The Reinvention of Maya: Exclusive interview with Super Stalwarts Subhash Ghai & Ketan Mehta

The announcement has just been made, but when companies led by two of the country‘s finest film directors, team up for an Animation Studio, the expectations are rocket sky high! In an exclusive interview with AnimationXpress.com Co Founder Anand Gurnani, the super stalwarts and legendary Subhash Ghai & Ketan Mehta spoke of their vision for Maya and their plan to create one of the world‘s best animation, vfx studios.

Ketan Ji, It‘s been a long journey for Maya right since the days of Captain Vyom, to Ramayana to the new collaboration with Mukta and the creation of a fresh new entity. We‘d like to know what the strategy was back then and what is it now?
KETAN MEHTA: Maya was a pioneer of computer animation and visual effects in India. It was created with the purpose of providing the new technology tools for filmmakers in India. At that time animation and visual effects were in their infancy and we had to make a beginning to introduce this new creative technology in India.

Over the years Maya has grown many fold, it has done high quality animation outsourced work for reputed international clients, it has created film and TV IPRs and provided Animation and visual effects content for Indian and international films. It has acquired skills to compete in the international market and a reputation for high quality work.

Now it is time to go to the next level, expand activities, bring in the latest technology, attract the best talent and turn Maya into one of the finest animation and visual effects studios in the world.

Ketanji & Subhashji, we‘d love to have your comments on the partnership? Also, Is the new studio going to be more focused on Services or will it focus on creating a slate of feature films?
KETAN MEHTA: Mukta Arts is one of the most reputed film production and distribution houses in India. Mr. Subhash Ghai apart from being one of the most successful Indian filmmakers of all time is also a visionary who pioneered the corporatization of the film industry. His contribution in the field of Cinema education is also path breaking with high quality cinema training institute like Whistling woods. The strategic partnership with Mukta provides Maya the platform to leap to the next level and become a major player in this field.

SUBHASH GHAI: As of 2010, the Mukta Arts Group was present in almost all verticals of the Motion Picture Industry. Right from High School education in Media Studies (Whistling Woods is designing the curriculum for the Media Studies elective for the 11th & 12th standard of the CBSE board) to Exhibition (our own chain of multiplexes – Mukta Cinemas – commences April 2011), we are present in all verticals of the Motion Picture industry. The only piece that was missing was Animation & VFX. Internally, over the recent past, we have been seriously considering a foray into Animation & VFX and have been discussing with several professionals / organizations in this industry and strategizing which is the best approach – should we setup a production facility of our own or should we invest in one, and we chose the latter.Mr Ketan Mehta is a highly artistic & creative filmmaker and has also proven to be a visionary when, almost a decade ago, he realized the potential of Animation & VFX as a key component of filmmaking and forayed in the same.

KETAN MEHTA: Maya plans to strike a fine balance between doing international outsourced animation and VFX work for Indian and International clients as well as develop its own projects both animated films as well as films mixing live action and visual effects and create a slate of high quality IPRs.

SUBHASH GHAI: We are looking at the new studio having 4 primary business lines – Original IP creation, outsourced Animation & VFX work for international projects, international co-productions & 2D to 3D conversion. We are confident that this partnership of Mukta Arts‘ tradition of path breaking cinema and Maya‘s potential of success in the fields of Animation & VFX will bear fruit, sooner rather than later.

Having Frank Foster as Senior Director and COO is certainly a great start to the fresh entity…and makes us anticipate lots of Hollywood projects coming in as well…?

KETAN MEHTA: Frank Foster was the pioneer of Computer Animation and Visual Effects in Hollywood. He has years of experience in running studios not only in USA but also in China. He brings with him all this international experience and contacts in order to achieve the best international standards and business practices to Maya.

You are expanding the studio in 3 locations? What kind of team strength are you targeting? Will each of the facilities cater to different markets or be focused on servicing different geographies? Will the studio have any kind of integration with the Whistling Woods School of Animation?
KETAN MEHTA: Currently we are relocating the Mumbai studio to a much larger facility at Mukta House at Film City, Goregaon, which will primarily focus on animation and Visual effects for films and Television for Indian as well as International clients and creation of our original IPR.

Another studio at Goa will primarily cater to the international outsourced service work. Another major vertical we are developing is conversion of 2D films to 3D.

Maya has been involved with computer animation training for a long time. So the synergies with Whistling woods are obvious. To begin with we will conduct workshops and training programs for film students and also initiate an apprenticeship program at the studio for the students of Whistling woods.

SUBHASH GHAI: The Whistling Woods animation program has proven to be highly successful over the past 4 yrs in creating employable animation professionals, with all the 70+ alumni being gainfully employed. Now that the WWI School of Animation has expanded into VFX as well, with the first batch commencing in Jan 2011, we look at the Maya partnership as a large boost to the education we are trying to provide.

With Ketan & Frank Foster, both being high regarded professionals in the fields of Animation & VFX and Maya having had a history of Animation education, the synergies will definitely be there. Both Ketan & Frank have already conveyed their availability to teach students & take workshops, which we are thrilled about. We are also working out the modalities of an apprenticeship program for students who graduate the WWI Animation & VFX courses.

Subhashji as per your vision, was an animation studio always part of your plan or is this more of a dynamic development?
SUBHASH GHAI: In the early 1980s, Mukta Arts was formed as a film production house – relying on transparency and great quality entertainment. Over the years, Mukta Arts has consistently taken new steps and broken new ground, leading the corporatisation of the industry. When Mukta Arts went public in 2000, the only film production house at the time to go public, we laid out strategies for the next decade. Since 2000, Mukta Arts has built business models in Film education (Whistling Woods International), Programming & Distribution (Mukta Movie Distributors), Exhibition (‘Mukta Cinemas‘ chain of multiplexes open in April 2011) and now in the Animation & VFX industry through Maya Digital Studios.

Animation and VFX have been on our radar for the past couple of years and we have been exploring the right entry point into this sunrise industry. So, while investment in Maya, has been a matter of timing, we have been considering this industry for a while.

Ketanji, you have certainly stood by the discipline and medium of animation and visual effects. We‘d like to know from you about your passion for animation and VFX?
KETAN MEHTA: The genesis of Maya was out of deep creative despair. In early 1990s I was doing a film called ‘Maya Memsaab‘ with Deepa Sahi and Shahrukh Khan. There was one visual effects shot in the film where Maya drinks a magic potion, bursts into light and disappears. At that time we didn‘t have the basic necessary technology to do even this simple shot. We filmed it over 10 times, I even went to Hong Kong to do the visual effect but could not get the effect we wanted.

I felt ashamed that in spite of claiming to be the largest film industry in the world we were so technologically backward.

Around the same time digital technology was emerging in the field of animation and visual effects. So we decided to take the plunge and bring in this new technology to India and it has been a wonderful journey of continuous discovery.

I believe that digital technology is dramatically changing the way we produce, distribute and consume cinema. It is going to drive the future of not only entertainment industry but education and communication as well.

Subhashji, what according to you, needs to be done to bring distribution and trade circles to have more belief in the potential of animation?
SUBHASH GHAI: Firstly let me talk about VFX. The visual effects industry, is by essence a secondary services industry. While ‘visual effects‘ can never be the reason that films are made, and it should never be, the availability of high quality VFX artists & techniques in India is able to allow filmmakers to visualize stories that otherwise would not have been possible and push the quality of filmmaking to a different high.

As far as Animated filmmaking goes, I have always considered it as just another, albeit a little more expensive method, of telling stories. While it is relatively expensive, it is also equally expansive, allowing us to imagine & tell stories that we could never do in live action filmmaking.

That said, Animated films in India, unlike the US, are only a decade old. While we have had some brilliant work done in the last century by Bhimsainji & RamMohanji, as an industry or a filmmaking tool, it has emerged only in the last decade. It has yet to break into the mainstream Indian film-goers mindspace and create a platform on par with live action films. My belief is that this will happen soon and when it does, we have to be ready with the content (writing), vision (direction) and technical excellence to capitalize on it.

We have to use Distribution as a strong tool to send out our content to the world. We have to stop taking the easy way out and selling all rights en-mass. We have to break up these rights into multiple sub-rights and go out to the film / tv markets around the world and monetise them. This is how distributors will create value, even if the story is inherently Indian. If we are able to write & create a story that appeals globally, then the sky is the limit.

The other advantage India has is that we are somewhat cost effective vis-a-vis some of the western countries, while being able to deliver comparable quality. We should use this asset, our technical excellence and enter co-productions while continuing to develop our storylines. All it needs is one Indian story to appeal globally and the snowball effect will push the Indian Animation industry to the forefront.

Any parting comments you would like to share with the readers of AnimationXpress.com?
KETAN MEHTA: Technology now is liberating creativity like never before. Now we can create what ever we imagine. The future is extremely exciting.

SUBHASH GHAI: I am confident that, sooner rather than later, we, at Maya, will be able to create globally appealing stories, have them executed by the best creative & technical talent in India, have the ability to import talent as needed and create a self sustaining ecosystem of animated motion pictures in India and take it out to the world.

Source: AnimationXpress

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