KOCHI: When ‘The Adventures of Tenali Raman’ premiered on Cartoon Network in 2003, it took the Indian audience by surprise. They had never seen locally produced domestic content. India’s first television animated series, the first animated feature film ‘Hanuman’ and first animation creative event ‘Week with the Masters’ was produced by an animation studio in Thiruvananthapuram.
Toonz Animation, which was started in 1999 completes 20 years this year. With a multitude of cartoons, animated feature films and channels spanning the world, Toonz Animation has travelled light years ahead. According to P Jayakumar, CEO, Toonz Animation, the biggest contribution they’ve done is creating highly qualified animation artists. “When we started, there were hardly any animation companies in India. And we didn’t have sufficient quality manpower available to deliver high-quality productions. Therefore, one of the first things we did initially was bringing in expatriates to train local people. They were present at the company for the first 4-5 years.
It created a significantly higher quality workforce. Later, when various animation studios started mushrooming in their respective countries, they left,” says Jayakumar.
To continue producing such high talent, in 2001 they started the Toonz Academy. “Initially the academy was a feeder for Toonz, it wasn’t a commercial venture. However, when we realised that there’s a significant supply gap of skilled manpower, we started commercially training them. Every year, we train about 300 professionals with a placement rate of 97 per cent,” he says.
From Tenali Raman to reviving Chacha Chaudhary, an Indian comic book character created in 1971 by Pran Kumar Sharma, Toonz primarily focuses on storytelling. “That is fundamental. Storytelling hasn’t changed across the years. What has differed is the technology and medium. When you reincarnate a character, you don’t change the DNA of the brand. The character remains the same but the stories are contemporary. Also, with many platforms, distribution of content has significantly improved. For example, Chotoonz, our Youtube channel, is number one in the world in the slapstick comedy genre,” says Jayakumar.
When questioned about the growth of the animation industry across the world, Jayakumar makes a valid point. “In a demographic perspective, there is a significant opportunity for animation in India. In terms of population growth, America grows because of migration, Europe has a negative growth and in ten years, the population of kids will be drastically decreased. But their population is high in India. Therefore, I’m very gung-ho about the outlook in India,” he says.
The animation industry has traditionally been a man’s world. Jayakumar is insistent on changing it. “We have decided to increase the percentage of women by 25. Right now, we have 20 per cent. We have consciously wanted to keep the company gender-inclusive,” he says.
Along with newer collaborations and animated feature films, the brand will also be branching out into consumer products such as toys and apparel this year.