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The Growth of India's Visual Effects Industry

Jul 7, 2021 12:21 PM 5 min read

Seeing is believing, or that is what the modern-day entertainment industry would have us believe

With new and improved technology pushing the boundaries of visual effects, we have now turned into an audience that expects our screens to depict fantasies with the same authentic appeal as reality. 

Be it digital manipulation of the boat scenes in the Titanic, the jaw-dropping Dinosaurs from The Jurassic Park or the unmistakable Tolkien-esque portrayal of Gollum from the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, global audiences are increasingly hooked to the irresistible creations and charms of visually affected content.

This has contributed to a direct and sharp uptick in the market size of the animation and VFX industry. Although India has had computer-generated graphics facilities and a history of experimentation with digital imagery since the 1950s, recent growth in the VFX and animation industry has been greatly remarkable.

Today, we explore the details of this industry and look into the most prominent drivers of its growth in the country. 

VFX, CGI, Animation Etc.

Let's clarify a few things right off the bat. 

Animation is the technique of motion graphics. It's basically the process of applying illusions to drawings or sketches so that they move and act in rhythm. Like in cartoons. 

VFX, on the other hand, is the manipulation of live action scenes with digital or computerised elements to create realistic imagery. It is the technique of portraying anything "unreal" in a real way that we see in movies, essentially. 

CGI, or Computer Generated Imagery, is a part of VFX. This is the part of the visual effects which is created by generating computer-generated graphics or software. 

All of these have graphics design at the core of their operation, a domain that only gained sizable traction in India since the 90's. Gradually, there was a shift from traditional 2D to 3D models and more engagement of Indian talent in content creation, especially when outsourcing of post-production services from Hollywood studios began to rise.

Indian VFX artists have earned a reputation for their stellar work on international projects. With reduced costs and access to improved skills, Indian markets have become a staple for studios overseas who wish to farm out their visual effects and creative assignments. 

But with a greater push and demand for visual effects in homegrown productions and a growing call for domestic intellectual property (IP) rights inclusion of the artists, the Indian animation and VFX sector has also taken lift. In a 2019 report, KPMG estimated that the Indian animation, VFX and post-production industry is expected to more than double in the next five years. 


Push and Demand For Growth

When Baahubali released in 2015, it attracted a worldwide broadcast market and audience that grew to appreciate its top-notch content. More than 15Indian companies worked on the visual effects in the movie. Although it wasn't a watershed moment for the industry, it led to the conviction that domestic firms were capable of churning out superior VFX content.

With the growing rise in OTT and digital platforms, Indian content is drawing more eyeballs and competing with content across the globe. This has given a boost to the demand for new projects and artistic talent.

Animation is incidentally one of the few industries allied with the feature film industry that has grown (almost 10% in 2020) during the pandemic despite the economic fallout. Red Chillies VFX, a popular firm based out of Mumbai, has more than 300 of its artists working remotely and contributing to recent projects like Class of '83, Gunjan Saxena, Radhe etc. 

Even though the transition into 3D VFX has become mainstream now, some 2D animation and SFX (special effects) studios, like Toonz Animation, have maintained a significant presence in the markets too. Born in 2005, the studio now has a presence in 11 countries and a network of 3,000 professionals.

Toonz has capitalised on the Indian audiences' love for cartoon characters like Chacha Chaudhary, Rat-A-Tat, Fruit Ninja, etc and has acquired an annual production capacity of 10,000 minutes. 


Migration Across Dimensions

During 1997-2000, a number of budding Indian studios began collaborating with overseas agencies to produce both 2D and the fast-developing 3D content. The development of dynamic animation software also helped to increase content supplies, budget additions and service channels. 

India's rise as a software powerhouse has now diversified and pushed the application of 3D animation and graphics into education, advertisement, gaming and other sectors. For instance, Unreal Engine and Unity Technologies, two game-development companies, have forayed into filmmaking projects recently. Industry integrations like these are on the rise. 

Famous Studios, another firm specialising in VFX, says that it delivers around 15-20 TV ads to clients almost every month. The firm also was behind the spectacular commercial for Panasonic Batteries which employed motion capture technology. 

Given that the quality of visual and special effects is only as good as contemporary technology, their cooperation and support for tech enablers (like software makers) has also become important. With improved technology also comes reduced production costs like, say, ditching the green screen. Virtual setups designed on computers can create simulated environments like crowd multiplication, CGI animals, desired colour composition etc. 

This has become more important in light of the ongoing lockdowns and restrictions on mobility that prevent large-scale production and set designs. Nube Studio has recently worked on similar simulation techniques on web series like Raktanchal, Aarya and the movie Mumbai Saga.


Opportunities For Growth

India has been a sought-after outsourcing destination for Western industries for over decades now. But as global partnerships increase, so do the presence and penetration of foreign entities in domestic markets. Recognised Hollywood studios like Technicolour and Double Negative already have a sizable presence in india. More of them are now setting up offices, instead of investing in existing Indian studios. 

Why could this be happening? One reason. Cheap talent. Producers have figured out that they can cut costs and exercise more control over professionals on their own payroll as compared to independent contractors. 

But the thing that's going well for Indian VFX companies is the rapid increase in homegrown stories, domestic content and market. This gives them the first crack at building business with local producers who may find foreign studios' too pricey for their budgets. 

Take Sony Voot, for instance, an Indian OTT platform, that has partnered with Green Gold Animation for 21 movies of the much-loved Bheem series. Studios are also moving away from the service mode to IP ownership mode, meaning that they are vying for ownership of their own content, like the studio Cosmos May recently did by announcing its IPs for Dr. Tenali Rama and Captain Bharat

Currently, the Indian animation and visual effects industry captures about 10% of the global market. But it has the potential to expand upto 25% by 2025. Which is why it remains crucial to find and nurture talent in the industry. 

The process of completing and delivering visual effects sequences in films requires a sizable team strength (150-200 minimum). Creating content that is heavy on VFX requires a new breed of creative writers as well. So, investment in graphics education is necessary to cultivate on the demands of a burgeoning industry and emerge as a global hub for visual effects, film production and animation. 


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