SM: They were farm workers?
AB: Yes. But that boy has talent. He is an extremely good painter. I found him while roaming near the river bank and saw him trying to draw a picture of a couple of fishes near the river. I asked him if he would like to learn drawing and animation. First, he asked what was animation. The second thing he asked was what is the benefit of it. I told him that I was not a big business person, but I had a dream that one day I would be and if he came with me, I could teach him and guide him and possibly improve his living conditions.
So, I took him with me, and he stayed with me at my residence in Kolkata. My parents gave me a lot of support. Apart from money, they gave me a lot of moral support. I used one of my study rooms for business purposes. My next step was to travel from Kolkata to New Delhi because I found that there are a couple of companies that outsource a lot of digital graphics work. So, I went there and stayed in a waiting room because I didn’t have enough money to pay for a hotel room. I moved around a lot. Within three days, I got a job from one of the companies I pitched, which I will not name. We had to do a 30-minute animation for this company within four months. Now, I took the opportunity because it was the first animation project for us. But I didn’t have any kind of high-end machines to do animation.
But it was a 2D animation. I could draw parallel things, movements, light box setups, so I came back to Kolkata and invented a technology using my software development skills and creative art skills. With that technology, I and the fellow I hired – his name is Ayan — did the animation and created a 30-minute animated series within four months. The client was really, really happy because it was a challenging job for them also. Animation in India in 2001 was pretty new. Thereafter, we got a repeat order. After that, I started recruiting people from the same areas I went to before. I just recruited people and trained them.
Then I got an idea. If I’m recruiting people and training them, why don’t I convert the whole thing into a business model.
So, instead of taking people in for free, I started an animation training institute and started taking money by charging tuition. The model was pretty simple. Whoever was learning in the institution would get 100% job guarantee. Now, the challenge was to get a couple of jobs so that the pipeline would move along. I converted a team of four people into a different segment. I look after the marketing and business development section. Ayan used to look after the technical segments. Another guy looked after the HR division. From another person, a lady, she used to take care of the new technology innovations and that kind of stuff. With those four people, we grew and converted that animation institute with a combination of a production unit along with a full training unit.
Right now, we have a team of 91 people working directly under us. We have three offices in Kolkata. I have my own office in my house also. I have another office in Salt Lake City, and I have a third office, a pretty new office, near the Shodepur area. We have two offices in Shodepur.
SM: OK. You said you got one project from Delhi, and that was kind of the breakthrough for your business. How much did you get paid for that project?
AB: Well, it was not much … about 75,000 rupees (~$1,348). It was small for an animation project, but that’s OK because for us, it was a huge amount.
SM: What did you have to do?
AB: We had to do the storyboarding, the character designing, the drawings, the coloring and the animation through the computer graphics. The voiceover portion was not done by us. It was done by the client. We did it in a classical way. Animation can be defined in two ways. One is digital and the other one is classical. So, what we did is we use a vehicle that can combine classical and digital. Because we combined the classical with digital, our product was marvelous. Because I am a software developer, I invented a plugin that can take normal drawings and convert to frames. Let me give you the technical terms … if you see an animated movie, a one-second output request is 24 frames. That’s how the human brain understands animation. Now, if we can invent a technology that can give you 8 frames and give you a similar output, you can save time. That’s what we did, actually. Instead of 24 frames, we invented a technology that can convert an 8-frame or 16-frame into a 24-frame segment so that the human brain cannot understand that it’s actually viewing 8 frames instead of 24.