Nepali Times
Entering another dimension



Jaharilal, in vest and dhoti, sits on a bench with Nhucheman, who is clad in the daura-suruwal. They talk of the coming elections. Maya, a smart schoolgirl asks Raju questions, a kindly teacher, while Kanchi prepares tea.

It looks like a normal enough Nepali scene, with birds and butterflies in the air and a bike speeding past. It's hard to believe this three-dimensional animated film has been made in Nepal.

Gone are the days of the classic two-dimensional cartoons, thanks to computer-generated animation by the likes of Pixar and Dreamworks. Now, Nepali cartoonmakers are using the same softwares as went into the making of films like Finding Nemo and Ratatouille, to craft the country's first 3D animated shorts, Messengers of Change.

Developed by Firefly Studios, the film is intended for use as a public service announcement to prepare people for the elections. The quality is astonishingly good, the attention to detail impressive-from Kanchi's red tika to Maya's phuli. If Nepali studios can produce this sort of quality, they could soon be knocking on Hollywood's door.

"Nepali animators have all the skill required, just not the tools," says Manish Gurung, who teaches students how to use 3ds Max, a professional-quality graphics application at the Pentasoft Institute. "To create world-class animation we require better equipment, the likes of which Nepal may have never seen before. Right now we don't even have high-performance computers."

Training institutes like Pentasoft and the Maya Academy of Advanced Cinematics are attracting growing interest from students, but expectations may be outpacing reality, warn some local experts.

"There are some schools that charge an exorbitant amount of money to teach 3ds Max in three months," says Prabhakar Chettri of Firefly Studios. He says it takes a year to master such tools. "To become an animator, one needs to be artistic. You can't just learn 3ds Max in three months and expect to be creating 3D animation."

Gurung, at the Pentasoft Academy, agrees: "First you learn the basics and then you specialise." He says Pentasoft gets about 15 new students every three months to study animation, of whom only a very few have sufficient time and money to allow them to specialise further in this field.

Kiran Joshi, an ex-Disney animator, came back from the US to open his own animation studio, Incessant Rain ('Outsourcing toons', #371) His production company, Pinkslip Productions, intends to outsource animation deals from companies like Disney in the US to Nepal to make the most of the plentiful talent and comparatively low costs. In partnership with Mercantile, Incessant Rain is recruiting young talent at a blistering pace, taking students straight out of animation school.

There has never been much demand for animation within Nepal. "Most advertising agencies cannot afford us," says Yalamber Khairgoli, one of Chettri's colleagues at Firefly Studios. "Animation is hard work and very expensive." All Firefly's animators are self-taught and have gone into the field because they enjoy it, not because they think it will make them rich.

"We grew up watching Tom and Jerry and Disney cartoons, and all we wanted to do was create Nepali characters which are even better," says Chettri.

Decent equipment costs thousands of dollars, the reason why Joshi says he partnered with Nepal's best-known IT company, Mercantile. But if he and fellow enthusiasts in Nepal can produce works of world-class quality, they can expect a good return on their investment.

"Animation is expensive in terms of equipment and the amount of sweat we put in, but it\'s what we like to do," says Khairgoli, "and as long as we like doing it, we'll keep making animation."

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)