Prakash Nambiar is the founder and CEO of Kathaa Animations, a pioneer in Indian animation industry, having created the adorable cartoon characters of Hum Tum. Prakash had also served previously as the Creative Head at Morpheus Media Ventures and Animation Dimensions. His career graph includes a lot of experience at various levels including being Technical Head at Image Software and a member of the faculty at Image Mac Academy. Prakash shares a great passion for storytelling and making of short films.


Prakash Nambiar - Founder and CEO of Kathaa AnimationsCG Today : Prakash, Thank you for agreeing to speak to us. Please accept out warm welcome.

Prakash : Thanks a lot.

CG Today : You are the founder and CEO of Kathaa Animations, which was one of the first animation studios in the country, at a time when animation was still finding its feet. Can you tell us more about how the idea to showcase Indian values to international audiences came about?

Prakash : I am principally an entrepreneur who ran a small organization with a bunch of passionate individuals who saw the same dream.

Honestly, when we started Kathaa, we had no idea of bringing Indian values to international audiences. We began a small organization because we were not satisfied with the work we did in our offices. So ironically, being unhappy and not being in control were the main reasons for starting an animation studio. Then I started looking for ideas to make a big project that will change the world of Indian animation. I feel Indian values has been over-hyped by most of us in the animation Industry. It is just used as another USP for pitching a project to get in a co-producer or to get an investor put in his/her money. I must admit, I too harped about Indian values many times, but looking back, I realized I was also trapped in the farce.

CG Today : Kathaa Animations can be credited for the development of Hum Tum characters along with others like The Sea Prince, Pammi & I and Legend of the Kalari Kid. Which of these were your personal favourite and how did the concept originate and develop?

Prakash : I don’t have any personal favorite. I like each of them for very different reasons. Sea Prince gave me a dream to live for when there was nothing to look up to. Hum Tum got me a chance to see a dream come alive on screen. Pammi and I brought a smile on my face. Legend of Kalari Kutty was just at a conceptual stage. It never went beyond that.

The concept of Hum Tum was already there when we started work on it. But the characters were much bigger then. It was targeted at teenagers then (a la Archie & Veronica type) but that is when Koi Mil Gaya had released and we witnessed how the kids dragged their parents to the theatres. We realized that the film was targeted at the teenagers anyways, thus the cartoons can appeal to another audience - the kids. Besides when a teenage boy snubs a girl, it can look harsh, but when a little boy or girl talks the way elders do, it sounds cute and funny. That is how Hum Tum became small kids.

The Sea Prince was more of personal evolution. About how much would someone risk to get to their dream. It was in a way vindicating myself about the step I had taken to go on my own.

Pammi

The idea of Pammi and I came from a sketch Vivek Karandikar, (the character designer of Hum Tum) had drawn. It was a simple sketch of an arrogant girl. The design did not match to that of the character of Tum, but it got stuck in my head. And over a couple of years, the concept evolved. Pammi and I evolved very slowly.

CG Today : After a little over 5 years, you had shut down the studio. Would you like to share with us the reasons for closing down the studio? Did you feel that animation in India is yet to find its feet?

Prakash : Shutting down the studio did not have anything to do with animation in India not finding its feet. But there were many reasons. When I began the animation studio there were very few studios. My studio had started from my home, and the only investment was the computer I had bought. We generated revenue to earn our pay. And we did well for the first four years. There were many difficult times, but we were determined to fight it out and create the best quality work we could do. At that time the average salary we paid was around 10,000 Rs. Then suddenly there were many studios coming up backed by corporate houses and heavily funded individuals. The average salaries suddenly shot up to Rs. 30,000 – 50,000/- It became unaffordable.

My business model was relatively very simple in concept. Revenue minus cost = profit. But then the industry leaped into the new bandwagon called IP and valuation. Everybody started approaching VC’s and PE’s. Outsourcing Projects were being taken up by studios on paying money and partnering as co-producers with the International Studios (that outsourced projects). As I understood, there was a huge amount of value being speculated by the Industry, but I was doubtful about the revenue since value is always notional. It was at this point an animation major took interest on our IP’s and offered to acquire us. It was a tricky decision and we took the wrong one, enticed by the new jargons and promises that were being thrown up in the industry. And by the time we realized our folly, it was too late. But I would still have to say, it was during this mistake I learnt a lot about how the industry works. The experience is invaluable. My biggest learning was to always believe in what the heart says even when the head says otherwise. In the long run, I have realized, my heart has always led me in the right direction.

CG Today : During its first stint, did you come across any shocking surprises being thrown up at you from an animation industry perspective? Can you advice our readers on what kind of due diligence and ground work should precede the launching of an animation studio in the country?

Prakash : There were many surprises. I think I have lost count of them. Most of them were the tall claims people made about themselves, their studios and most of all, their valuation!

I don’t think I am any good in giving advices. I can only share my opinion.

On the outset, I do believe that people who are entrepreneurs have to be of tough material. Entrepreneurship shakes you out of your comfort zone and tests you to the extremes. And it is only two things that can help you in surviving it – your passion and commitment.

CG Today : The demand and interest for the animation industry is on the rise with a lot of entrepreneurs trying to venture into this arena. Could you advice the aspiring entrepreneurs on what are the factors one must consider before starting a studio?

Prakash : As I said earlier, I am not a good advisor. But one thing I would recommend everyone is to never ignore your finances and tax. In the excitement of being an entrepreneur, this is one thing many entrepreneurs overlook.

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