Five years down for 88 Pictures, the studio’s top creative minds share their strategies and success story 

Mumbai-based animation studio 88 Pictures holds various credits of work under their belt including the Annie award and Daytime Emmy awards nominated animated series Trollhunters Trilogy and animated feature Trollhunters: Rise of the Titans and many more. With a journey of five years, passing milestones, and many more to come, 88 Pictures has many interesting things and several projects lined up in their pipeline.

On the occasion of the studio’s fifth anniversary, Animation Xpress got in touch with the top creative minds of the studio, who work meticulously to achieve the vision and mission of 88 Pictures and to put the Indian animation to the next level.

CEO and founder Milind D Shinde

On asking how has the five years journey been for 88 Pictures and what are the strategies being followed, CEO and founder Milind D Shinde said, “Stay nimble, stay humble, stay under the radar and let the work and the culture speak for itself has been our mantra..!! I always wanted to build an entity that will be known for creative and artistic excellence, the culture that focuses on creative freedom than being red tape and corporate. When we decided to start the studio in 2016, the market was crowded, and everyone was doing all kinds of work so defining and finding the niche was important. We always wanted to build a brand of ‘value’ rather than ‘volume’.”

He further added, “The journey so far has been very satisfying and fulfilling, we knew exactly what we wanted to do five years ago, and we have achieved it. Having said that, it’s not about what you achieved, it’s about the next five years. We want to be one of the top 10 ‘Boutique Studios’ in the world known for doing some exemplary work with creative excellence and next-gen technologies. I always tell my crew, ‘Future is ahead of us, between us and our future, it’s only us, so be ready!!!”

 Sharing the success journey, the projects worked on and revealing about the upcoming projects, COO Aby John commented, “The studio has had a fantastic body of work in a short span of five years, an eclectic mix of episodic long format to feature properties. On the episodic format, we started with Trollhunters that continued to become a Trilogy with 3Below and Wizards. Currently, we are working on a Fast and Furious animated show and then there are a couple of unannounced very high-end episodic shows that will release in 2022. Besides these, there have been a few other very interesting episodic works we have done.”

COO Aby John

Disclosing the main strategy which paved the way for many success stories, the head of the production and founder member Rakesh Patil added, “All projects are challenging in their own ways. We as a studio always focus on getting our hands on shows that are challenging in creative or technical ways. So, in a way, we tend to be selfish and choosy on which ones we want to work on. We want to be able to continuously hone our skill sets, expertise, and experience in handling such challenges to make ourselves better for the future. Guess we don’t know how to handle simpler shows and we make something simple complicated sometimes (laughing)!!”

Shedding light on the upcoming projects, John quoted, “We wanted to stay low and stay under the radar for the first five years and now we are truly ready to handle much bigger shows. Guillermo del Toro’s Trollhunters has been an extremely exciting and satisfying journey and a huge learning curve that made 88 Pictures what it is today. Now that it’s over, we have an exciting lineup of shows for the next two to three years. It is a mix of high-end TV Shows, feature film work, and a couple of very interesting projects that will put us on a world map as content creators. We will be able to talk about it or the world will know soon I guess once those shows are announced.”

India has always been an outsourcing hub and service provider for many global animation projects and co-production is at its peak now. Many global studios are joining hands together with Indian studios to deliver A-class projects.

Co-founder and head of IP projects Siddhie Mhambre

Commenting on the studio’s co-production plans, original IP and content creation, co-founder and head of IP projects Siddhie Mhambre said, “I would call it as collaborations than co-productions. We have some shows we are creating. I would call it content creation from end to end, that is right from story to visual development to CG production. We are working on a couple of them and have collaborated with a few international talents and a couple of studios. So, the IP definition is a bit skewed now, while we do have two original ideas that are in development that we can call our own creations; whether it will be an IP or not will depend on the final sale. We have already embarked on creating original content and there are two such shows on the floor that we will be able to announce at the right time. Our business module will be a mix of service work and IP, however, we wanted to cement our service side first before we can start venturing into IP or content creation, guess the time for it starts now.”

Pandemic has caused long-term damage to many sectors; working remotely has been a new normal for many industries. Talking about how the studio managed to meet the demand for content in this covid era and equipped with digital portals at home and managed the high-end technologies, the head of IT Sudhakar Reddy said, “Covid taught us the meaning of remote working and we believe that there will be some form of hybrid work from home and office culture in the days to come. We are scaling up our infrastructure and adopting technologies like Unreal and Unity for some of our projects. We are constantly investing in upgrading and building newer workflows that are agile and scalable agnostic to the medium whether it is CG or VFX so that we can handle larger volumes of work. We are constantly re-engineering our workflows to handle the complexity and challenges of higher-end work.”

Sharing thoughts on how the integration of Unreal Engine is changing the animation industry, director of production technology and a founding member Saswat Sahoo shared, “Unreal Engine definitely has brought in the advantage of faster production turnarounds in certain key areas of filmmaking, previsualisation, and layout aspects. We had the opportunity to complete a short film recently in Unreal and it was a fantastic experience, and the look and feel was as close to feature-level work in certain areas. We believe that this will become more and more relevant in the years to come to tell greater stories.”

He further added, “Though we are a creativity focus studio, the backbone is a strong technology. My job with my excellent team is to provide tools and techniques for the artists to be able to work seamlessly. We started with a version of the pipeline and we are on to our new state of art pipeline which we are calling ‘Space8’, completely built by our development team in-house. The next focus is to manage the multi-location, multi-facility aspect with zero lag and ease of use.”

Sharing the viewpoint on the Indian animation scenario, head of animation Manish Kumar shared, “Indian animation story is still developing, and the audience is still rooting for good content. The same audience is enthralled seeing many big movies; however, there are not many stories of similar scale and volume being done from the Indian animation space. This is also largely due to the fact that animation does not have the same kind of revenue numbers in India as that of US and European markets due to which we are unable to tell bigger and larger-than-life stories. I want our studio to be able to create some home-grown stories for the worldwide audience. We hope that this will change as the years go by and we will be able to tell our Coco story from the streets of Mumbai instead of the Mexican landscape.”

Talking about hiring independent artists and how the studio works for the staff welfare, the head of HR Pankaj D’costa commented, “Currently our studio employs close to 400 plus people across all disciplines. There are key leadership people in every department who have been with us through the whole growth journey building it bit by bit. Hiring has always been a challenge for any studio, but our core philosophy is different here. We don’t believe in active poaching, as you are building on top of others and it doesn’t help to grow the ecosystem. Plus, our attrition rates are lower given the cultural values that we instill in the crew. We say it’s more of a family than a company, and for HR we believe we want to build human ‘capital’ than human ‘resources’.”

Not revealing more about the studio plans working on any Indian project, Shinde concludes, “We are currently working on a couple of Indi projects and will be able to share more details towards the end of the year.”