for Screen (India) on May 16, 2009
Developed at Rs 50 crore, Little Krishna is a first in terms of the technical and creative quality it offers.
The Indian animation industry, which has so far played the ‘low-cost talent’ as its trump card to bag execution of internationally-conceptualised projects, has reason to cheer. It’s first locally conceptualised and developed 3-D animated television series, Little Krishna, is scheduled to go on air from May 11 on Nick. Developed by Reliance’s BIG Animation Studio in association with The Indian Heritage Foundation (promoted by ISKCON), the Rs 50 crore series has been scripted by Jeffrey Scott, the man behind the Ice Age and Ninja Turtles television series. As for the art direction, Parikshit Dasa of Lion King fame turned to several books depicting the way of life in Krishna’s times. With the required research in place, the BIG team worked on 4,500 drawings before narrowing down on the elements required to set up a virtual Vrindavan. In what can be called a magnanimous creative task, the studio has set up 4,000 intellectual assets for what is currently to be showcased as a 13-episode series. While the series that will be aired on weekdays has been dubbed in Hindi and English, only those with dual-band option on their television sets will be able to view the show in English.
Lack of required pre-production talent for a project of this stature in the local market saw the producers flying down Vincent Edwards, who has worked on animated series based on Godzilla, Spider-Man and Superman, to create the storyboard for the series. Interestingly, this is one animated series where creative liberty is restricted to adding visual appeal rather than imagination. “Most of the architecture, environment, clothing and other elements you see in the series are inspired from research texts and paintings. As for the creative liberty, it has been restricted to areas like re-aligning the diamond-shaped map of Vrindavan to resemble the peacock feather,” cites Ashish S.K, Producer and CEO, BIG Animation.
Describing the creativity-wise intensive nature of the project, S.K. said, “Ideally, we see 30 to 40 combinations of facial expressions, especially when it comes to small-screen heroes. However, we have created multiple permutations and combinations to provide Krishna with 130 facial expressions! What’s more, even when it comes to depicting background elements like the skies, we have actually created 3-D clouds rather than opting for matt elements, which have been restricted only to the farthest rows.” Certainly, the effort doesn’t seem one bit wasted when one watches a trailer of the second episode wherein Indra speeds away on his Airavat (flying elephant), leaving behind dust clouds on the transparent ice-like roads on his way to the Govardhan Mountain on earth. Elements like fire and rain too reinforce the impressive quality of effects that has gone into developing the series.
According to S.K., the most challenging part of the project was the treatment of elements like fire, water and tornados as well as clothing and jewellery. In fact, the non-availability of local skills when it comes to treatment of clothing and jewellery saw the studio first getting on to train people in the areas and then assigning them on duty. With very frame having 60 to 70 layers, the project stands on massive 30 Terra Bytes of virtual space. While a gigabyte network through RX Foundry ensured smooth work-flow process, Blue Arc is the storage system deployed for the series. Further, an End-to-End Core Studio has also been set up to store the content across three different levels - online, near- line and offline. While online stores active content (episodes scheduled for airing), near-line refers to the content that has just been screened. This ensures instant transfer of elements or shots from the past episodes to the online mode. In the absence of this, transfer from the offline mode to online mode would take a whopping six to seven days for just a specific part of the series.
With such massive time and financial investment into the project, the inevitable question is whether the production studio will be able to reimburse its costs, and generate profits, if any? Hinting at the possibilities once the series is run for the first time, Nina Elavia Jaipuria, Senior VP and GM, Nick India, offered, “The fact that the series is just a 13-episode product does not limit its popularity potential. In fact, children love to view the same content over and over once it strikes the right chord with them. The best example is Tom & Jerry, which saw just 75 episodes being played over during its initial 25 years.” Not willing to reveal the exact duration of the contract or the moolah offered to seal the deal, Jaipuria confirmed that the contract validity runs into years and the channel would look at re-runs based on the response. While she refused to divulge the exact amount for acquiring the show rights, Jaipuria offered, “It is the highest amount we have ever paid till date for content acquisition, be it to local or international content providers.”
Meanwhile S.K. confirmed that the studio was in talks with distributors and broadcasters across territories outside India and the deals which would be year- and run-specific were likely to happen in the next six months to one year. But even as that happens, the studio is seriously looking at local merchandising options to generate revenue. With 4,000-odd intellectual assets in the kitty, the business model should certainly act as a great alternate revenue stream. After all, if the 2-D Hanuman can take the Indian market by storm with its merchandise offerings, Little Krishna should be able to pull off the feat effortlessly, once its characters find a connect with their channel viewers. What’s more, Nick’s massive promotion strategy that is based on exposing potential viewers to a first-hand experience in the form of LCD-advertising will generate audience curiosity, if not dedicated viewership. Set up mostly in retail and fast-food outlets (major target points for child viewership), these are likely to transform into instant gratification, courtesy the merchandise products that will occupy the shelves in the same arena.