15/09/2015 8:05 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

The Pride Of VFX And The Prejudice Against Animation

If you have friends with a creative bent of mind, you may find that they get annoyed when you make technical mistakes about their work. The list of possible transgressions is endless - from referring to works of art as mere illustrations/sketches to confusing animation films with cartoons. I've worked in the field long enough to forgive the layperson to a certain extent, but what of those who work in this industry and still make glaring mistakes? With whom does the fault lie? One could say that India has not yet experienced or accepted the genre of animation as well as the West, but with the success of Baahubali, which made Rs 545 crore at the box office, there is a growing buzz about the animation industry. But wait! The film cannot be categorised purely as a work of animation. It has been crafted so well through the magic of VFX (visual effects)! Whether you are a student at the crossroads or just here to gain some knowledge, read on to understand the difference between VFX and animation.

The core difference

According to the Oxford Dictionary, animation is "the technique of photographing successive drawings or positions of puppets or models to create an illusion of movement when the film is shown as a sequence." It also defines computer animation as "the manipulation of electronic images by means of a computer in order to create moving images." On the other hand, VFX refers to the processes by which imagery is created and/or manipulated outside the context of a live action shot.

"Animation is a medium of storytelling while VFX is an ingredient used to create visual magic to enhance the story."

Therefore, while animation can be created independently without the need of a live object, the purpose of VFX is to enhance the environment within the film to look realistic or fantastic. It comes into play in the post-production stage when the primary image capture is complete. In animation, however, the animator needs to visualise and create the entire scene from nothing.

According to me this is the differentiator: Animation is a medium of storytelling while VFX is an ingredient used to create visual magic to enhance the story. VFX is not a medium of storytelling. It is a masala that needs to go with every film like music/sound. In some films, the VFX part is not visible because it is so well done, but the fact of the matter is that today there can be no film without VFX; it has become a necessity. While using animation, a story is entirely created from imagination. VFX cannot stand alone without a base of live action/animation footage.

What the audience is thinking

The success of any film, whether it's a feature film or an ad, depends on the audience. But in general, the offerings of the Indian animation industry have not garnered a huge fan base. International animation films have set really high standards, which the Indian audience has been exposed to but the Indian animation industry is still trying to catch up to the technological advancements and the scale to produce path-breaking content to entertain local audiences.

Unfortunately, Bollywood investors and producers don't realise how important it is to reach these standards -- but soon they will! Once you create quality animated content, it will reap rich rewards, generation to generation, as animation has a really long shelf life. Tom & Jerry and Mickey Mouse are examples of series that are going strong despite being around for more than 80 years!

Animation can be seen as a real-life story adapted to fantastical settings to make it entertaining, but since they get bracketed with cartoons, audience expectations get affected. They believe that an animation film will be like Chhota Bheem or Hanuman, which draw kids and families but not a wider audience. Today, an adult audience would still watch a Kung Fu Panda or Big Hero 6, but not an animated film made in India.

The challenges of animation

Quick and easy? Not so much: "I have five days and need to finish an ad film - can we do it in animation and get it done quickly?" Clients have often approached us with such questions and we have had to turn them down. They do not understand that the process is much more complicated, involving a complete visualisation of the campaign and a process of storytelling that needs to be worked out before we can start production. While short films can take anywhere between a few months to a year to produce, the genre needs more time and labour than many believe. Many clients think animation is completely computerised and hence it happens quickly! Though the industry today is much better understood than it was 15 years ago, there is still a long way to go.

"With the outsourced model of animation that is currently flourishing in India, we are only developing raw technical skills for hire..."

Outsourced projects vs. creativity: If sustainability is a big issue, then identity is a bigger one. Currently, a large section of the animation industry works on an outsourced model of revenue generation. Only a very small fraction of companies use it as a powerful, engaging and timeless medium of storytelling. With the outsourced model of animation that is currently flourishing in India, we are only developing raw technical skills for hire and these work volumes come to India only because of the price advantage and our English communication skills. If any other entity delivers these two advantages equally, we'd lose out on these jobs. We all are aware that China is capable of producing anything and everything -- including animation --- cheaper than us and with them picking up English as well, we shouldn't miss the opportunity that lies ahead of us!

Lack of training courses: The other challenge is the lack of proper animation filmmaking courses. Except for NID and IDC there are hardly any institutes that can comprehensively train students in animation filmmaking. Most popular institutes, and there are many of them, focus on teaching just the software and not the cognitive skills required to make films or being part of the filmmaking process.

The VFX factor:Most live action films require VFX work at the post-production stage, along with video editing, sound design, colour grading and so on. VFX, therefore, can create huge employment opportunities. But though it looks more promising on paper it has a more challenging future. However, it has a more challenging future even though it looks more promising on paper. It is thus best for the animation and VFX industries co-exist and collaborate instead of competing with each other - by poaching talent, for example - in order to create a profit-making empire.

With India bagging its first ever award at Annecy, the world's oldest, largest and most prestigious animation film festival, the animation industry is slowly recognising the potential that India has from a creative perspective. It is time that we get our basics right and start working in the direction that will be beneficial to an emerging industry of animation and an animation-savvy audience, rather than just depend on outsourced projects. After all, with the changing mindset of the audience, animation is likely to become one of the most sought-after mediums for entertainment and storytelling in India.