March 7-2005
Interview with Pentamedia Chairman & CEO, Dr V Chandrasekaran “Good judgement comes from experience and experience comes from bad judgement!”

“Good judgement comes from experience and experience comes from bad judgement”

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Pentamedia Chairman & CEO, Dr V Chandrasekaran

A name that till some years ago, inspired awe in animation circles the world over. More than 2000 animators working on 4 digital animation movies in a modern digital studio with integrated facilities for pre production , production and post, spread over a vast 25 acre complex.

Motion Capture, CD Replication plant, Multicusine Canteens, Vollyeball competitions, Weekend Movie Screenings, opportunities to interact with technical experts from Hollywood… you name it and the artists working out there had it…

Today, as evocative as ever, the same word, Pentamedia, however draws a completely different set of reactions…

There is a lot of impact, both positive as well as negative, that giants like Pentamedia have had on the industry, and there are quite a lot of lessons that one can learn…

Ask any large sized or boutique studio that pitches its services internationally and the studio rues the fact that they find it tough to convince international clients thanks to the miscalculations of the early movers and shakers…

A positive arguement in support of Pentamedia is that had there been no Pentamedia, where would a majority of the Indian studios get their technical backend support from? Where would Chennai’s animation industry get its struggling and upcoming animation entrepraneurs?

While some of the largest names in Animation like Disney and Pixar are worth thousands or probably even tens of thousands of crores, Pentamedia’s equity currently is Rs 250 crores… Within its capacity, the Indian animation major has completed producing 5 animation movies and is planning to continue creating more…

While in Chennai, Animation ‘xpress’ Anand Gurnani met up with Pentamedia Chairman and CEO Dr V. Chandrasekaran.

Here are excerpts from an in-depth conversation….

When did the vision and idea to create an empire, such as Pentamedia once was, originate from? What was your strategy for growth?
I have been in the IT industry for the last 30 years. During my stint in the USA in the 80’s I felt that computers were dealing only with characters and numbers and if the computer had to reach the common man, it should have Audio and Video. Also when I was designing software systems in TV stations, I was surprised about the time taken to complete the animation films/serials, which have been consuming average time of two years. I wanted to find a method, in which animated features could be created in six months, so that children could have regular stream to enjoy.

I Started Pentafour Software Exports Ltd., (Now Pentamedia Graphics Limited), we had an E-cubed concept of Education, Enterprise and Entertainment and had this strategy to develop skills & resources to create our vision into planning and execution.

What went wrong … what made you downscale from 2000 to 200 people ?
Nothing went wrong. In our life, we do not have a rewind button. Whatever done at that point of time was right and nobody could predict the Dot.com bust, 9/11, economy slow down, elections etc., Since most of us depending heavily on USA, this had affected on our body-shopping, Onsite and Off-shore projects. Pre-2000, we were doing 80% projects and 20% our own products, whereas today it is the reverse.

As per the procedure of Entertainment industry, we hire people as and when required and also outsource production work in India and other countries. Today we believe that around 200 permanent professionals only are required for producing two animation films a year. And also TV serials and for any outside projects, we consider it depending on the margins, schedules and the payment terms of the customers.

Lot of people claim that you had an inner circle beyond which you never went and there was a gap between your vision and the implementation of it by the members of your inner circle. Please comment…

If you look at the history of the Kingdoms, Government, Political parties and companies, they always had an inner circle, where self-starters are there to turn dreams into reality. The non-starters/slow-starters/push starters have to break this circle to come-up in career. Those who grudge always, find fault with others and not with themselves. Even today, we are all proud (including ex-Pentamedians) for the level we have achieved today. We could have done much more if the so-called outer circle had also penetrated into the inner circle!

What according to you were the biggest achievements of Pentamedia, what according to you were the gravest mistakes?

The main achievements are training skills on 3D animation, one of the pioneers in producing the world’s first 3D motion captured animation film and in the last six years we have produced five animation films, pioneers in introducing special effects/visual effects into the live-actions films in India, training more than 3000 professionals both in India and overseas, acquiring companies abroad and one of the few “One stop-shops” for Animation Entertainment.

As I said earlier, mistakes are grave or save, depending on the circumstances and environment. Our last three animation films had characters and names, which were not very well received in the US and Europe entertainment consumers, because of the prevailed perceptions about such names.

Good Judgment comes from Experience and Experience comes from Bad Judgment! Our present films Gulliver’s Travel, Tarzan and the Aliens have a different feel & look and we are confident that these films will be received well. Animation film contents have a very long life and I am certain that the grave mistakes will become great master-pieces in the future! Out of the five films we have produced:

1. Sinbad : Beyond the veil of Mists is the first animation film other than Disney to be shown on Fox Network on thanks-giving day in USA;

2. Pandavas : The Five Warriors won the Indian Government’s best English film award and Vancouver film festival award;

3. Alibaba selected for Oscar nomination;

4. Son of Alladin got the appreciation from the children film society and

5. The Legend of Buddha selected for Oscar nomination

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A Still from 'The Legend of Buddha' and 'Sinbad: beyond the veil of mist'

 “Our last three animation films had characters and names, which were not very well received in the US and Europe entertainment consumers, because of the prevailed perceptions about such names”

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A Still from 'Son of Alladin' and 'Alibaba'

What has been your experience with the five movies that you have completed? Have they got in the kind of revenue that you expected?

As I explained earlier, animation film contents have a very long life and if it collects 1$ in first three years, it will collect another 1$ in 3 to 7 years and another 1$ from 7 years to rest of the life. Since it is all on-going, figures change every day and our past figures are available in our Annual Reports and Websites.

Why haven’t any of the movies had grand theatrical releases in the country?
From our experience, we feel that 1000 prints in USA can collect a minimum of 20Mllion dollars on theatrical. Home-video, DVD, broadcasting, cable TV, games and merchandizing can give another a minimum of 20 Million dollar plus. India is yet to become a children content country, unlike westerners, parents do not have the habit of taking their children to animation films, but slowly this will change and hope in the course of time, there will be a grand theatrical release like live-action films in India.

Could you throw some light on your Interactive and Home Video businesses?
Pentamedia has produced more than 200 Interactive Animation and Multimedia Titles that generated and are still generating good revenue. Every product that we have produced in the past was always designed to be compatible for getting ported into other formats and thus the Home Videos too. Pentamedia will continue to play its defined role in this area with more new titles and techniques. All our products are available/streamed through www.numtv.com.

What are your future plans….
In a year:
” Production of two animations films
” 200 minutes of TV serials
” Visual effects or special effects for over 100 films
” Interactive games using our animation film characters & backgrounds
” Distribution of films, TV and internet contents.
” Expanding by organic and inorganic growth in US and Europe and
” Winning an OSCAR.

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