An article in contentSutra states while Indian animation is attracting investment with tie-ups with US content firms (Turner [see MSNBC article] and Disney [see Variety article]) and Japanese animators, there are not enough animators to compete with competitive animation production centres such as the Philippines, Korea and Taiwan.

The article reiterates a claim in the Economic Times that India needs 10,000 professional animators of international standards.

But India faces a problem with quality, according to director Samanth.

“Barring one or two films, I am not happy with the quality of animated movies being made in the country,” Samanth said. “People are entering into the business just to make quick money. They produce low cost, low quality animation movies.”

The comments remind me of what some would argue to be the case even in Japan, which is often extolled as the world leader of animation, given that some figures put total animation broadcasts around the world as being 60 percent Japanese origin.

The article continues:

Without adequately trained animators, India could end up losing the race to this lucrative business. The Indian production houses inking deals with international companies need to take the initiative to train and retain employees. While it is true that animation houses find India attractive because of the lower labor cost, their Indian partners will have to remember that if they pay peanuts they are only going to get monkeys.

Lucrative business and paying peanuts. Again, there is substantial evidence to suggest that animation subcontracting is not the most lucrative business to be in, precisely because of what it pays: peanuts. This comes despite it being generally perceived as a high-growth high-value sector that policymakers are looking to bolster.

Original research sourced by DISCONTENTS on the animation industry in Tokyo suggests that the industry faces a cost/quality dilemma not too dissimilar (on some levels) to what these news articles depict in India.

Subcontractors face being squeezed by broadcasters and production houses for deadlines, which place emphasis on completion rather than quality. Given this low-cost environment, they can’t afford to train new animators, who are likely to leave if they are offered better (albeit still meagre) compensation. Despite industry reports such as those from JETRO stating that there are shortages of animators, there appears to be a fairly hefty supply of aspiring animators, with many willing to sacrifice higher wages in order to work in the animation industry. What there is a demand for is expert animators, which are in short supply. Given that most animation is for terrestrial broadcast, the vast bulk is based on existing manga characters and stories, meaning production companies get little share of the copyrights, and have little capacity to risk investing in the development of their own intellectual property. Broadcasters are more interested in their core business of satisfying domestic markets and earning advertising revenue so have little incentive to explore international markets with any degree of fervency. Finally, ‘OVA’ (original video animation) has managed to tap a profitable niche market that caters to otaku, which with its proclivity for disturbed and graphic sex and violence, has little hope of rising to mainstream popularity overseas, and is more likely to continue reinforcing stereotypes of Japanese animation as…weird.

This leaves feature-length anime as the most ‘promising’ market. Miyazaki’s Howl’s Moving Castle broke Japanese box-office records grossing 19.6 billion yen. Yet with its high upfront costs, long development timelines, and uncertain returns on investment, and a market dominated by Studio Ghibli, it is a market that is often too risky for investors and too small to house the bulk of those currently employed in the industry.

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Indian Animation Industry stats:

  • Predicted to reach $869 million by 2010, (compounded annual growth rate of 25 percent over 2006-2010).
  • Current industry has 300 small, medium and big animation companies employ approximately 12,000 people in India.
  • “Could use 3,00,000 professionals in content development and animation by 2008, up from 27,000 in 2001”
    [NB these figures are from the Economic Times article but I can’t vouch for their accuracy]