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The animation industry is still struggling to find a foothold in India. But despite the challenges, Indian animation company, Crest Animation, struck a three-film deal with Hollywood’s Lionsgate Studio last year. On the brink of Crest’s first animation film release in India, the company’s CEO, A K Madhavan, talks about the film’s success in the US, the Oscar nomination it bagged and the company’s plans

Alpha & Omega has been included in the list of movies eligible for an Oscar’s nomination this year.
Yes, the film was shortlisted in the animation category. The film was made entirely by an Indian animation house and no other film has had such a wide release worldwide. It ran successfully for 12 weeks across 2,600 cinemas in the US. Hollywood was a little skeptical about an Indian animation house delivering to foreign standards. We know the result.

What kind of money has the film made in the West so far? 
In terms of box-office collections, we have made around $50 million or around Rs 250 crore. So far, we have released the film worldwide except in Australia, Germany, Spain, Italy and South America. But we released it in the US, the UK, Russia, Poland… almost all of Europe except Germany. The film will release in India on February 4.

Being a 3D stereoscopic film, can you tell us about the investment involved?
We partnered with Lionsgate, which is one of the top five studios in the United States. The budget was just under $25 million. It took us about three years to develop and complete the project. We also have an interesting star cast who lent their voices to the film – the likes of Justin Long, Hayden Panettiere, Christina Ricci and (the late) Dennis Hopper.

What was your marketing strategy overseas? And, now that the film is set to release in India, how do you plan to market it here?
It was marketed by Lionsgate in the US, where we had the Applebee chain of restaurants promoting it. In the UK, we partnered with McDonald’s and gave away an Alpha & Omega toy with the Happy Meal. No Indian production house has tried their hand at this kind of innovative marketing.
In Russia, we spent $3.7 million on the movie. In France and the U.K, we spent $4 million respectively on marketing. It has had a respectable release globally so we made sure we marketed the film to the fullest. In India, Fox Star Studios will be distributing the film and we have left it to them to market the movie.

Why is the current status of animation films in India so bleak?
Animation does not have a big market in India. We will be releasing the film in 60 to 70 cinemas in 3D stereoscopy across the country. There is a big pipeline of 3D stereoscopy in India but we still very few screens that can showcase 3D stereoscopic films.

What are the challenges confronting the Indian animation industry?
Primarily, most Indian production houses that have ventured into animation have used Indian mythological themes. I don’t think the audience or kids today are terribly excited about such stories. Second, we lack the ability to tell stories. Third, the production costs are huge compared to producing a live-action film. We invested around $25 million in Alpha &Omega, which is around Rs 100 crore. So money, skill set and the ability to develop an original story is what we lack.

So how do you suggest we cope with these challenges?
I think through Alpha & Omega, we have proved to Hollywood that India can produce good content but it is a question of time and experience. Any industry takes about 10 to 20 years to establish itself. The animation industry is also learning from its mistakes. Animation in India will mature in five to seven years.

We produce a lot of content for foreign studios but we lag in producing indigenous content.
I agree. The ability to tell stories for the global market has still not taken shape. Never mind animation, even for live-action films, we don’t really make films for the global audience, we make them for the Indian diaspora.

What are Crest Animation’s plans for the future?
We have a three-picture deal with Lionsgate. We did the first film and now are working on the other two. The second film, Norm Of The North, is under production. It is a comedy about a polar bear who travels from the North Pole and has fun in New York. We will deliver it to the US market at the end of 2012. The third film is still under development. We are working on an animation Hindi feature film, which will be released in May or June this year. It is not based on mythology.
We also have a number of co-productions like a DVD feature for Universal Studios in the US and DVD and TV shows for the US market.

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