Exclusive: philmCGI opens its studio in Kerela, reveals founder & MD Anand Bhanushali

philm CGI, Animation and VFX Studio based in India, Pune has expanded its footprints by opening a facility in Kerala.

With credits like Sacred Games – Season 2, Ghost Stories, AK vs AK and a range of animation projects like The Ogglies which just released last week in Europe and is set to release worldwide this year, the studio has made an indelible mark in the industry through both animation and VFX services over the years. In conversation with AnimationXpress, philm CGI Founder and MD Anand Bhanushali revealed more about what spurred on the expansion plan, current style of working, and their plans ahead.

We’re delighted to announce our new facility in Kerala,” said Bhanushali. “We saw Kerala as an opportunity given the abundance of talent in the state, its strategic location and our key team’s availability.”

On being asked if they plan on serving domestic projects from South India, he shared, ”We will be open to working on all kinds of projects, local ones and international ones. Right now, we are heavily working with Feature and  OTT platforms. We also want to work with the South industry and establish a base in Kerala and the work will be inclined more towards the VFX side of things.”

The covid impact on the VFX sphere has been nothing short of disruptive. Having shaken things up, the pandemic forced the entire industry to look for newer ways to sustain themselves.

Speaking about the impact of Covid on the industry, he elaborated, “We have two offices in Pune; one facility is for International animation shows and other is handling the VFX. During Covid, the dynamics completely changed and most of the industries are now working with hybrid WFH and WFO Culture and we are no different.”

Enlarging on the flexibility that they are offering to their workforce, he shared, “We don’t want to complicate things and want to follow a very flexible working culture by allowing our artist to choose WFH / WFO as per their convenience,  so all you need is a workstation and internet connections of the required specifications to work with us.”

While VFX studios are open to recruiting full-time employees, the freelance culture has still not caught on well in the country. Stating the reason why they would be reluctant to have freelancers onboard, he shared, “Dependability and deadlines are very important for us as we have to deliver our projects on time and with freelancing that’s not entirely in our control so ideally we do work with freelancers but only for a small percentage of work.”

Southern India is known for its AVGC-friendly policies which has led the ecosystem to bloom in all its hues. When asked if the Government policy had any role to play in their decision to start a studio in god’s own country, he shared, “As of now, Kerala does not have a fully formed policy but they are in the process of framing it. Our primary decision is not driven by what the government has to offer. Talent availability was a big factor that made us look towards expanding in Kerala. Bangalore is a good option as well but again we also were looking at having a better work life for our artist and we saw that in Kerala.”

He elaborated, “We are happy creating our own path. We have opened a branch in Thrissur and not Visakhapatnam which has a lot of animation and VFX studios. We wanted a better life for our artists and we at philmCGI have always believed in a happy artist philosophy. That was exactly our decision when we moved from Mumbai to Pune and Kerala is another such opportunity.”

Remote working has been the norm over the past year due to the pandemic. philmCGI was one of the first studios to build a robust and secure pipeline to streamline remote working workflow with all its technicalities in place. 

Speaking about the possibility of resumption of work from office, he shared, “We are going to rely entirely on what the government guidelines are and what is safe for our artist. We have already declared that till 2022 mid, we are going to be hybrid WFH and WFO studio.”

Having recently vaccinated the workforce in Pune, the studio is to toeing the line as per the government directives. He elaborated, “We still don’t want to take the risk of a third wave coming in. As of now, our employees are very happy working from home and they are able to maintain a good productivity ratio and thanks to our entire tech-team who has made a very efficient pipeline possible and we are very happy with the way things are. For Work from Office, Vaccination is mandatory and we have also done a vaccination drive for the majority of our artists in Pune so just in case if certain departments want to work from office, we are ready.” 

Productions everywhere, he apprises, are becoming more cost-sensitive and seeking every avenue where people can reduce cost. He asserted, “If we take the example of Unreal, there is no rendering required so of course everybody is interested.”

Unreal Engine is the recent buzz that has been making waves across the ecosystem with its myriad possibilities across animation and VFX spheres.

On being asked if they have integrated Unreal Engine in their pipeline, he responded, “Unreal Engine is already a part of our pipeline. We have two different pipelines. We animate in MAYA or Blender and then go to Unreal Engine or Redshift/ Arnold. Depending on the kind of quality requirements a project has , we are talking about whether it is a YouTube-specific video or a Feature / OTT 4K content. For 4K Feature production we normally work on CPU/ GPU renderers. For YouTube content 4k/2k , we are fully integrated with Unreal. We adopted Unreal just last year so it is going to take some time for us to have that confidence and the workflows and all that to make sure that we do high-end content as well.”

He also shared that there is a virtual production-specific project that is in the pipeline and we will all get to witness it soon. We wish philm CGI all the best with their endeavours. With VFX industry picking up momentum, we are sure spectacular visuals are in store for us.