VFX Indian animation industry vs animators: struggles for projects, funds & low wages

Indian animation industry versus animators: the struggle story

Among the chain of industries in India which is receiving the popularity it deserves, animation is ranking at the top. With an evolving taste and needs of people, animation is demanded in various ways—movies, commercials, TV series, short films, and more. Animation used in advertising has become a trend where many conglomerates and companies are using animation as their mode of spreading awareness about their products. When it comes to movies, Indian animation studios are rolling out creativity at a faster pace in order give a striking competition to the international market that has captured the Indian audience. With continuous efforts, one day they will beat the foreign content and audience will be able to choose from a vast pool of Indian animation. Thinking of which, the international market will never stop entering our domain, and thus will equally share the space with the native players. This is the reason why we see too many dubbed animations on Indian channels while the native content lags behind.

Indian Animation
Animated shows dubbed in Hindi

Indian animators are rubbing their feet off to deliver animations that are liked by the audience thus ensuring the content is rich, full of knowledge, and entertaining. The ratio of Indian content against International is 1:4 which clears the fact that Indians have a long way to catch. When speaking about television animation, Indian studios are fairly offering their shares with rich content, which is liked by the viewers. These animations which have become popular and are continuously evolving helps to lock a worthy pay to the animators of the shows. Years of work and still going strong, such shows pay off well to the contributors as the content is developed internally. Such content demands a huge budget, thus not many companies are able to pull it off frequently and largely. Also, backing up the studios with sufficient funds is not the trend of the generation. Thus, more companies are acting as the backend suppliers to International clients.

The executive director of Acropetal Animation, Jayanthi Narasimhan, shares her thoughts, “The animation industry in India is yet to see the dawn of a golden era though it has completed almost three decades since its dawn in the 1980’s. The idea of a full-fledged studio like Disney or on the lines of any other studio abroad came about much later but most attempts at setting it ended in their winding up eventually due to lack of trained professionals and skilled mentors. The scene continues even today when small players wind up due to lack of projects or because they are unable to sustain for long, financially. The entry of big players on the scene with most companies having an overseas partner or funding ensured a brighter future for the industry. India is a land of storytellers since ages, but sadly the big players failed to cash in on the original content creation and ended up as backend work suppliers to studios abroad. A few who tried dabbling in mythological content tasted success like the movie Hanuman, Char Sehabzade, Little Krishna, etc. But the television content has not come of age truly since many channels air dubbed version of foreign shows even today. Additionally, the ROI in this industry is much longer than desired and thus, the investor and studio needs to wait an average of 3-4 years to regain the profits. Thus, most of the studios prefer to hire on freelance basis which makes the life of the animator very difficult and he/she experiences a lag in finding work.”

Indian Animated Movies
Indian Animated Movies

As we know Indian-based animations are worked upon by our pool of domestic animators, but it is also true that International animations are also outsourced to Indian animation studios for professional work. Considering that Indian and International animation are the seeds blossomed into flowers due to the efforts of Indian professionals working anonymously behind the curtains of the production houses. Certain times, International projects are accompanied by non-disclosure clauses which bind the Indian talents to hid in the dark. In between the work received and delivered, the animation remains as the child to the Indian studios, once forwarded, they have no right on their own work. If this continues to ensue, Indian studios will never rise above the haze and show their true talent in form of work to the audience across the world. Whereas, some have taken the lead and made a name in the animation industry by successfully establishing a name for their IPs. Thus, working with these studios ensures the work of the animator never ends and a good pay is presented depending upon the person’s skills and knowledge, after all the Indian studio is making money.

Indian Animation Cartoons
Popular Indian Animation Shows

Narasimhan continues by adding, “Unfortunately, animation being a highly skilled job requires the right mix of talent and software knowledge. Though studios maintain hierarchy and follow standard salary rules, the future growth of an individual depends on his native skills and enterprise. The cost of setting up a high-end studio is very high. It is both capital-intensive and labour-intensive. Thus, backend work outsourced from abroad is the mainstay of these studios. Most projects are lost to the cheaper workforce in China and Philippines and some projects are very small compared to the investment to be made by studios. Big studios hiring large numbers are highly dependent on outsourced projects like any IT company. Once a project is completed they either axe employees or keep them on “benches” until the next project. At times the supply of workforce far exceeds the demand and at others when the job is highly skilled the supply hardly meets the need. Hence an average animator’s life is almost a roller coaster ride and entails hopping from one studio to another for a better salary.”

To secure more and more projects, Indian companies’ foremost target has become to bag a backend assignment even if it comes with a minimum pay scale. With growing technology and expertise, most of the Indian studios are equally capable of delivering quality as compared to the International markets. But, in order to overpower a competing International studio, Indian studios bid with a budget far low than their competitor’s quoted amount. This leads to securing low waged employees with high-skills and expertise to deliver quality products. Also, when the project ends, the animators are kept on halt and rehired/reassigned when a new project is secured. This also leads to animators having no power to defend themselves, but mould as per the requirement of the company. Have you ever wondered why the animators are agreeing to accept the low offering and shedding sweat with their hard work? There is too much of competition due to too many people ready to take upon a job and too little jobs available. There are various options to educate oneself on animation through professional institutes, thus the number of graduates in animation are increasing on daily basis. Depending upon their skills and technical knowledge, they secure jobs in big-notch companies at compensation higher than the ones securing a job in small-scale studios. As it is clear, the mid-size studios barely float with limited funds, the salary compensation is defined as per their budget for all activities.

Narasimhan closes by concluding, “If ‘Make in India’ has to succeed in a true sense then exhibitors need to be given specific guidelines on exclusively airing animation films. As it stands, animation movie production in India would be about less than 10 films a year given the cost and time involved. Hence they are lost in competing with live star cast movies for an exhibition. With the advent of internet channels, demand for content has increased. The industry needs to encash on these new platforms while ensuring changes to existing ones. In the near future, hope the averagely skilled animator in an Indian studio gets his due on par with his international counterparts.”