Local Animation: A Way Out of Poverty

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

One of the more remarkable creative developments since 2000 has been the explosion in animation production in the developing world, in particular Asia. Once seen as frivolous or unnecessary, animation is now acknowledged as a high-growth area and a critical component in the emerging economies being shaped by information technology.

The demand for more animation is being fuelled by several trends. Lucrative outsourcing contracts with major global film studios like Walt Disney and Warner Brothers get much of the attention. But even more importantly for small entrepreneurs, the rapid growth of information technology and mobile phones is fuelling demand for animation with a local flavour, which is an excellent way to make applications more attractive to users. As computers and animation software become cheaper, it is easier for entrepreneurs to compete with the bigger studios. It all started with the popularity of Japanese anime animation, which kicked the door open in the West, sparking an appetite for fresh, new styles unseen before.

The animation leaders in Asia are Japan, Republic of Korea, Philippines and Taiwan Province of China, with India rising quickly. As animation production is very lucrative and a labor-intensive business (labor takes up 70 to 80 percent of business costs), other Asian countries such as India, China, Vietnam, Malaysia and Singapore have recently started their own industries.

The National Association of Software and Service Companies (NASSCOM) has forecast the Indian animation sector to gross overall turnover of US $950 million in 2009, while its gaming industry will reach US $300 million in 2009 (from US $30 million in 2005). The global industry is huge: it is estimated that games will gross US $11 billion and animation US $35 billion by 2009. In the Philippines, growth has been 25 per cent a year since 2005 (National Statistics Office), and the government has been heavily promoting animation as a viable career and business opportunity. China was able to make US $604 million in 2005. The AWN’s Animation Industry Database lists 48 studios operating in the Philippines alone. Others benefiting are Thailand, Taiwan Province of China and Republic of Korea. And even in Africa, there have been attempts to get things going.

Ambitiously, China hopes to raise its home-made share of the animation pie from 10 per cent and to increase its overall animation programming from 5,000 hours/year to 16, 7000/year. In 2004, the Chinese government set up four animation schools: Communication University of China, Beijing Film Academy, China Academy of Art, and Tianjin Sorun Digital Media School. More than 200 animated films were produced in 2004.

Indian animation feature productions have exploded in the past few years. In 2005, animated feature Jai Hanuman started the current boom. Its quality marked a departure from past Indian productions and heralded in a new era. Importantly, it out-grossed any Disney film in India, and proved films featuring local topics could be commercially successful. It is a difficult market with 14 official languages and 1,400 dialects. At present, the huge Indian market has little locally produced animation to feed its needs. But by 2007, 71 Indian animation films were announced to be in production.

Productions in development draw heavily on India’s culture and love of gods. They include Epiphany Films’ The Dream Blanket, a Tibetan fairy tale, and Graphiti studios’ Action Hero BC, a teenager who fights evil.

The world’s animation producers scour India for talent to outsource. Global films with some Indian production in them include Finding Nemo, The Lion King and The Adventures of Tenali Raman. Toonz Animation Studio based at the Technopark in Kerala, was called by Animation Magazine one of the top ten studios in the world.

In Africa, South Africa has by far the most dynamic and sophisticated animation sector. Ten years after the birth of democracy, hundreds of production companies and several 2D animation houses were established. In turn, South Africa advertises itself as a cheaper place to produce animation.

The highly successful South African 3D animated series Magic Cellar by Morula Pictures – the first of its kind based on African culture – was successfully sold to the US Home Box Office channel this year. Based on 20 folk tales, the stories were collected through interviews with elders in African villages. Mfundi Vundla, 58, who owns Johannesburg’s Morula Pictures, South Africa’s largest black-led studio, said his productions are meant to counter the perception of “Africans as unsophisticated, superstitious idiots who visited witch doctors to solve problems.” It employs 60 people and dozens of actors.

In 2004, UNESCO’s Africa Animated! was launched, with East Africa’s first animation project. The participants undertook animation, drawing techniques, scriptwriting for animation and storyboarding. The project was launched to assemble resources and expertise for the production of culturally relevant children’s animated cartoons and programmes in Africa. It sought to create a high-quality “African branded” training and production model, in order to make African animation competitive for regional organizations to produce animated TV series, Public Service Announcements (PSA) and short films.

The Nairobi office is seeking to establish a Regional Training and Production Centre for Animation in Kenya in 2008.

Moustapha Alassane of Niger and one of Africa’s film pioneers, said: “The good thing about animation is that you can do it on a shoe-string budget. With the computer, animation is getting easier and anyone can do it now. I want to encourage young Africans to use new technologies for animation.”

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