instrumental in establishing India as the primary hub for Technicolors foray into the CG animation business, besides developing India as a centre excelling in VFX. He has also played a key role in managing alliances including the one with DreamWorks Animation. Technicolor was the firm behind animation features like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle and Kungfu Panda. We are now working outside of DreamWorks and still doing international movies. This is a major step as the quality and talent required to make large movies are huge. Early sciences were inspired by the arts and today we have come a full circle, where animation in the form of technology/science is completing art, Biren says, giving the kind of quote that he seems to specialise in.
Hiring top quality talent remains a priority and a challenge. We are getting different skill sets and are hiring people not only from art colleges but from the IITs. A lot of the talent in the high end though has to be still managed from overseas, because we are in a vicious circle where we need both artists and engineers, says Biren.
Data security and process security are two of the aspects that are crucial to the industry and Biren has a close watch on them. A movie or TV serial which is in development maybe for a year or more should not go (spill) out; that will be the deal breaker. It is important we have data security, process security etc. But we do this in a relaxed manner. Our artists bring their mobile phone and there is a lot of trust involved here. We are not a sweat shop though work done is extremely demanding, both mentally and physically.
We dont have restrictions where you are expected to sit down to work at 9.30 am, lunch at 1 pm etc. We make sure they work a certain number of hours in a day, but more importantly, we ensure they finish a certain amount of work in a given period of time, Biren says, himself a great advocate of creative freedom.
The animation industry is today seen as a digital version of traditional arts. Digital versions of sculpting, acting, anatomy and mathematics have to be integrated seamlessly. Every element of this involves creativity and technology.
Still, there is some lingering doubt whether or not the industry has got the recognition it deserves. In theory we are a 12-year old industry, but I would say this industry in India has seen serious traction only in the last 7 to 8 years. This makes us really young. Worldwide (especially Japan, China, Korea) the industry has been around for the past 60 years. So in our 12 years, I would say our achievement is significant. We were 3% of the total media and entertainment market in 2007. It reached 5% last year and it is predicted to reach 9-10% by 2017. Animation and CG, if you think about it, today, are a part of your films, games and TV serials. So when the film industry grows, so do we. We can say that animation is the new engine under the hoodits the new way of storytelling.
The Association of Bangalore Animation Industry (ABAI) is framing polices to provide a robust pipeline of talent. Next month our first training centre for trainers is opening in Bangalore. To this location companies like Technicolor will send experts from time to time to train these trainers, says Biren. We are also undertaking a pilot project involving seven existing art colleges, giving them the right curriculum (which is being prepared), hardware and software so that they can start on digital arts. All this is approved by the Karnataka government.
Infrastructure though is one of the challenges faced by the industry. We need big data centres to handle the rendering etc. We are bringing together a central facility that can be used by a pay-per-use basis. This will bring down costs for small and medium enterprises that cant afford to have infrastructure of their own.
Compensation packages in the industry are still way behind those in the advanced markets, especially if one compares them to countries like Canada, France etc. But it is getting better. Earlier, this was an industry that was being paid peanuts. But people are getting paid three times as much now. The potential for this will increase, if and when the local IP gets recognised internationally, adds Biren.