Thursday, October 07, 2010

The world of animation... and Bommi & Friends



I like going to the All India Radio studios here in Chennai. Somehow, it's like a homecoming every time I go there. I still remember how I had visited the studios for the first time, for an audition, in the late 1980s. There was Sujatha, the programme executive then, so warm and friendly, and it really came as no surprise that I was asked to conduct quiz programmes and moderate talk shows. So, every second month I’d receive an invite or a contract to conduct the programme and, no matter what, I’d find my way to the studios.

It’s been a love affair for two decades now and except for a brief while when Sujatha left the mortal world, shocking many, I have been a regular at AIR. Today was another recording and this time I was chatting with a soft-spoken and extremely talented gentleman, A.P. Sivayogen, executive producer and director at Image Venture, the company that has produced what promises to be a wonderful serial for children the world over, Bommi & Friends.

A computer engineering graduate, Sivayogen, who has more than 15 years of experience in programming, visual effects, 3D animation, and video and film content production in South India and is now the executive producer for Bommi & Friends, spoke about how the animation industry has grown from digital publishing solutions and computer graphics to the high-end digital effects we see in movies today. His company produces and distributes 3D-animated properties in the form of TV serials, home videos and theatricals (including co-production) and provides outsourcing services for VFX and animation. Having worked on more than 1500 commercials, 2000 television episodes and a dozen feature films, the company is now poised to become a global entertainment powerhouse and achieve revenue exceeding $40 million by 2015.

Recently, Image Venture tied up with KidsCo, U.K., a joint venture between NBC Universal (U.S.A.), Cookie Jar Entertainment (Canada) and Corus Entertainment (Canada). KidsCo is set to launch its paid channel in India early next year and the channel will then telecast Bommi & Friends in the country. Elsewhere, in Australia, Africa and Asia, 13 half-hour episodes of Bommi will be telecast April 2011 onwards. Image Venture also plans to get into the merchandising of Bommi & Friends characters – through garments, toys, games and online media.

It was in August 1997 that brothers Ramachandran Mathiseelan and Krishnamoorthy Ramachandran Senthilkumar together established Image Venture Private Limited in a dingy room in T. Nagar, as a business enterprise with an investment of Rs 80,000. The only company they had was a computer and an animator. While Mathiseelan was earlier production engineer at GM Pens, Senthilkumar was head of the 3D animation team at Pentamedia. It was the time when private television channels were making their presence felt in India and it was natural for the company to start focusing on television advertising.

By 2000, the company, which had shifted to Lake Area, Nungambakkam, its registered office, made a mark in the domestic market and pioneered the growth of affordable quality VFX and animation services for about 80 per cent of the Telugu and Tamil television markets. The premises also housed the animation studio. Many advertising film makers were delighted in getting a quality job done at Image Venture. There was little focus on feature films at the time and the strategy helped Image Venture grow its business steadily; the promoters managed the company through internal accruals. During 2006-10, the company raised $2 million (debt and capital equity infusion) to build state-of-the-art infrastructure at Lake Area, and for marketing, production and human resources.

Image Venture houses state-of-the-art infrastructure as far as technology, creative software and security systems are concerned. The company employs about 100 creative artistes, technicians and management graduates.

Pictures show the Bommi & Friends poster, and Sivayogen, Mathiseelan and Senthil in Paris, during one of their trips overseas.

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