‘In animation, understanding of local characters & story-telling needs to change big-time’ – Crest Animation India CEO AK Madhavan


    CEO of India’s largest 3D animation company Crest Animation Studios – AK Madhavan has overseen the company’s growth from an initial two animators and to its current strength of 500.


    “No one can take a shortcut to reach where we are today,” says Madhavan.


    An unchallenged leader in the animation turf since three years now and still going strong, from Crest Communication to Crest Animation Studios, it’s been a long and fruitful journey for Madhvan and his animation studio to reach where they are.


    After exploring various quarters in the animation arena and inking a three-film deal with Lion Gates, their target is to own IPs (Intellectual Properties) now.


    In conversation with Businessofcinema.com, Madhavan gets talking about the expansion plans, the market for animation in India and much more.




    Has the perspective towards animation business changed after Crest’s collaboration with an international distributor, Lion Gates?

    The perspective towards animation has not changed. But yes, we have set up a new business model. We used to work as work-for-hire studios on the television side, but we now intend to position ourselves as producers or co-owners of intellectual properties. As far as the creative development process is concerned, it is going smooth. We look into a slate of projects and that will not stop. Hence the perspective of animation has not changed; we are an animation studio which produces quality product. 


    So, what is the progress on the IP front?

    It’s fantastic… really good. Our subsidiary Rich Crest Animation, which is now known as Crest Animation has a new CEO on board, Noah Fogelson. He has a good record in the entertainment business. Currently, he is in talks with many producers and distributors and will identify the properties, the licensed properties.


    We are now in talks with several independent producers. The procedure of studying IP takes a long time; deals don’t get signed every month. They all are in the finalizing stage, but announcements will take some time.


    What’s novel about your film, Alpha Omega in terms of experimental animation moves?

    Yes, time and again we have introduced new elements in our films. As far as India is concerned we have delivered quite a few novel ideas. For example, we were the first ones to show the movement of hair, which the global market saw for the first time too. We were the first guys to show squash and stretch for our series, Pet Aliens.


    This time our focus is on the story, the designs and the acting aspect. We won’t delve much into newer technology. It’s very important to realize that technological advances certainly help but at the end of the day it’s the story, which works for a film and nothing else. < Page Break >


    What’s new with Crest’s television content?

    Over a period of time, Crest has delivered over 250 films and that continues. We have been doing a lot of shows on television. One of them went on air in early September called Word World on PBS. We are working on a couple of more projects. Some of them are in the production stage and most of them will hit the tube by the end of this year.


    Crest’s association with Mike Young Productions has been strong, what’s in the pipeline with them?

    We share an excellent relation with them. We did three shows together and they have extremely fond of memories of what we did for them. Presently, he’s doing shows with some Indian studios. We don’t have anything coming up as of now.


    What about India as a market for animation business?

    As of now I think it is growing, there are lots of animation studios in India. But the market is not matured enough, though it has a lot of potential. India is the destination as the demographics here are very interesting and the children profile is changing.


    The acceptance of animation has witnessed a change. But it’s not only about making an animation product into this stream. The market has to grow in merchandising, licensing, making more toys, publishing and that will take a long time.


    Any plans of venturing in that market now?

    Certainly! We are working on Indian projects. But we do not want to make big time investments in the business right now because it’s not ready as yet. We have discovered certain plots and our work is developing. But we are taking it rather slowly as compared to a whole lot of studios, which are rushing into this space.


    Have Indian producers or animation studios approached you for any sort of deals?

    Independent producers have approached us. At this point of time we are very excited about intellectual properties and our new business model. The theatrical revenues are not going to justify the production cost. And the other streams of revenues have really not matured. We have spoken to all of them who are keen on working with us, but somehow the market is not really great.


    As far as the creative aspect is concerned, we are nowhere near the international standards. There is so much to do and so much to tell. Whether it is scripting or story telling or character animation or designs or sets, I don’t think any of these, which are made in the Indian films today, will be accepted for the global market.< Page Break >


    So what is needed for that to happen?

    Forget animation, tell me how many live action films have traveled globally? It’s always limited to India. I don’t think we make 900 – 1000 movies per year! And I don’t think live action movies will be in the scene for more than 50 to 60 years. Even if these films have released globally from the theatrical perspective, they are for the Indian audience based there.


    The main reason being the lack of understanding the sensibilities. Apart from this the designs, the understanding of the local characters and the story telling aspect needs to change big-time. In fact, I don’t think we are even trained to look at the global market at this point in time.


    Crest has ventured into the DVD market as well. How has the progress been and what kind of returns has the company witnessed?

    We have been working to hire studios for DVDs. We delivered two of the oldest 2D properties, Arthur and Casper. But we have not bought any IPs for any of these; we just provided the services. So no great returns.


    Quite a few animation studios in India are remaking Bollywood films. Is that on your list?

    I am not too certain about this. I don’t know how these producers are looking at the business model. There are nearly 71 animated features announced in India and it is fantastic from the growth view of the market.


    I am not being negative, but most of them are focusing on mythological stories. It will be nice to see a Sholay being remade or any live action movie for that matter, but it has to be treated well. There has to be stylized characters. It will be interesting to watch where these companies head.


    As far as Crest is concerned that is not our area of focus, we will not invest our money into something like this. But if someone approaches us for work-for-hire for a product, we will certainly go ahead with it.


    Can you throw some light on Crest’s new business model?

    Our aim is to position our company as a digital production facility. We are in a unique position, wherein we have a multi-film deal with a distributor, similar to what Pixar and Disney had many years ago. The interesting bit is the distributor putting in equal amount of money as the producer.


    So, we are not in a hurry to open up new avenues like VFX, gaming and other things. We have always been slow and steady. We are respected much more overseas as compared to here. So there will be more shows, more films and more direct-to-home videos coming up from our end.