The pride of VFX and the prejudice of animation


Mr. Suresh Eriyat (Founder and Creative Director – Eeksaurus), having bagged the first ever award for India at Annecy, the world’s oldest and largest animation film festival, has penned down his thoughts with regards to  the need to understand the different between animation and VFX in the country. Whether one is a student at the cross roads or a just to gain some knowledge, he has beautifully elaborated on how not to confuse the two along with the scope and challenges of each.

If you have friends with a creative bent of mind, you often come across them getting annoyed when you make technical mistakes about their work. From confusing works of art and terming them as mere illustrations/sketches or animation films as cartoons…the list is endless! Having worked in the field long enough, while I can forgive the lay man to a certain extent, what really takes it to the next level is that those within the industry itself make glaring mistakes within this field. So with whom does the fault lie? One could say that India has not yet accepted the genre of animation as well as the West has or we simply haven’t lived with it for enough time as the West, but with recent films such as Bahubali enchasing over 545 crore rupees in the worldwide collections there is a rising buzz about the industry once again. But wait! The film cannot be categorized purely as a work of animation! It has been crafted so well through the magic of VFX! Whether you are a student at the cross roads or a 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.’ Now that is the dictionary definition that you can probably mug up and write at a GK test! On the other hand, VFX is described as the processes by which imagery is created and/or manipulated outside the context of a live action shot. The difference clearly is therefore that while animation can be created independently without the need of a live object, the purpose of VFX or visual effects is to enhance or make the environment within the film to look realistic or fantastic. Its prime purpose therefore is achieved during the post production stage when the primary image capture is complete. In animation however, the animator needs to visualize and create the entire scene from nothing! Visualize it from the start to finish before getting into production.

According to me this is the differentiator: Animation is a medium of storytelling while VFX is an ingredient used in the story telling for creating visual magic and enhancing visual impact of the story. VFX is not a medium of story telling. 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 that would not have VFX, as it has become a necessity today. While using animation, a story is entirely created from imagination. VFX cannot stand alone without a base of live action footage or animation footage.

What the audience is thinking:  As for all films that we create, be it ad films, short or feature films, it all boils down to the audience to make it click. When it comes to the world of animation however, international films have set really high standards, which the Indian audience has been exposed to but the animation industry is still trying to cope up with the technological advancements and the scale to produce path breaking content alongside sharpening their own storytelling skills to entertain India Inc. In addition, the unfortunate part is that Bollywood investors and producers don't realize the worth of this aspect yet, but soon they will! Once you create an animation content, it will reap you income time and again, generation to generation as animation has a really long shelf life. Tom & Jerry and Mickey Mouse are live examples of a successful series despite being around for more than 80 years! Animation can be seen as the adaptation of a real life story under the light of a fantasy that makes it entertaining. Sadly, animated films get categorized under the bracket of cartoons and so the releases in this regards that one sees will be that of a Chhota Bheem movie or a mythological film like Hanuman which do quite well with the audience with kids and families, but does not encourage an adult audience to be drawn to it. Today an adult audience would still watch a Kung Fu Panda or Big Hero 6, but not an animated film made in India.

Challenges associated: ‘I have five days and need to finish an ad film – can we do it in animation and finish it quickly?’ Clients have often approached us with such questions and we have had to turn them down. They did not understand that the process is much more complicated involving a complete visualization of the campaign and a process of storytelling that is involved before we can go ahead with the work. While short films can take anywhere between a few months to a year to produce, the genre needs to be looked at as beyond being quick and not labor intensive! Many of the clients think animation is completely computerized and hence it happens quickly!! Whereas the industry today is much better understood than it was 15 years ago, there is still a long way to go. If sustainability is a big issue, then identity is a bigger issue. Currently the animation industry is comprised of a large contingent that 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 price advantage offered, as well as the advantage of the English communication skills that we have. If any entity comes up to mark with both of these advantages, India could 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!

The other challenge is the lack of proper animation film making courses. Except for NID and IDC there are hardly any institutes that can train students in animation film making in an overall sense. Most of the institutes that are popular and in abundance, focus on teaching just the software and not the cognitive skills required to make films or being part of the filmmaking process.

On the other hand, when one dwells into VFX in the live action shots, it would take the requisite amount of time to complete the shoot, and is part of the post production stage along with processes such as video editing, sound design, colour grading and other such processes to be undertaken within the post production stage. Most live action films require VFX work. VFX therefore can sometimes create huge employment opportunities. However, it has a more challenging future even though it looks more promising on paper.  It would therefore be best suited for them to co-exist together and collaborate instead of engaging in a fierce neck to neck competition with regards to poaching talent from each other and creating one’s own 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 recognizing 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 that are only making the projections look good for certain organizations that boast of a phenomenal growth of animation industry in the country. 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 for India.

Contributory Article: This article has been authored by Mr. Suresh Eriyat (Founder & Creative Director – Eeksaurus)