SAIL UP! Interview With Soumitra Ranade

By Pickle  September 8, 2022
SAIL UP! Interview With Soumitra Ranade, Pickle Media

Paperboat Animation Studios is breaking new ground in the entire animation spectrum to create cutting-edge IPs and bringing India’s rich heritage of images, sounds, music, textures, colours, and stories to the world, says Soumitra Ranade, Co-Founder and Chief Creative Director , Paperboat, in a chat with Pickle

Paperboat Animation Studios is breaking new ground in the entire animation spectrum to create cutting-edge IPs and bringing India’s rich heritage of images, sounds, music, textures, colours, and stories to the world, says Soumitra Ranade, Co-Founder and Chief Creative Director , Paperboat, in a chat with Pickle

You have got a new investor, films and web series are taking off… What does Vistas Media Capital bring to the table for Paperboat?

Oh, so many things! For starters, many of our ideas that had been gathering dust in folders on our laptops suddenly came to life. Just two examples are Kabuliwala and Itch, as also, UtSide, our recently launched online animation/VFX school. And it’s not just about the money; it’s about structure, having an international vision, and having someone with whom to brainstorm on an intellectual and creative level. For many years, I believed that in order to have an international presence, we needed to be in Canada. This was made possible by VMC, and we were able to open our studio in Toronto.

How is it to be in Canada, where Paperboat is establishing its facilities, in the centre of the most vibrant region in the world for virtual production, animation, and digital arts?

Canada has been a fantastic learning experience. Things are much more organised here than in India. The animation/visual effects industry is recognised as an important contributor to nation building. For the first three years, our mandate is clear. In Toronto, we are more of an IP lab. We are working on projects for both the North American and international markets. We don’t want to lose the cost advantage that our studio in India has, so we’re not looking to build a large team here right now.

Can we see this Paperboat approach as a first transformation step for Indian creative entertainment business powerhouses looking to expand their global footprint… or as a way to reimagine workflow? …you’ll be in London soon as well…

Yes. That could be correct. We’ve been travelling around the world with our work for the last 6-7 years, and the response has encouraged us to push ourselves further. We intend to complete the task at hand. We don’t want to be known as an Indian studio that does things cheaply, but as a studio that makes significant contributions to the world of animation. We’re creating a web series in London because it’s more convenient logistically. We are currently working on a feature film in Hollywood. We created, wrote, designed, and directed all of these projects.

SAIL UP! Interview With Soumitra Ranade, Pickle Media

What are Paperboat’s current focus areas?

We are focused on developing our intellectual property, which requires a great team. We have built a team of about 350 people in India over the last 12 years. That is a significant advantage because the team is extremely talented and dedicated. We’ve won the award for best Indian animation studio for the past two years, which speaks volumes about our team.

Everything we’ve learned over the last 12 years will be useful as we focus on our intellectual property. We are also concentrating on our VFX vertical, Occult,which is doing some really exciting work, and we want to expand on it. With UtSide, our interest in animation education continues, and the first batch of students will be enrolled very soon.

So it’s not just animation projects in terms of films and series; we’re interested in the entire animation spectrum.

Canada has signed the most number of Co-Production Treaties in the world. How do you see Paperboat reflecting this?

I see many parallels between India and Canada. Both, for the most part, are multicultural in nature. Both celebrate their differences and are inclusive at heart. It is hardly surprising that Canada has the most Co-Production Treaties in the world. It is that kind of country, and we are looking forward to working with Canada on many exciting projects.

Bombay Rose (available on Netflix) stands out in its creation at an unbelievable cost. How are you making it happen?

Not just Bombay Rose, but also GoopiGawaiyaaGhodeKoJalebiKhilane Le JaRiyaHoon and BaghaBajaiyaa have all been completed on shoestring budgets and have received numerous awards in at least 20-25 international film festivals.

Low budgets are a reality in India, and it is pointless to dwell on them. We need to find ways and solutions to deliver within the constraints we have. Because we are all creative people at the helm of Paperboat, we can come up with creative solutions. There are two approaches: one is a highly intelligent and detailed production plan, and the other is Jugaad! The combination of these two works best for us.

SAIL UP! Interview With Soumitra Ranade, Pickle Media

How do you plan to scale up Paperboat studios?

We’ve never really believed in numbers. We started with three in 2011, and now have 350, but that is purely technical. After a few years, we’ll be 500-600, and so on.

To us, scaling up primarily means increasing the quality of our work, as well as expanding our vision from being an Indian animation studio to one that creates cutting-edge IPs that touch hearts all over the world.

There is only one way to scale up the way we want to: by consistently doing good work and coming up with unique and ground-breaking ideas.

What are the current plans you have for Paperboat’s journey in the near future?

We’ve divided ourselves into three sections: today, tomorrow, and the day after. Today, we do a lot of servicing work because it generates revenue while also allowing us to build, expand, and establish our team. Our IPs will be ready for release tomorrow, and the day after that, we will enter new mediums such as the metaverse. This is a very dynamic process, and while work has begun on all three fronts, the roll out is progressive.

Do you see an acceleration happening in the animation, VFX, gaming, and metverse industries in the future? What are your thoughts on the metaverse universe?

NFTs and the metaverse are an extremely exciting area. I’m particularly interested because I come from a filmmaking family. What is Tarkovsky’s ‘Stalker’ if not a metaverse example? Of course, technology has advanced, but the spirit of the metaverse has been hovering over us for centuries, dating back to the Ajanta caves.

The Metaverse calls into question the very foundations of how we have traditionally `seen’ things. It invents a new idiom. It is possibly the most extraordinary fusion of art and technology, which is why we are interested in it. However, it is part of Paperboat’s three-year strategy. While work has begun on it, it will not be available until much later.

I personally have no time for technology, and I can say this with confidence because I work with people like Aashish Mall and Mayank Patel (at Paperboat), as well as Sachin Shardul and PrashantShahane (at occult). All of these guys are at the pinnacle of their profession. They are up to date and work with cutting-edge technology.

So, at Paperboat, we have a clear relationship with technology. While I consider the stories we can tell, my colleagues consider how we can best tell them. Both are incomplete without the other.

SAIL UP! Interview With Soumitra Ranade, Pickle Media

What opportunities do you see in Animation, VFX, Gaming, and Comics in India? And also Challenges.

Unfortunately, the industry has not changed much. Of course, some experts will tell you how much the industry has grown, and all of that may be true, but that is primarily the case in the servicing industry. As far as I can tell, not much has changed. In India, there is still no serious funding for animation. How many animation students go on to make animated films? There are almost none! Why? These questions must be addressed. Furthermore, there is still a scarcity of talent. That situation hasn’t changed either. Big international studios open sweatshops in India, paying exorbitant wages (which are peanuts in American terms) to attract the best talent. This leaves a significant gap for Indian projects with Indian budgets.

The issue is that animation/VFX is not a national priority in India. We are still working to improve roads, hospitals, and universities, which are unquestionably more important than animation. Animation is low on the priority list, and it shows on the studio floors. Just this year, the AVGC industry was mentioned in the national budget. So, let us see where that leads us.

You expressed an interest in establishing a training facility and a studio in Jammu and Kashmir.

As a teenager, I lived in Kabul and witnessed the deterioration of a once-peaceful community into what it is today. We simply cannot allow Kashmir to deteriorate in this manner. I firmly believe that art has the power to heal many wounds. I am still very interested in beginning animation training at a studio in Srinagar. We want Kashmiri animators/designers/writers/directors to tell Kashmiri stories.

The government has also been very supportive, but I believe it will take some time before the situation there settles down and normalcy is restored. We will take the next flight to Srinagar as soon as we receive approval from the government.

We are also interested in establishing a similar model in Arunachal. We must integrate these outlying regions into the national mainstream. I’ve travelled extensively there and found the youth to be extremely talented and hardworking. It’s a shame they have to travel to Mumbai, Delhi, or Kolkata. I believe we should make the effort to go to them and create something they can claim as their own.

SAIL UP! Interview With Soumitra Ranade, Pickle Media

To us, scaling up primarily means increasing the quality of our work, as well as expanding our vision from being an Indian animation studio to one that creates cutting-edge IPs that touch hearts all over the world

The Government of India has identified AVGC as a champion sector, and a National AVGC policy is in the works. What should its long-term goals be?

The truth is that we haven’t even been able to export Mahabharat, one of the world’s most extraordinary stories. We haven’t done it because there isn’t enough support. This is truly tragic.

Our long-term goal must be to transition from a service industry to an IP creation industry. The world will not take us seriously until we do this, and we will remain the sweatshop that we are today. We must have faith in our stories and demonstrate the ability to contextualise them in a changing world. We need to aim for a global audience.

I sincerely believe that India is best positioned to generate international intellectual property. We are a creative nation with a rich heritage of images, sounds, music, textures, colours, and stories. We are a computer-literate nation that is also English-friendly.

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