Animated in Bangladesh: ToonBangla Ushers in a New Era
The fact that the small animation industry in Bangladesh never really took off is of no surprise to industry insiders, considering the high costs of undertaking such animated projects and the lack of demand from the Bangladeshi TV channels for animation. Coupled with the fact that animation outsourcing is not possible until studios manage to build reputations for themselves by showing their films abroad, itself a long and ardous process; the animation industry has been perceived as being largely unfeasible. However, ToonBangla seems to be on the verge of changing the trend.
“Murgi Keno Mutant”, ToonBangla’s first short film, has already been well received at many film festivals in the United States. Furthermore, the film has also won Best Animation Film at the Offshoot Film Festival in Arkansas and Best Animation at the Rockport Film Festival in Texas.The short film, written by Nayeem Mahbub, has been screened at eight other film festivals and is slated to take part in two more in 2012. The tale of the killer mutant ninjas terrorising Bangladesh and the kung-fu chefs attempt to neutralize the threat has already entertained thousands and won the hearts of many animation enthusiasts. More importantly, it has brought recognition not only to ToonBangla, but the entire animation industry of Bangladesh.
Kazi Zahin Hassan, one of the men behind ToonBangla, credits the inspiration for this venture to Kamal Quadir, the founder of the now defunct Globe Kids which was the first animation studio of Bangladesh. Wholly funded by Kazi Farms Group, ToonBangla began as an experimental project back in July 2007. Apart from”Murgi Keno Mutant”, the studio also animated two “Meena “stories, directed and written by an Indian director. Furthermore, the studio has also worked on numerous other projects such as the animation work for “ Four episodes of My Friend Boo” series in flash and animation for TV commercials for Pran Magic Roll and Pran Bubble Gum.
“I thought that since animation is labour intensive, it should be possible to set up a studio in Bangladesh and outsource animation production from American animation studios,” says Kazi Zahin. However, he laments the problems the industry faces, pointing out the high start up costs as the main barrier to growth and entry. “Animation production is very expensive. At present, TVchannels in Bangladesh are not willing to pay for animated content, unless the production cost is paid for by a third party like UNICEF. We are experimenting with cheaper animation techniques which will make it possible to create animated properties at a price which is affordable to TV channels in Bangladesh,” Zahin adds.
The presence of a large number of animation enthusiasts in the country is evident. There are also numerous talented animators. However,without exposure, survival is impossible.“The only way for an animation studio to establish its reputation is to make short films and submit them to film festivals abroad,” says Zahin. “Building a reputation in this manner can take years. It has already taken us four years,” he further adds. But now with the release of “Murgi Keno Mutant: Attack of the Killer Mutant Chickens” and the positive feedback it has received, ToonBangla is already looking to the future.There are plans to release more short films and in the long-term the studio hopes to collaborate with one of the large American or European animation studios as co-producer of an animated property. A short story competition is also being mooted, with the author of the winning entry being paid in order to obtain permission to use the story for a short film.
Indeed, ToonBangla maybe spearheading the Bangladeshi animation industry towards prominence but there is still a lot of work left.“We still have a long way to go. Right now we can only do 2D animation, meaning animation drawn on a flat surface. We are now training our artists in 3D animation. This will allow us to offer a much wider range of services,” asserts Zahin. He also shares some advice for animators, “Concentrate on perfecting your drawing skills. Only artists with excellent drawing skills can become animators. An artist who has not mastered perspective, human anatomy, and other technical drawing skills will be a mediocre animator.” With talks underway to telecast “Murgi Keno Mutant”on a Bangla channel in the near future, it seems that the animation industry of Bangladesh may finally be about to take off in a big way in Bangladesh.