Creating for the world: This Mumbai-based animation studio is upping the ante to produce quality content
Founded in 2016 by Milind D Shinde, 88 Pictures is an animation studio that has worked with the likes of Oscar-winning director Guillermo del Toro to produce content that is technically complex and creatively stunning.
As the Indian film industry grows and enters new territories, the audience’s appetite to consume content that is visually complex has also increased. The success of films like Baahubali: The Beginning, Baahubali 2, and Tumbbad, as well as TV series such as Chhota Bheem, has only showcased the need to have almost every production house employ computer-generated imagery (CGI) and visual effects (VFX) while producing content.
One of the studios meeting the demand for animation in India as well as abroad is Mumbai-based 88 Pictures. The studio offers end-to-end solutions in visual imagery and content production for feature films, direct-to-home DVDs, TV series, and new-age digital content platforms.
Founded by Milind D Shinde in 2016, the studio is behind the making of the American animated series Trollhunters that was released on Netflix, as well as the Fast n Furious movie series.
From Shanghai to Mumbai
With the studio recently completing five years, Milind tells YS Weekender that animation fell into his lap accidentally in 2005 when he, studying mechanical engineering and management, began working for American animation studio DreamWorks. The industry was in a nascent stage and at DreamWorks, Milind was part of the core team instrumental in setting up and developing the production infrastructure and overall studio at the Indian branch of the company.
He was then assigned the task of replicating the success of the India unit to a new entity, Oriental DreamWorks, in Shanghai, China, where he worked on one of the highest-grossing animated features in China, Kung Fu Panda 3. He was also closely associated with the production of Oscar-nominated movies, including Madagascar, and How to Train Your Dragon.
“When I moved to Shanghai, I realised that everybody looks at India from a cost perspective. Because we’re an economy of scale, we do everything faster, cheaper, and better. When I was part of the India unit, we were responsible for creating some of the really big $100 million+ movies. So, the talent existed, but not a lot of high-end work was coming to India,” he says.
He identified the need for a studio that caters to the needs of the likes of DreamWorks and has the talent to do complex, high-end animation.
“I had the opportunity to work on my passion and build my profession together. So, I thought to put to use the knowledge that I gained in my engineering and management studies into the management of a creative industry,” Milind says.
As the industry is both capital intensive and requires a lot of talent, he approached DreamWorks for support to establish a studio. He started 88 Pictures with seed funding from his wife, Siddhie Mhambre, Founder and Studio Head, who also runs the day-to-day operations at the studio.
While naming the animation studio, he took inspiration from Shanghai.
“When I was in Shanghai, every building was named as ‘88’ because they consider eight as a lucky number. Also, the studio was established on August 8. So, while starting the company, it all came together,” he recalls.
Creating technically relevant content
Milind says he wanted the studio to serve the demand from higher-end clientele and stay away from creating animation in volume. The studio’s vision is to focus on content creation rather than only service work.
This led him to work with Oscar-winning director Guillermo del Toro on the Tales of Arcadia trilogy.
As he worked at DreamWorks for over eight years, Milind aimed to build a culture in his studio that gives artists much-needed creative freedom.
“At Dreamworks, they treat an artist like an artist, and create an environment that can encourage a lot of creative, artistic, and technical freedom. As an organisation, you have to put in mechanisms to make such talent flourish. So, the culture is one of our biggest defining factors,” Milind says.
He adds that one of the biggest challenges for the studio was to stay feasible as well as technically relevant, and make sure that they are ahead of the game when it comes to adopting new technologies.
“Though we’re predominantly an animation studio, we wanted to have people who could do visual effects as well as gaming to have variety. We’re already working on a VFX feature film and launched our first mobile game,” he adds. This is where Saswat Sahoo handles the studio's technical pipeline as Director of Production Technology.
Building from India for the world
Milind says animation is still at a very nascent stage in India as most stories that come out of the country aren’t meant for the global audience. That’s where 88 Pictures is bridging the gap as an Indian company making for the world, with a vision to highlight Indian art and culture and a storytelling format that is global in nature.
“There’s a patriotic person in me with a dream to build an Indian brand that resonates with a global audience through the stories that we can tell or create. Animation is still not the first love; we’re still a country that watched a lot of Bollywood movies. However, it will change over time,” Milind explains.
Over the next five years, Milind envisages 88 Pictures becoming one of the top 10 boutique studios in the world. He also wants to set up base in North America to leverage the expertise and the talent pool.
The studio is launching its gaming division, 88 Games, and soon plans to release its first mobile-based game, Krishna Legends. The team is also working on console gaming, with the aim of taking local stories and art, and turning them into global games.
To achieve this, the studio also recognises the dearth of high-end talent and aims to bridge the gap through its training initiative, Gurukul.
“Animation is a very taught science. It’s not a very mainstream subject and you can’t master in six months,” Milind says.
According to Statista, the animation and VFX industry in India was valued at Rs 5,300 crore in 2020, and is estimated to become a Rs 12,900 crore industry by 2023, growing at a CAGR of 35 percent.
With the arrival of newer content creation territories such as OTT platforms, Milind says that the future looks good news for animation studios.
“OTT has a lot of scope, and there is a lot of demand for good content. When we did Trollhunters, it broke all the barriers. OTT gives us that ability to go bold,” Milind says.
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Edited by Teja Lele