The late 90s heralded an era of promises for young caricaturists and artists across Kerala with a boom in the animation industry. This, coupled with the phenomenal spread of the IT revolution, which had its reverberations in Kerala in the early 2000s, changed the face of the art-related profession in the state.
Toonz Animations, established inside the Technopark campus, emerged as the Mecca for artists graduating from various arts colleges in the state promising remuneration and exposure unheard of. The MNC that began with 2D animation mainly worked on projects outsourced from abroad. It was a place where Indian artists, especially from Kerala, had the rare opportunity to rub shoulders with international talents.
Similar animation studios mushroomed in several parts of the state outsourcing projects from abroad. Prominent among them being Animation Dimension, Nest Animation, Digital Carving and so on. The purple patch continued for few more years but then the initial halo surrounding the animation sector slowly began to wane. Many of the animation studios were either shut down or turned to other realms leaving in the lurch artists pursuing a career in animation. What exactly led to the abysmal state of the once glamorous industry is yet another mystery. Prominent experts in the field have various reasons to lay down.
According to A.K. Saiber, a freelance animation and graphics artist, the market for animation industry is very small. "Animation studios in its hay days were mainly engaged in projects outsourced from studios abroad. But, the studios began reeling under existential crisis following lack of funds. This could be one of the reasons for the debacle here," he says. He also attributes the crash of CD and DVD industries to the sorry state of affairs in animation production.
"Now, everything is available on the internet for free. So why why would one buy a CD or a DVD and watch animation videos?" Saiber asks. The artist is known for his animated series of Bobanum Moliyum, the epochal cartoon characters created by veteran cartoonist Toms, who passed away recently. Saiber was involved in the production of multi-media CD-ROM Ente Malayalam, which were brought out by Malayala Manorama to promote Malayalam language.
"It is not shortage of talent in the state that led to the downward trend," Rajiv, a freelance animation and graphics artist, says, "it is lack of financial resources and the apprehensive attitude towards the sector that stymied the animation industry in Kerala. Animation and graphics works require a great deal of effort and time. However, to a lay man, this cannot be visible. Hence, unless the investors dealing with animation projects are well aware of its technical aspects, it won't seem worthwhile to put the money in it. That is the reason why animation projects done in India look substandard compared to the international ones,” he says. “They are not given the due time for technical perfection here. In this the situation, talented artists here fly abroad seeking greener pastures. That is why ten in hundred animators in any well established studios abroad are Indians," Rajiv says.
Rajiv has been doing freelancing for the past 10 years and has done title graphics for more the 50 Malayalam films, one Hindi movie and two Tamil films, the latest being Kali. 2D animations have been very rarely tried in Malayalam films. There again, the producers may stay back from investing so much on it. "But directors who find it important may go ahead. For instance, the animation part of the film Gangster was created at the coast of Rs 31 lakh. The director felt it is better to portray the background history of story through animation and found it worth to bear the cost," he says. Rajiv was in charge of the animated potion of the movie Gangster.
"But animation is used in few Malayalam films like Neram, Om Shanti Oshana, Pullipulikalum Attinkuttiyum and so on," he says. Nevertheless, he is positive about the revival of the animation sector in the age of web as internet ads and such other features are flourishing at an exponential rate.
Joseph Mallappally, a well experienced 2D animator who was part of the team that created the Pullipulikalum Attinkuttiyum teaser echoed the same view. "Children are always fond of cartoons. As long as they watch animated stories there is always scope. But fresh ideas should come up. Also the investors should be ready to understand its worth and its artistic dimensions. Animated stories created spending enough time would produce magnificent results," he says.
Madhu K.S., Managing Director, Hibiscus Deigns, the brainchild of the popular Manchadi series, says that though several animation studios were shut down over the years some do really stay and remain successful. He cites examples of animation CDs produced from the house Malayala Manorama like Mayavi, Kilukkampetti, Manhchadi, Poopy and so on. “Several volumes in there respective series were dished out and they still keep moving,” he says.
"But the margin of profits is very low in animation compared to the effort and other businesses. The recovery of revenue is at a slow pace, besides, piracy is a key evil that can torpedo any brilliant animation project,” he says. “But there is a silver lining in the field of graphics and visual effects, which are fast emerging highly rewarding creative fields,” he says and exudes hope for better prospects in the industry with advances in the information technology," Madhu concludes.