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Cartoons jump the `desi' wagon

The Indian folk tales have all the ingredients to make exciting cartoon series. And cashing in on this potential are our own animation studios, who are all set to roll out a series of `desi' cartoons. If `The Adventures of Tenali Raman,' which will hit the small screen in April is any indication, MINU ITTIYPE feels the youngsters are in for a new experience.

KIDS IN Kochi, for that matter in India, have been fed a regular diet of all that is American in cartoons right from `The Flintstones' in the stone ages to the weird `Addam's Family,' with maybe a few exceptions. The good news (debateable of course) is that a very `desi' animated series, `The Adventures of Tenali Raman' will hit the small screen this April.

The wily Tenali Raman, who outwitted many in King Krishnadevaraya's Empire in the 16th century, will soon tickle the imagination of cartoon watchers, not only in Kochi but the rest of the world too.

It appears that Indian folk tales have all the right ingredients that make up the non-stop excitement in cartoons - for `Tenali Raman' is the not the last of the Made in India cartoons that one is going to see soon. Already Toonz Animation India Pvt. Ltd. at Thiruvananthapuram, producer of the `Tenali Raman' series, is planning its next venture `Adventures of Hanuman.' While the Hyderabad-based Padmalaya Studios is on to `Jataka Tales' and Jadooworks Studio in Bangalore is working on a project based on the life story of Lord Krishna.

Costs seem to be a major factor that has seen the proliferation of animation studios all over the country and if everything in an animation film is Indian the cheaper the price tag. P. Jayakumar, Director Operations, Toonz Animation, says, "To produce an half-hour animation episode in any of the studios in the United States costs around $ 300,000 and in an Hollywood Studio it costs around $500,000. While in India it only costs $ 60,000 to $ 70,000. The only problem is the quality of animation produced in India is not of international standards even now and many studios fail to make on time delivery. To overcome this problem, Toonz Animation ensures at least 10% of their staff has international exposure. These expatriates then train their Indian counterparts. Toonz has been able to curb costs by doing everything here in India, and the 26 episode series of `Tenali Raman' just cost $ 50,000 for two 11 minute episodes."

Jeemon Verghese, Managing Director, Glimpse Entertainment, Kochi, points out that he was one of the earliest entrants in this field in Kerala. He has been a 2D/3D animator for the past seven years. Though earlier he had worked for other studios, he is his now his own master after he set up Glimpse Entertainment at Kochi and Irinjalakuda almost one year back. "We do a lot of commercial animation but at present we are doing a serial for one of the local networks," says Mr. Verghese.

While the big studios in the U.S. charge phenomenal amounts, Glimpse Entertainment charges far, far lesser and it is not in dollars either. "We charge Rs. 2,000 per second for 2D animation and Rs. 2,000 to Rs. 5,000 for 3D animation. And if it is only for the title alone we charge even less. We have done the animation commercials for Chandrika etc. At Glimpse we also impart training for high-end 3D and 2D animation. Some of the students I have taught earlier, are now with Toonz Animation and other studios in Kerala," informs Mr. Verghese.

The mood in Toonz Animation is upbeat for this is the first time the three-year-old studio is doing the entire production of an animated series. "Earlier we were handling only the production work on a contract basis. The storyboard and the characters were given to us and we developed the story in animated form and sent it back to the studios in the U.S., Canada or Italy for post-production work. The contract-work we have done is `Turtle Island' for a Canadian client, `Prezzy,' `Tommy and Oscar' and `Katya and Nutcracker' for the U.K. market and we are currently working on a Canadian-French-U.K. co-production. But for `Tenali Raman' we have developed and produced the entire series, right from its concept, script and animation to the sound effects, right here in Thiruvananthapuram. The interesting factor is that the story has a universal appeal too. We have signed the world-wide distribution with London based Indigo Kids and negotiations are on with the regional television networks which will air it in the vernacular languages," says Mr. Jayakumar.

Toonz Animation has some of the big names in the animation industry. Bill Dennis, who was earlier with Walt Disney for 20 years, heads it. As vice-president of Walt Disney Feature Animation, Mr. Dennis put together the teams that created and produced `Lion King,' `Beauty and the Beast,' `Aladdin' and `The Little Mermaid.' The long-haired Roger Dondis, who was roped in as the Creative Director of the Tenali Raman series also has vast experience. He was with Wild Brain and Colossal Studios for five years each and had worked on the 2D version of `Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle,' `Fern Gully-II' and on commercial animations of `Wrigleys,' `Sprite' and `Willie Wonka Candy.'

Chewing on a straw, Roger recalls: "When I landed at the Toonz Animation in 2001 they had the basic idea and several drawings. The folk tales of `Tenali Raman' were very short and many of them were not appropriate for modern cartoons so the scriptwriter Arial Prendergast had to take the basic idea and stretch it out. And we had to constantly hold meetings with our Indian colleagues to get the nuances just right."

Dan McHale the animation director of the series, with around 30 years of experience in the field, had come to train the artists to do the `in -betweens' and `clean up'. He also did the voice over of the character Raj Guru in `Tenali Raman' and the theme song for the series. "Though I have done voices before this is the first time I have done the music." Mr. McHale explains, "In traditional hand drawn style 12 drawings are required per second. And the `in-betweens' are the drawings that come, for example, from the time a character raises his hands to hit something till it connects.

Disney did Full Animations where each and every movement was drawn. Then Hanna Barbera developed the Limited Animations where the drawings were reused to cut costs drastically. For `Tenali Raman' we have combined hand drawn with few computer animations. But most of them are painstakingly hand drawn."

The `Tenali Raman' series, which took a little over a year to put together seems to have all the looks of a winner. `Tenali Raman' the court jester who adorned the court of King Krishnadevaraya has always been a favourite comic book folk hero to the older generation. And there is no reason why his ability to give a good drubbing to the pompous and greedy courtiers with his quick repartee shouldn't appeal to the younger generation in Kochi or the world at large.

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