In the last two decades of its existence, Technicolor India has grown from a relatively small outfit with a few hundred people to a veritable giant in CG animation production having over 6,000 artists and technicians driving the world’s largest standalone studio. Bringing scale and consistency to the animation business on the back of innovative new approaches drawing strength from ideas challenging the status quo, Technicolor today has the world’s premier portfolio of visual effects brands, services, and creative innovations. Pickle chats with Biren Ghose, Country Head, Technicolor India
Spending 10 years at the helm of Technicolor India, Biren Ghose, who joined the company when it was still a small outfit known as Paprikaas Animation, has played an instrumental role in its transformation into the bellwether for the animation visual effects gaming and image-making industry that it is today. A leader, who considers himself “a naturally creative individual”, Ghose firmly believes in “creative thinkers” rather than “good workers”—an approach that has helped Technicolor India scale new heights on the back of cutting-edge technologies that are fast transforming the movie making landscape in India.
A keen participant in Technicolor’s transformation process to emerge as the most trusted and most efficient and reliable partner in creative business, what better brain to pick than Biren Ghose to get further insights into the CG industry. So, we decided recently to catch up with him to know about his views and perspectives on Technicolor’s journey so far, contribution it made in the M&E sector and where the company is heading. Here are the excerpts:
As someone who has been at the helm of Technicolor India for the past one decade, tell us about your journey so far?
BG: The 10 years at the helm of Technicolor India seem to have just flown by in a delightful collage of sounds, sights and celebrations. I joined the company when it was the joint venture, Paprikaas Animation, majority owned by the Technicolor Group, which was later bought out to make it a 100% Technicolor company.
Technicolor India was the group’s first foray into CG animation in India. At the time, DreamWorks animation already had a dedicated feature film unit. The TV team was working with clients like Nickelodeon on high end TV series. This along with the work for EA for their iconic FIFA game became the ‘kernel of an idea’ that would over time help build this into the world’s premier studio for episodic TV animation. The goal was always to make India a robust hub for Technicolor in the computer graphics animation arena.
MPC was already the London HQ brand that Technicolor had owned for some years and one of my first tasks after joining the company was to create India’s 1st global VFX studio to advance their global ambition. I joined Technicolor as I shared the belief of our CEO, Fred Rose and President, Tim Sarnoff that we could make something extraordinary by combining India’s talent with Technicolor and MPC’s world class tools and technologies.
Technicolor India has grown into the world’s largest standalone studio and that our games business serves the world’s most sought after publishers for their AAA titles
The company was back then a relatively small outfit with a few hundred people. Fast forward to today! Technicolor is a veritable giant in the production of episodic CG TV animation and holds an advantageous prime position when any of the biggest and most technologically advanced shows are being considered by any of the Hollywood majors.
What’s more astounding is that we have grown into the world’s largest standalone studio and that our games business serves the world’s most sought after publishers for their AAA titles.
Technicolor has helped bring scale and consistency to this business and India has been a key ingredient in this formula helping the group and its clients to achieve this scale
What enabled this transformation is too long a list to spell out in one interview but at a high level, the following are some of the attributes that made the success we see today:
• Focus on Creativity and Artist Development – artists want to work on the best shows and hone their skills to greater heights.
• Clients find the multi-location – the workflow and communication make them believe it is THE ROOM NEXT DOOR!
• Extending World-Class Pipelines, Workflows & Methodologies to India – connecting it to group locations in LA, London, Vancouver, Montreal, New York, Paris, Amsterdam, Chicago and Shanghai increase the “real time” shared production paradigm.
• Creating the Cultural Alignment – Between Technicolor’s family of brands and its highly pedigreed roster of clients
• Scale and Intensity of High-end Projects – clients prefer to work with a partner that can operate at a scale without any decrease in quality or productivity depended on the Technicolor pedigree to take this chance in a new locale
• Financial and data security are a key consideration in ensuring global productions guard against completion risks.
What are the major contributions made by Technicolor India in terms of impacting the global CG industry?
BG: Technicolor’s contribution to this industry is both qualitative and quantitative. Technicolor has helped bring scale and consistency to this business and India has been a key ingredient in this formula helping the group and its clients to achieve this scale. For all of the group’s studios in the US, Canada, Europe and China, Technicolor India is the engine under the hood!
Technicolor is home to the world’s premier portfolio of visual effects brands, services, and creative innovations. With locations that span the globe and service offerings tailored to the specific creative and storytelling needs of each project, we power premium content. Our diverse family of VFX brands includes: MPC, The Mill, MR. X, Mikros MPC Advertising, and Technicolor VFX. Each studio has their own unique approach to help storytellers create out of this world experiences.
What is the secret behind Technicolor India managing to achieve this huge scale?
BG: Strategy is an organic rather than a mechanical process. Indians tend to think with our hearts (as well as our heads) and so it’s easier to understand this phenomenon! We don’t plan in the traditional linear manner paying attention just to the excel sheets. We do not follow the traditional way in which other local studios are set up and run. Like in all changing businesses the historical expertise and age-old templates are being rapidly devalued in our growth story. Discovery is key and our mantra of continuous evolution is possible as we go beyond the traditional ‘expertise’ to new idea-rich artists and technicians who challenge the status quo and innovate with new tools, technologies and ideas.
For an example, Technicolor’s Genesis is our new Virtual Production platform. This enables filmmakers to make better creative choices much earlier in the production process leading to high-quality outcomes. Using a game engine platform to emulate live-action film production in a VR space, Genesis helps to conceptualize each frame even before the shoot or CG shots are executed. This will substantially increase the potential to scale up locations like India as the iterations are reduced through a far more specific pre-visualization of the shot.
Our intellectual property, as a services business, is our best practices and production technology even more spectacular and artist-friendly. We do not have a singular way as the only way to produce the imagery expected of us. We are anti-dogma. We rise to the complexities of each project. We not only rise to it, but rise with it.
The way Technicolor has successfully achieved scale in creating innovative employees is really commendable. What is your thinking behind talent acquisition?
BG: Over the years in the VFX and animation business, we know that there exists a significant and unsolved challenge of getting the best out of our artistic talent. I believe this is because of the way we have been managing the industry for over a 100 years that creates ‘good workers’ rather than ‘creative thinkers’.
We have achieved scale at Technicolor India by constantly building our leadership team that is encouraged to innovate and try new approaches, in turn, they must encourage those within their teams. As this simplification takes place at the front-end of production, it allows businesses in India to build up greater scale of production.
Our clients and partner studios see the way we think, act and celebrate our spirit of constant renewal and attempts to be increasingly brilliant. This is what makes us amazing. When I joined, one of our key clients told me: “It’s perfect – please don’t change anything”. In hindsight I realize what he meant was, don’t change our dynamics, our winning ways, our culture of synchronous teamwork, but let those values and that culture create the change together.
It has been famously said that in the production services of animation, visual effects and games “our business is talent”. There are hundreds of thousands of folks in India that graduate in what is loosely called animation. These “schools” cannot produce production-ready talent.
Our success is to make India continuously productive and competitive within our group through the right mix of investments and innovation and to invent new paradigms in software and workflows for our art form. India is a partner in all aspects of this evolution
Notwithstanding this, Technicolor India has grown to a team of about 6000 artists and technicians. Additionally, we work with a preferred network of vendors which amounts to several hundred additional artists almost throughout the year.
Students with restless minds and bodies, far from being encouraged and leveraged for their curiosity and their youthful energy are ignored and there is a stigma attached to those who do not follow cookie-cutter methods! The dogmas of this past method of educating people and developing their skill sets is totally inadequate in an age of rapid change. We have to think and act anew in the business of creativity where ideas, visualization and initiatives are of paramount importance. These senses have to be rejuvenated and encouraged to experiment and grow. We need each artist to work to a level of confidence and to sell their own ideas and creativity and hone it in the process.
I believe that over time we have become really savvy in identifying potential. When we interview an artist we look at their abilities based on some of the work they have previously done and determine how quickly they might be able to upskill their levels to become productive within our world-class team. This process has matured across all the disciplines that it takes to produce every single frame of film that we create.
Modelling, texturing, rigging, lighting, compositing, FX are all crucial skills that need a very different intrinsic ability from a generation of artists trained at the workplace. When I joined Technicolor, we decided to hire people into our company’s academy and make them production-ready internally. While this adds hugely to the cost and complexity, we believe it’s less of a distraction than having to set up and run a school on our own. Besides the workforce in-house, today there are almost 4,000 amazing artists that we have trained in our studio that have gone on to help grow the industry in our country and beyond.
India is eminently placed to be the no. 1 global service provider when it comes to VFX and animation and CG disciplines
We are proud of the contribution we have made to this sector and believe that as we capitalize on our past learnings we will be able to take our proprietary training methodologies to even greater excellence.
Work-life balance is the key to rejuvenation of the creative professional. Our HR in each of our services, plan and execute employee engagement programs that are second to none.
As an example, Housefull, which is Technicolor India’s annual party, has become legendary as an institution. It demonstrates to clients as well as to global management, the passion and excitement with which Technicolor India plays as hard as it works! It is a celebration of the year’s work and is evidence of the youthful passion and creativity through the choreography, music, attire and dancing like you couldn’t imagine.
The opportunity to be a co-founder with Ronnie Screwala and UTV (now Walt Disney India) and launch broadband streaming platforms (in 1999) in local Indian languages was my baptism by fire in this industry
What drew you to the media and entertainment sector? What keeps you going even after serving the sector for two decades?
BG: I consider myself a naturally creative individual and have been involved in innovative projects from the beginning of my career. Having been given the chance to create a consumer durable startup at the age of 26, I have invariably been involved in the journey of taking the spark of an idea from blank pages, to insights, to execution. As a marketer, this has always entailed understanding the consumer and finding those moments of serendipity that would help win the battle for their minds and hearts.
In my projects with USHA fans and sewing machines; working at Kingfisher and McDowell’s, etc I was always involved in media from the other side of the table. As someone commissioning and approving the creative, I have always actively partnered in the storytelling for our consumer brands.
I crossed the floor into the media business in 1999 when I sought to come back to India at the giddy heights of the dot com wave. The opportunity to be a co-founder with Ronnie Screwala and UTV (now Walt Disney India) and launch broadband streaming platforms in local Indian languages was my baptism by fire in this industry.
I believe that it’s not where you work but who you work with that is a key driver for me in my professional pursuits. The thought leadership that Ronnie provides in Indian media, and then working with global stalwarts like Kishore Lulla of Eros and later with the likes of Tim Sarnoff at Technicolor; Mark Benson and Christian Roberton at MPC have helped me to continuously frame and reframe my professional context with their passion, guidance and intellectual honesty.
The level of maturity among Indian companies in the media and entertainment industry is rapidly improving to the point where the players can now appreciate when to compete and when to collaborate.
With government trying to boost the growth of M&E sector, what is your take on India emerging as a digital and M&E hub?
BG: India is eminently placed to be the no. 1 global service provider when it comes to VFX and animation and CG disciplines. We are well-placed to enable the world’s content creation and serve producers and studios with digital imagery. We have fully demonstrated our prowess in the contemporary disciplines and are working with emerging technologies like immersive media that need even more firepower!
Given the current growth rate of the animation & VFX industry what I would like to see is that while the media industry grows from Rs. 1.9 trillion to Rs. 2.35 trillion in the next 2 years & the animation services sector is slated to grow from 8% of the total to 11% of the total in its current trajectory per the published reports, this does not reflect the true potential of what the country can achieve.
Given the recent boost to the digital audiovisual industry by the Ministry of Commerce & Industry and its identification as a champion sector, there is an immense opportunity to boost exports exponentially. I see that with the right impetus and incentives for this sector and animation and VFX services alone can be a Rs 1 trillion sector by 2025.
As a leader, what are the different kinds of opportunities do you see emerging in the Indian M&E space?
BG: The tools to create stories are exploding. I see this as a paradigm shift, because we are in the age of immersion—the age when people are their own heroes & participate in their own adventures.
The digital world has transformed the 100 years of making movies with a camera. The innovation has taken the magic from the front of the camera to extraordinary heights of what goes on inside and behind it! This is where we at Technicolor India are blazing new trails at scale.
Today’s world is about taking something you love and turning it into a billion-dollar idea! We have taken a media start-up in India from its humble beginnings and are focusing on being a company that has rapidly scaled to Rs. 10 billion. In the process, we have become the bellwether for the animation visual effects gaming and image-making industry.
The thought leadership that Ronnie provides in Indian media, and then working with global stalwarts like Kishore Lulla of Eros and later with the likes of Tim Sarnoff at Technicolor; Mark Benson and Christian Roberton at MPC have helped me to continuously frame and reframe my professional context with their passion, guidance and intellectual honesty
Talent – finding the appropriate dynamic for internal upskilling of Indian talent to bring them to world-class artistic levels. Proprietary methods and content Technicolor Academy (internal only).
Technology – no company as heavily in animation & VFX in India to set up high-end technology infrastructure to levels of investment and sophistication so that their clients and artists have the best.
Production savvy – how do you manage resources and juggle between multiple projects in different phases of execution? India had acquired a dodgy reputation for on-time delivery. We made sure this was the gold standard to enable scale.
Culture – we remain rooted and grounded through all of the business acceleration we see across the business units. It’s not what we say about who we are or our way of doing business but how we practice it on a daily basis. This unique feature makes the team pull together as one.
The world is continuously stunned by the enormity and complexity that goes into a single 90minute VFX driven animated movies such as Disney’s TheLionKing. Technicolor’s MPCfilm which has a huge team in Bangalore besides LA, London and Vancouver created the entire VFX with Director Jon Favreau and the Disney team.
Hold your breath as we give you only the highlights. Making this movie entailed: Capturing 240,000 photos, 1490 final shots, executing the highest ever photoshoot mission, producing 66 Sets covering 150 Sq. km [that’s an area bigger than South Korea or Greece!], 921 Various Species of flora and trees, 42+ hours of reference footage, 17 heroes, 63 unique species of fauna, 847,013 Dailies, 7975 Animation Submissions, 6182 Final Comp Submission, 18,000kms travelled, 676,578 Bugs [insects not glitches!],100 Billion blades of grass and all this was done by just 1250 people. You will agree that this is a breath-taking labour of love!
This enormous “canvas” has been made possible because we at Technicolor continue to pioneer new methods to reimagine storytelling.
Creativity needs Technology and the India team, working with our global ecosystem of studios and within their pipelines, can deploy the right mix of training and excellence in multiple disciplines. Accordingly, we have grown to become the world’s largest team for film VFX in disciplines such as Roto-animation; Tracking; Assets & Compositing. Additionally, our teams in Rotoscopy and Paint where India is now overall is gaining huge momentum.
Our success is to make India continuously productive and competitive within our group through the right mix of investments and innovation and to invent new paradigms in software and workflows for our artform. India is a partner in all aspects of this evolution.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
BG: A balanced life
What is your greatest fear?
BG: Economic forces that disrupt what I have helped create professionally and personally
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
What is the trait you most deplore in others? BG: Lethargy
Which living person do you most admire?
BG: Bill Gates
What is your greatest extravagance?
BG: Buying music
What is your current state of mind?
BG: Pivoting towards the next 10 years
What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
BG: Blind obedience to any cause
On what occasion do you lie?
BG: When I buy more wine and the fridge is already full!
What do you most dislike about your appearance?
Which living person do you most despise?
BG: Varies from time to time
What is the quality you most like in a man?
What is the quality you most like in a woman?
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
BG: Amazing; Yes; Let’s do it; Wow!;
What or who is the greatest love of your life?
BG: My wife & daughters – my parents, sister and my wife’s family.
When and where were you happiest?
BG: It depends when you ask me – as of today it is today!
Which talent would you most like to have?
BG: Formula 1 driver
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
BG: My weight!
What do you consider your greatest professional achievement? BG: Having mentored a generation of amazing managers and inspired a generation of young professionals.
Where would you most like to live?
BG: New York
What is your most treasured possession?
What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
BG: Losing a child, spouse or parent
What is your favorite occupation?
What is your most marked characteristic?
BG: Humor & Energy
What do you most value in your friends?
BG: Accepting each other as they are. Those you can pick up from where you left off without regard to what life has done to each of us in the interim. Sincerity. Forgiveness.
Who are your favorite writers?
BG: Shakespeare [his diversity of genres & appeal to the common man!]
Who is your hero of fiction?
BG: Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
BG: Leonardo da Vinci
Who are your heroes in real life?
BG: Eric Clapton – for the way he renewed himself artistically & through personal rehabilitation
What are your favorite names?
BG: Ragini, Radhika & Deepika
What is it that you most dislike?
BG: The status quo. [Standing still is sliding backward!]
What is your greatest regret?
BG: That I was not born in 1995
What is your motto?
BG: “It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness”