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How animation has evolved in the advertising industry

Animation and VFX are undergoing sweeping changes in India but is the advertising industry using these technologies to their full potential? tries to find out

When telecom giant Vodafone came out with the ZooZoos in the year 2009, they took the audience by storm. As a child, watching these strange beings speaking in a strange tongue (that somehow made sense), it took me a lot of time to accept the fact that there were real people under that all-white garb.

When they made the ZooZoos, the brainchild of Rajiv Rao (who was with Ogilvy & Mather then), the objective was “to make real people look as animated as possible”. Even today, it is remembered as one of the finest animation feats in the country.

The animation landscape in the country is changing. Earlier, the only source of animated content for children used to be cartoons that were created in the west, dubbed in regional languages. Today, there are Indian cartoon characters that command an equal share of space on channels and in the hearts and minds of children who watch them.

The KPMG India-FICCI Indian Media and Entertainment Industry Report 2017 says the Indian animation and VFX industry grew at 16.4% in 2016 to reach a size of Rs 59.5 billion, driven majorly by a 31% growth in VFX, with animation remaining steady at a growth rate of 9%.

The animation services market in 2016 continued to be dominated by outsourced projects from the television, film and advertising sectors, which accounted for around 85% of the total animation services turnover in India. Digital advertising and films are also seeing growth and are taking a larger share of the animation services pie.

With the right technology coming in and the right talents getting nurtured, the use of animation in advertising is also seeing an upswing.

Shantanu Baagchi

Speaking about the advancements in animation in India over the years, Shantanu Baagchi, Creative Director, Illuminations Production, said, “Earlier, one could not think beyond 2D, then came the Ram Mohan era. Then with the advent of computers, people realised that they could do computer graphics. Computer graphics back then was very nascent, people used to get excited over 8GB RAM. Today, the technology and the software that has come in allow people to definitely do a lot more. A lot of things that weren’t possible earlier are possible now.”

Prasad Ajgaonkar

Prasad Ajgaonkar, CEO, iRealities Pvt Ltd, pointed out how the advances in technology have contributed to the evolution of animation in the advertising industry.

“The animation industry has overall evolved in the last few years and as a result even animations in advertising have evolved. What predominantly used to be a title animation or packaging animation has now evolved to be a story-based animation. There are scripts being written around animated advertisements. The advertising industry is also experimenting with different mediums of animation,” said Ajgaonkar.

Suresh Eriyat

Suresh Eriyat, Director, Studio Eeksaurus Productions, believes brands today are not experimenting with animation as much as before.

“When I started out in this industry in 1999, I think animation-based ads were pretty nascent. But 2000 onwards there was quite a big leap in the number of animated films produced. We ourselves were able to work on really interesting animated advertisement films where we could explore different mediums and their combinations with equally interested creative people from the ad agencies. I remember at Famous House of Animation (a company I set up with Famous Studios), we used to work on several advertisement films that were using animation as a medium of storytelling. We introduced clay animation into the advertising film scene with Amaron battery ads and ICICI’s ‘Chintamani campaign’ and several other films between 2002 and 2004. Those were times when the creative people from the ad agencies were quite savvy and adventurous with exploring different kinds of storytelling methods,” said Eriyat.

He is of the view that today, almost 16 or 17 years after those films released, there is a lot of scepticism from the clients that animation appeals only to children and not to grown-ups.

“This notion has clearly made the number of animation films coming out of India come down in the recent years compared to those golden years of animation when we had bolder clients with equally adventurous agency people shouldering the risk. Having said that, the kind of animation films that come out nowadays, though less in number, are very good in terms of its quality even though local animation talent may not be used as much as it was used in the early years,” said Eriyat.

While it is true that animation in advertising has seen a significant change in the past years, the quality of some of these advertisements still leave something to be desired, say Ramanuj Shastry, Founder and Director, Infectious and Akashneel Dasgupta, National Creative Director, ADK Fortune.

Akashneel Dasgupta

“There is no denying that the quality of animation in the country has definitely improved over the years but I would say that it still has a long way to go. I believe what has improved here is the execution but as far as the conceptualisation goes it still needs a lot of work. There is an International Animation Film Festival that happens in Annecy, France. I was there a few years back and the kind of work that I saw there, and not just from European countries but also from South American countries, was phenomenal,” said Dasgupta.

For a medium like animation, the idea is paramount. As Shastry rightly pointed out if one could achieve what they wanted through live action, why would one turn to animation?

Animation is a medium that facilitates the flight of imagination. It allows one to achieve what one really cannot with live action.

“Good animation, like anything good, requires a lot of money and a lot of time. People think animation is cheap but that is not the case,” said Shastry.

A good animation film costs a lot more than a live film, if not the same, added Shastry.

“Except for a very few brands and a few agencies, most of the advertising industry creatives and planners stay away from animation primarily due to the time needed to create good animated content. The good news though is that those few agencies and brands who believe in dedicating time for animation are doing great work and the bad news is that I don’t see this attitude changing for the majorit0y of the industry in the near future,” said Eriyat.

So, in an industry that famously coined the term ‘wanted yesterday’, highlighting the extremely unrealistic deadlines that clients give agencies and one that is obsessed with the bottom line, how do animators and animation studios convince the client?

“The thing to understand here is that neither marketers and nor many agency people are well-versed with the ins and outs of the animation industry. They don’t have in-depth knowledge of how things get done and, therefore, it is not their fault that they have this notion that animation is cheaper and less time-consuming. In my experience, I have found that if you sit down and explain to them that good animation takes time, effort and money, they get it,” said Baagchi.

Dasgupta also pointed out how brands usually go along with the timelines set by foreign animation studios but don’t afford the same courtesy or consideration to animation studios in India.

Another point of contention is brands approaching foreign studios to get their work done.

“Somehow we have come to believe that a foreigner will always do better than an Indian. The advertising industry has tried that with directors. They have bought in foreign directors to direct Indian commercials. But one must understand a foreign director will never have the understanding that an Indian director will have of India and its customs and practices. The same goes for animation as well. There is great talent and great work being done here but unfortunately Indian brands are not recognising that,” said Baagchi.

But the animation in the country has got a boost because of home-grown cartoon characters, the IPs of which are with Indians and that in turn allows brands in India to use them in their commercials.

“This is a major shift in last decade, now India has its own IPs in animation content. There is a growing popularity of Indian characters like Chotta Bheem or Sheikh Chilli and naturally with popularity, come brand endorsements. Many kid-friendly brands are increasingly exploring the use of IP-based characters for brand positioning. With more local shows and acceptance of audience to local programmes, the use of these characters and references will be ever growing,” said Ajgaonkar.

Animation, by and large, has been used the most for categories that cater to children. But as a medium for communication, animation is not bound by categories or products. Everyone from candy brands to life insurance sellers have turned to communication, whenever the need was felt.

“Of course, going with the popular notion of the brand managers that animation works well with the children, all the confectionary and toy brands that target children can use animation to promote products. I have seen internationally people using animation when complex messaging has to be put across with simplicity and easy comprehension. One of the finest examples of how animation or animation-looking campaigns have created success among brands that are not only for children in India, we must look at Vodafone’s Zoozoos or the MP tourism ad with toys or the Rajasthan Tourism sand sculpture animation film,” said Eriyat.

Citing the example of a TV commercial for the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), Shastry said how animation doesn’t always have to be fun and lightweight, it can also be dark and used to convey some grim messaging.

The film shows a cartoon character bouncing back every time his father hits him, complete with a pre-recorded laugh track playing in the back. But when the father throws the cartoon character down the stairs, the body of a real boy lies at the bottom. The film ends with the message ‘Real children don’t bounce back’.

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