Frame by Frame, Animation Moves to India As competition in the movie animation industry heats up, Hollywood firms are finding a new work force in India. Video conferencing and Internet technology are bridging the gap and allowing a new kind of intercontinental collaboration.
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Frame by Frame, Animation Moves to India

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Frame by Frame, Animation Moves to India

Frame by Frame, Animation Moves to India

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And Laura, how much digital animation is happening in India?

LAURA SYDELL: Well, "Spider-Man 3," one of the big hits of last summer, was actually partially made in India. And Hollywood is increasingly looking to India to work on big American movies. In the next couple of years they actually say animation is going to become a billion dollar business in India.

INSKEEP: Billion dollar business, but is that cheaper than it would be to do it in the United States?

SYDELL: Yes, it is. Because the price of the salaries is a lot lower. The thing that is different is it does cost a lot more for all the connections. So they say they save enough money so they can underbid others, but it's actually not as cheap as you would think.

INSKEEP: Connections?

SYDELL: Connections, meaning Internet connections.

INSKEEP: And yet you did visit one company that's making a go of this.

SYDELL: Indeed, I visited Rhythm and Hues. And that's the company that worked on "Alvin and the Chipmunks" and "The Golden Compass," and it's based in Los Angeles. They aren't exactly subcontracting. What they do is they've opened their own office in Mumbai, and they have Indian employees and they work with them via videoconferencing. And they're a medium-sized but very successful firm that has done all kinds of work for big Hollywood movies.


JULIA ROBERTS: Unidentified Child (Actor): (As Character) Great name.


TILDA SWINTON: (As White Witch) Tomorrow, we will take Narnia forever.


MIKE MYERS: (As The Cat) This cat should not be here. He should not be about. He should not be here when your mother is out.

SYDELL: The videoconference system is ready. It's time to dial up Mumbai.

JOHN PESKAVICH: Unidentified Man #1: The monkey was stunning.

PESKAVICH: The monkey was stunning. Now, we have not heard that adjective applied to that monkey ever.


SYDELL: John Peskavich is a sequence supervisor on "The Golden Compass." He's watching a golden monkey move in slow motion on his computer. He looks up occasionally at the videoconference screen to check with two of his animators in Mumbai.

PESKAVICH: Unidentified Man #1: Oh, (unintelligible)

PESKAVICH: Yeah, put the fur on top of the wire-frame I think it would be cool.

SYDELL: In a room down the hall, another crew is deep into "Alvin and the Chipmunks."


MATTHEW GRAY GUBLER: (As Simon) Allow us to introduce ourselves. Hello, I'm Simon, the smart one. He's Alvin.

JUSTIN LONG: (As Alvin) The optimist one.

JESSE MCCARTNEY: (As Theodore) And I'm Theodore.

SYDELL: Supervisor Harry Lam here in L.A. is talking with his Mumbai crew about every detail of chipmunk eyes.

HARRY LAM: We spent a lot of time, probably too much time, on making the eyes look pretty, especially for this shot that we're looking at.

SYDELL: On the computer, Lam zooms in on Theodore's blue irises.

LAM: Unidentified Man #2: Okay, the iris.

LAM: Yeah.

SYDELL: It seems so easy for them to use a videoconference system to bridge 13,000 miles. After I left the Los Angeles office, it took me two planes, over 24 hours to travel across 12 time zones and three continents to get from California to the Rhythm and Hues office in Mumbai.

INSKEEP: 00 in the morning, I eat breakfast with the staff. It's bread made from lentils. And a little while later I sit down and there on the videoconference screen is Harry Lam in Los Angeles.

LAM: Hello.

SYDELL: Hey, how are you?

LAM: Good. How are you?

SYDELL: They're still at work on the chipmunk eyes.

LAM: Seeing that, a lot of shots are a little too grainy.

SYDELL: Preshant Buyyala, managing director of Rhythm and Hues India, says this isn't supposed to be an impersonal outsourcing center.

PRESHANT BUYYALA: India is very unique that every single state has its own unique culture and its own unique language, food and style of art as well. So we said let's actually take that and try and bring those into the office.

SYDELL: Rhythm and Hues opened its Mumbai office because it was facing increased competition from abroad, says Buyyala. Countries such as Canada and Great Britain were giving tax breaks to their own animation firms.

BUYYALA: A lot of the work that we're working on was going away to the U.K., and we were finding it very, very difficult to compete.

SYDELL: Rhythm and Hues looked at sending their work to China, South Korea, Malaysia. Buyyala, who is of Indian heritage, suggested India.

BUYYALA: An English-speaking country, so that would really help with communication for us. Cost of living was very competitive compared to the rest of the other worlds. So that was also very helpful for us.

SYDELL: The firm also hoped to be part of a new Indian animation industry. Rahul Khanna is with Clearstone Venture Partnerships, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm that is putting its money into Indian animation.

RAHUL KHANNA: I do believe that there is an animation market emerging, and we've really haven't seen the opportunity being fully tapped as yet.

SYDELL: Animators like Payal Danil say they are getting an opportunity to learn at Rhythm and Hues.

PAYAL DANIL: Of course the quality, which is like not found in other studios, is going to found here, and the kind of projects, the kind of work, so it's like a better exposure and a better job.

SYDELL: Danil hopes she can eventually make Indian films with the skills she got working on "Alvin and the Chipmunks."


JASON LEE: (As Dave) Alvin.

LONG: (As Alvin) Whoa. Okay.


SYDELL: Today, the Rhythm and Hues crew is using the videoconference system to party together on two continents to celebrate finishing "Alvin and the Chipmunks." In Mumbai, it's chocolate cake for breakfast.


DANIL: Would you like to have a piece?

SYDELL: Animator Nirmal David is actually glad to be finished with "Alvin and the Chipmunks."

NIRMAL DAVID: (Unintelligible) that sound day in and day out...


DAVID: ...gets you a little bit...

SYDELL: Laura Sydell, NPR News.

INSKEEP: Tomorrow we're going to continue these reports because big American movie studios like Disney and Sony are trying to break into the Indian market and having a rough time.

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