Anime Manga is all set to get redefined in India with ‘The Age of Lions’, an Indian Anime- Style animated series by Anitracks Studio. Conceptualized by Sudeep Choudhari, CEO of Anitracks Studio and its very first teaser is developed by Rudra Matsa Entertainment.
Shamik Dasgupta has written the series with The Animation Direction and Character Designs taken care of by Jazyl Homavazir.
To know more about the core highlights, characters and visions about the series, AnimationXpress.com’s Zeenia Boatwala recently caught up with Sudeep Choudhari, CEO of Anitracks Studio, along with core team members Jazyl, Shamik and Rudra Matsa, and Rudra Matsa CEO of Rudra Matsa Entertainment.
Hello Sudeep, Glad to know about Anitracks Studio and your debut project ‘The Age of Lions’, Please tell us more about yourself?
Well I am a career management consultant with 9 yrs in IT and Banking industry currently working out of Silicon Valley US. I am born and brought up in MP Chhattisgarh ,did my engineering from Bhopal and MBA from Goa Institute of Management and have been living in US since 5.5 yrs. I founded Anitracks Media Pvt. Ltd in Aug 2012 though we have been working informally on this since Feb 2012. We currently have 11 people team besides sound operations and production house which is working on “The Age of Lions” product. As we move ahead we surely see our team grow.
Please share more on the visions of your studio and ‘The Age of Lions’?
Anitracks Media Pvt. Ltd is a pre-production house which intends to make Indian Anime-style series targeted to young Indian audience for television. Anime is widely considered as a style of animation mostly practiced in Japan and to be fair lot of stylizing of what you would see in Anitracks products are going to have a lot of Japanese patterns but the design would have strong Indian influences. The soul of anime has always been its stories and that would be a corner stone for Anitracks products. The stories would be multi layered with strong characterization, distinct sense of the era, pertinent philosophies without compromising on entertainment quotient. As I said before Anitracks was founded in Aug 2012. The core team started of three, Jazyl, Shamik and I got together with this idea around Feb 2012.
The first project that we have undertaken is a historical fantasy called “The Age of Lions”. We have currently a 10 member team working on this project which includes quite a few known names from the Indian comic con circuit. These are very highly talented and passionate individual who have already made a mark in Indian comics industry& are now looking to Animation. The biggest strength of our team remains its zeal to establish a strong identity for Indian animation on world stage. Creating original content involves a lot of long hours but since this is a very creatively satisfying experience the stress levels are nonexistent in the team members. Currently we have our registered office in Raipur CG which is my home town. Most of the work is done online for now. As we hit the second phase we have decided to setup our office in Mumbai.
You’ve launched the first look of The Age of Lions at Comic Con Delhi, how was the experience and response?
Yes! We did launch the the first look and the final teaser is now out. The intent was actually to bring out the 4 mins trailer than a 30 sec teaser. Which can double up as proof of competency and we have been working on the Trailer since Oct 2012. The response has been pretty good. People are very appreciative of the idea. 12500 fans on FB in less than 1 month of being brought in public speak volumes of the purchase the idea has. A lot of fans are looking forward for the series. The experience when the trailer played was surreal. We had people of all ages, even kids, who are a very small demographic for this particular project hooked to the trailer which played during the presentation as well as the screen we had put at our stall.
Can you please about the story line of The Age of Lions?
“The Age of Lions” is a historical fantasy set in 273 B.C.E. It is a story set in a historically accurate time frame but the events that are shown are fictional with little bit of history rolled into it. Targeted at the audience from 13 and 25 yrs, the story rolls around 2 teenagers growing up in outskirts of Mauryan Empire who embark on journey to find their origins because of circumstances beyond their control and end up playing a critical role in shaping the future of Mauryan Empire. Essentially this is a story about a civil war torn empire told through the eyes of two teenagers.
Would you like to elaborate more on the story structure and share your perspective on the way audience would see it?
“The Age of Lions” is built on a multi-layered story structure hence there are multiple ways to look at it. It is essentially a story of two kids growing up in extraordinary times of Indian history. It is their expressions, adventures and emotional trials while following their destiny which would be shown the series& we are certain the teens who watch this series will relate to it. It is also a philosophical battle between how one perceives power and undertakes responsibilities that comes with it. It is a story of war torn prosperous country and politics that runs it. It is story of son longing to be treated with affection by his father and for being recognized as the great son he is. This is story of ordinary human beings who unknowingly end up doing extra ordinary deeds while attempting to find answers to the question that torment them internally.
When did you start working on it and at what stages has it reached?
We started working in Feb 2012 on adhoc basis and it was in May 2012 that we started gaining momentum and the company creation process was initiated during the same period. Aug 2012 we got ourselves registered as Anitracks Media pvt ltd. “The Age of Lions “ is currently in its pre production stage with story arc, 20 + character designs, 15 key Background designs and script of 2 episodes ready.We have already selected RME as our production partners to bring live the animation while we have Sproutz as our sound effects, background score and voice over partners.
What does the title ‘The Age of Lions’ Signify?
‘Lions’ played an important role in symbolism in the times of Maurya. If you see our national emblem which is made up 4 lions sitting and looking in four directions it was symbol of Mauryan Empire keeping vigil on all directions. What stands out though is most of the symbolism that is associated with empires are aggressive anecdotes associated to them .Mauryan post Ashoka symbolism is a departure from this trend. The Lion symbolism though was inherited by Ashoka from his predecessors and hence these were times when Indian subcontinent was ruled by Mauryan Lions lending to the name ‘The Age of Lions’
Could you share more on your approach that you follow for creating ‘The Age of Lions?’
“The Age of Lions” is our first offering on Indian TV. The plan is for us to establish Anitracks as first accepted Indian anime house which can bring original, unheard stories to life on Indian TV. We believe there is a market for imaginative, story driven and original content and with “The Age of Lions” we want to establish that.
We have been cognizant of the international attention that we have we are receiving on our project with legendary art directors from Warner Bros and Disney reviewing our work and leaving us very encouraging feedbacks of what they think about the quality of content we are bringing .
We envision that if we are able to crack Indian market then “The Age of Lions” has potential to go international and get aired on American and Japanese television as well. We have been getting queries from our fans in those parts as well. We are very particular about international prospects and to be fair even international markets are now looking for fresh stories as Ninja, Samurai and American super heroes have already been in the market for way to long and international markets are thirsty for fresh content and stories. Indian anime just might be the answer that they are looking for the real test is the quality of animation as well as story needs to live up to the existing standards in US , Europe and Japan. We are very excited to take up this challenge.
How has the process been for marketing the series?
We have approached “The Age of Lions” as in multiple phases. This is concept phase of our product which is to check that market response to the “Indian Anime” concept. This was done using the FB page which was got 12500 fans in less than a month of being online. The intent of this phase is to establish an investor for the company and engage with channel partners. So far we are self-funded and we need investors to scale up to support the full bloom series. The initial discussions have been very encouraging. We are also starting to talk with channel partners to bring it on Television but it is early to get into details about that. The second phase would launch the TV series.
Please tell more about the research undertaken?
Well from research perspective it has been 2.5 years of relentless reading of Mauryan historical archives along with research on clothing styles, existing religions, social and political structures etc. This along with research on how anime stories and screenplay are written and why western and Japanese media is able handle complex stories with such ease while we in India have been mass producing same simplistic stories without taking it to next level. We have experimental story telling that has started to come in Indian media but somehow they trade of the entertainment aspect of the story while they create it. So we researched heavily on how we can make a complex story entertaining.
Why did you choose an animated series format for The Age of Lions? Why not any other medium?
The Age of Lions” is a historical fantasy genre. The two options that we have to do story telling is either Animatic or Cinematic. So we can break your question into two parts Why animatic and why not Cinematic? Why Animatic?
Animation puts minimum constraints on story narration as you are not constrained by your
1. Ability to create a set which creates the era feel .
2. Ability of your actors to act the multiple dimensions of your characters.
3. Ability of your actors to engage in martial arts .
4. Ability of you to create surreal fantasy aspects of your story
Animation is able to do all the 4 of the above without much cost added to your production. This reduces the strains while there is a necessary tradeoff that cinematic characters have a larger identification and appeal to the larger audience.
Why not Cinematic?
Expensive and requires a lot of resources to be managed with very different workstreams to be managed effectively. It would require a lot of costs and would be difficult to mobilize these resources being outsider to the industry. Besides the industry is used to certain ways of functioning which might put constraints on quality of our output.
Can you put more light on your decision of choosing history genre for your animated series?
Identification!! That is a simple reason we are defined by where we come from. History is archive of where we came from. People identify with the ethos that built us. Unfortunately we don’t seem to celebrate our history as much as we celebrate our mythology. Though we have a rich mythology, we have an even richer history and it is known to every one of us but somehow our history is not given its due importance. It is also very important to note that though we are creating it in history, “The Age of Lions” is not a lesson in Mauryan history and it is intended as a work of fiction setup in historically true timeframe. We saw this fact as an opportunity to catch attention of young India and while going through our research we stumbled upon so many stories of extraordinary men and women in our history and culture who should be celebrated by us. I don’t mean celebration in terms of festivals but more in terms of us being proud of who we are and where we come from. This does not mean though that we will be making only historical fantasy. This is only one of the many genres that we intend to bring to life.
We would love to know about the animation medium being used for this series?
It will be pure traditional frame by frame animation. We want our series to have a rich, semi-realistic feel as most Anime do. At present our Anitracks Team works on creating full fledge block Animatics in Photoshop which we then send to RME and they add it to their Toon Boom Harmony pipeline. Though later on in the series there will be 3D aspects merged in as well.
Who is producing ‘The Age of Lions?
Anitracks Media Pvt. Ltd with production services from Rudra Matsa Entertainment Pvt. Ltd.
When and where do you plan to air it?
Expected in winter of 2013 on Indian TV channels!
Who is writing the story? How much time has it taken to complete the script and story?
The story has been conceptualized by myself and will be fleshed out by the illustrious Shamik Dasgupta of Ramayan, Aveon 9 and Daksh fame. Currently, we are still in the script writing stages.
Any challenges that you would like to highlight?
Being a start-up is not easy and we are still facing all our start up challenges. The major challenge we have faced so far is managing a diversely distributed team across 3 continents and 5 countries who have been working so far on this project. Within India we have some or other part of our operations being taken care at Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Hyderabad and outside we have had team members in Germany, Britain (London), Manila and off course I am based out of US. My experience in IT outsourcing for past 10 years has come to help. We successfully compartmentalize action items on every individual and ensured that everyone is able to operate seamlessly even after the distances as dependencies where strongly thought through. The fact that team Anitracks is very strongly motivated to carve their own space in the animation world has helped our cause a lot. Also we did have strong clarity on animation as well as the story that we intend to create.
Please share more about the pre-production for The Age of Lions?
As part of preproduction we have completed Animatics of 3 scenes of the first episode also we have completed character designs and some of Key BG’s that would be required for the first 2 episodes. The pre production phase is divided into 2 parts with phase 1 coming towards end now with the production of the 4 mins trailer which is currently on the floor. Phase 2 will start after we have a investor onboard.
How did you decide on the look and feel of this animated series?
All our team members are big time Manga and anime fans, so choice of look and feel was not difficult at all. We did invest fair amount of research in getting the authenticity right. The choice of color palettes were lightened to suite the TV viewing. We will be closely working with the production house to make sure that authenticity is maintained.
We have some amazingly detailed backgrounds that create a perfect world setting. Our BG artists are putting their best foot forward to make sure people relate to the period down to the last detail. As art director, Jazyl and his team works on the character design aspects, the color palette & creating the perfect Animatic feel. Having a lot of experience in Anime, Jazyl makes sure the scenes are approached in very realistic fashion with minimum animation involved.
How many episodes are you planning to create?
As of now we have 3 seasons of 26 episodes each in mind. It might be increased by a season.
Which channels are you targeting to air the series?
We prefer youth channels and national channels like Sony, Zee TV, and Colors etc or any other channels which have national viewership are game for us.
What are your marketing and promotional strategies for The Age of Lions?
We have done a good start with Delhi Comic con and FB campaigns as we start finalizing channel partners you might start seeing our product on TV.
Anime is your personal favorite? Which is your favorite anime series and why?
I have to say Full Metal Alchemist. I love the way all this anime worked on all the four levels entertainment, characters, world and philosophy.
Please share more about the team working on the series?
Jazyl, Shamik, Deepak, Xongs , Santosh are a great team to work with! Jazyl and Shamik are the first two people I started working with. The common vision that we share is that a solid story and strong anime value system together will make a potent combination to take up the challenge we have embarked upon. There is a reason that these guys are called top artists and that is their passion and professionalism. They have their strengths and I intend to bring together a team where everyone works to their strengths
Being a start up, you’ve captured great focus by collaborating with Rudra Matsa on the production front for Age of Lions, how did this happen?
As I said we didn’t try to compete with existing strengths of the existing Indian animation industry. We essentially are a preproduction house rather than a production house space where RME belongs. So there is no direct competition between us and them and for that sake any other production house in India. The market segment we are trying aim is very different from what RME has been working towards. RME services are of world standards and their manila office has some of very experienced anime artists in the world. Also they share our passion for making world class anime. This made them an immediate choice to be our production vendor. The talks came together on the sidelines of Mumbai comic con last year. This is going to be a great learning curve for them as well and they would have a great future if they keep up the standards the way they are doing right now. I strongly believe business is driven by clarity of thoughts and not size and so far we have been able to survive because of that.
Anime culture is still not flourished in India; Will Anitracks change it with The Age ofLions? Is The Age of Lions Complete Anime?
I am not sure if I understand the word “Anime” culture very well. To me it means the response of Japanese society (youth) to anime, things they do to show their approval and identification with anime. This has been feasible because they identify with the emotional undercurrent of the stories and style elements have resonated with them. The American or Japanese anime was designed to resonate with its target societies. Post World War II Japan was obsessed with American way of life while retaining its old charms so inadvertently their anime ended up having both Japanese and American elements.
At Anitracks I don’t believe we are in any space to say if we will be bringing a certain culture or not and it is not our business either. We understand that Japanese and American anime are designed with their respective audience in mind and we have to make our own stories which have appeal for the Indian youth. For a society which has 5500 years of evidenced history it is not difficult to find inspirations to write stories. Also like every society we have a lot of emotional undercurrent which are waiting to be tapped into. All we are going to do is put them in form of stories and ensure that they are entertaining and not preachy. It is easier said than done, but we are up for the challenge. “The Age of Lions” will have Japanese anime style in terms of art work but with Indian elements in it. We will though also be ensuring that the every screenplay contributes to the story to make sure there is a decent the pace in the series. From story narration perspective we will be borrowing techniques from American TV industry.
Rudra Matsa, Founder and CEO, RME, expresses his thoughts on ‘The Age of Lions’
We are very excited to be the part of animation development for AOL teaser.
It has unique Anime appeal to it, from the styling aspect to storytelling, which i think is a missing factor when you look at most of the IPs coming out of India over last 5 years. It’s exciting to work on property with amazing characters and incredible story blended perfectly. I certainly feel AOL would set the standards for Indian animation would come out in near future. On sales point, AOL has that extra advantage to penetrate into niche Anime markets like Japan.
Conversation Continues Further With Shamik Dasgupta, Writer of ‘The Age of Lions’
Please share your thoughts on The Age of Lions?
The Age of Lions is he first animated series I have ever worked on. So far my work had only been limited to comic books and graphic novels, hence with The Age of Lions I am venturing into a brave new world…and ya what a world it is!I was always interested in history especially the glorious and intriguing history of ancient India where rulers and conquerors larger than life walked the fertile soil of Indian sub-continent, spreading their massive empires far in the North, East and even the unconquerable west. That was the golden age of our history before the darkness of invasion began in the middle ages by the marauders of Mongol origin and Islamic in culture.
The age of the mighty Kings and even mightier dynasties reverberated through the passages of history and culture, it was the age when men were more than men, they were a veritable metaphor for Lions. Much of that ancient culture has been lost to us, wiped away through the erosion of time and rubbed away by the foreign conquerors, so we have very limited idea about the society, culture and politics of that age, how such mighty empires thrived and how thrones were ascended through a path of blood. Its a boon and a bane rolled into one, bane because there’s very little source material that we can develop upon and boon because that gives us so much elbow room to build a thriving rich culture and world of our own.
How is the experience of working on the series?
The world building of The Age of Lions was the most exciting part of this entire endeavor, the people, the clothing, the society, the characters…everything we built afresh based on bits and pieces and scraps of information we found in historical annals. It was as exciting and adventurous as building an alien world like Avatar or building a medieval fantasy world like The Lord of The Rings or The Game of Thrones. Though our story is based on history with major historical characters featured in pivotal roles it is not a drab history lesson. It is a genre which we fondly call Historical Fantasy much in the lines of Ridley Scott’s Gladiator or Mel Gibson’s Braveheart. We will see familiar people inhabiting a world which is ancient yet so much contemporary and resplendent in its grandeur and richness.
What’s your take on the characters in this series?
Our protagonists though not familiar names in history works as a catalyst for the series of events that will shake the foundations of one of the greatest empires ever built on earth and one of the most powerful monarchs of the old world. It was our intention to show the epochal events through the eyes of our young protagonists as tumultuous events unfold in the larger scale but in a more personal it will be the quintessential story of coming of age of two teenagers and how the greater scheme of fate will affect their relationship.
In the end all we can say is we are offering something new for the viewers which will not insult their intelligence, which will educate them of our past and yet entertain them nevertheless like a tent pole blockbuster. So relax, slump back on your couch, switch on the television and listen to the Lion roar.
Art Director and Animation Supervisor for the Age of Lions, Jazyl Homavazir, also shares his views on the series
When I was first approached for this series as an art director I was a bit iffy, but when I heard that we were going to take the Anime style approach I knew this was my calling. WE are working very hard on the designs. We want the characters to have a very authentic anime feel yet maintain the Indian aesthetics of all characters involved so that they can be appreciated both locally & on a global platform. The style though anime-esque, will be in a breed its own.’