India’s Delhi Safari Disaster

In July of 2011 I posted about an article alluding to a crisis in India’s animation industry. The piece was unapologetically honest about the shortcomings of work being done in India and called into question industry trade reports that boasted huge growth.

However the article also pointed to potential hope in a film that was currently in the works: Delhi Safari. India’s first 3D animated film was made for $US 7 million and while the quality was no where near DreamWorks and Disney, it was better than previous attempts. It was supposed to be released October 2011 but for whatever reason didn’t hit the screens in India until this past October 2012. This was a film that India’s animation industry needed to do well.

So what’s the verdict? According to, it’s a disaster. After only 2 weeks the film grossed about $US 370,000 ($INR 20 million). Just to compare, previous Indian animated film Roadside Romeo was released around the same time in India in 2008. It’s first week gross was $US 820,000 ($INR 45 Million). So after 2 weeks Delhi Safari was only able to generate half of what Roadside Romeo made in it’s first week — which was also considered unsuccessful.

It’s also important to note the rising costs: Roadside Romeo was made for $US 3.6 million ($INR 200 million) compared to Delhi Safari which was made for twice that amount.

I think the film is quite important to note because India’s CG and VFX industry has certainly matured. The argument by many is that they will eventually move up the chain and replace us all. However after almost 15 years, India has yet to make the move.

Soldier On.


28 Responses to India’s Delhi Safari Disaster

  1. the problem is that they keep on making animated films with plots that make the average rom-com Bollywood pic look like Shakespeare. most of the time, they start building models and start animating BEFORE they even have a proper animatic or script. they sink all their investment into production and promotion while completely disregarding and kind of ramp-up or pre-production. it’s kind of sad but this situation is endemic in the Bollywood movie process: it works (sometimes) in live-action, but is utterly inappropriate for animated films.
    i spent four years in India trying to teach my students that there is a process that has been refined for over 80 years now on how to make an animated film, but the people who are really in charge in the Indian film industry are only interested in two things: making money (as in up front) and getting their names in as big and shiny letter as possible.

  2. Dave Rand says:

    This may be something for Reliance to consider before cutting people’s well deserved pay at Digital Domain…what do they think they bought? A brand name and some killer software? They bought into a collection of wildly talented and knowledgeable staff members who should be given every reason to stay and never a reason to leave. However, those with vision will be happy to scoop them up.

    • Dave, unfortunately, knowing the management at Reliance as i do, that is EXACTLY what they thought they bought. artists are about the same level as janitors in the business scheme of things in India. not that it’s not terribly better in the West, mind you.

      • Dave Rand says:

        Apparently so. However we’re soon going to see some “surprises” from Hindustan and very soon, maybe that will enlighten them as to what is possible once talent is rewarded rather than the suits. I’ll stand behind any country that adds quality content AND audiences rather than merely lure our industry to their shores without giving anything in return.

      • Dave, I’m not sure that country is India, to be honest. Even now, 90% of the animation work that is done there has to be either thrown out, revised, or redone. You might think that percentage is pretty darn high, but I’m basing this on my many ex-students who are currently in many of those Indian studios and on the contracts I have had to turn down that are asking me to return to India and finish off 6 months of work in three weeks.

  3. Andreas Jablonka says:

    you would think that by now enough mentors as Steve Wright have gone down to India to teach. The obviously understand the need for education and mentoring. why would they cut all artist though? if they offered all the supervisors a job in india or china id understand that but they just think the name itself will sell? if it did the DD stock would be soaring and not worth a quarter.

    I dont see them taking over the vfxworld soon but id love to see a big tentpole like avengers done in india/china with 90% revisions and see how much it would cost and if they could reach the level with seemingly unlimited funds.

  4. ABM says:

    Hello vfxsoldier, I’m an artist in India and I’ve been following your blog for a long time now. And I agree with a majority of stuff that’s said here. However, more often than not, I feel this kind of negativity when you and other commentators talk about India, as if almost wishing India never does well. I know you guys don’t mean it, but somehow that’s how it feels.

    You see, India is not the villain here, it is the greedy studios that you have up there, who register bigger and huger profits each year yet want more and more for less. And I feel that the jobs coming here have actually made thousands of young artists worse off than had they didn’t have the option of joining this industry at all. It was a craze some time back, but now most of the artists don’t see any future in this industry and coupled with horrible working conditions (well in most of the studios here), are looking for ways to opt out. A lot of my friends have, and perhaps so will I.

    But I guess that’s not just an Indian problem. A decade ago visual effects used to be a “magical” technology that attracted everyone. It still is, but the shine is wearing off. With even kids in schools learning stuff through internet and all, the “specialized” part of our skills is dissolving. True, the movers and pushers of this industry are nothing short of geniuses, but I’m sure that’s not true of a majority of people in this industry, even in the US.

    • rss says:

      It’s xenophobia mixed with a touch of a cultural superiority complex. We view Indians as incapable of being “like us,” in the sense that we’re film buffs, vfx nerds, and comicon attending people who live and breathe this stuff. We view them as telemarketers who stumbled into the wrong office one morning and wound up doing vfx.

    • vfx guy says:

      In my opinion those seemingly negative wishes is that its more of a fear based defensive position. Whenever people talk about trying to improve the situation for artists working in the ‘developed’ countries it always seems to end on the note that (if we stand up for ourselves/form a union etc.) “they will send all the work to India”. So I think that your perception is not completely off the mark, but the cause of it is important to realize because it stems from a fear of India producing the same quality for less money, therefor threatening the stability of the jobs ‘over here’.

      • ..and it stems from an irrational fear because the culture in India rates an artist or animator just above the maid. the problem lies in the atrociously little time and energy given in the public school system to any kind of artistic expression. this will not, from my experience, change any time soon. there simply is no money in it.
        and driving all of this “ship it over to India” ase the ridiculously low bids the Indian visual effect companies make. it is certainly not based on any kind of sustainable reality since the turn-over rate in those studios is ludicrous at best and the working conditions just a shade above a sweat-shop.
        but then there is the REAL money-making con: the for-profit “animation” schools that are nearly everywhere. strangely enough, most of the owners of these schools are also the business partners for the major studios that have set up shop in India.

      • I’ll go out on a limb here (and I’d love to hear from India natives regarding this) but I think in the US we were very lucky to have a “culture of animation” in the 20th century which allowed many of us to grow up watching Warner Bros. and Disney cartoons very regularly. Personally I think that this gives even non-animators a basic subconscious understanding of the principles of animation and timing, and serves as a foundation that many of us built a career in animation on. My son who is 5 years old can instantly tell a Chuck Jones/Abe Levitow Tom & Jerry from a Gene Deitch Tom & Jerry, as could I at an early age. (I mean, god, just look at them) We take it for granted, but without that seminal “education” I can see how it would be much harder. What do you all think?

      • vfxguy says:

        @john – exactly! And that “cultural DNA” is why all the 2D animation jobs have remained in the US over the last 50 years while workers in the far east will do the same job for a fraction of the cost!

        Oh, hang on a sec…

  5. Scott Ross says:

    I think you are confusing creation and construction. The engineering of circuitry is done in the US, the manufacturing is done in Malaysia. The design of great toys is done in the US, the manufacturing in China. The companies are US companies, the help lines are in India. The content is US based but the animation is… wherever the cheapest labor is. The design, scripts, and key frame is American but the manufacturing will be done wherever the cheapest labor is. Globalization, it’s not pretty…it just is.

    • jonavark says:

      A few years ago I had a discussion with the owner of a large US Musical Electronics company I was designing a product for. The assumption at the time was that China and other ‘construction’ companies would forever stay just that. The notion was that they ‘just aren’t as creative as we are’. I never believed that and in fact it isn’t true. So the longer they ‘construct’ the more they learn and begin to apply their own creativity. It’s a natural thing, especially in cultures as old as China. When they become creative and can produce product that their culture prefers they become ‘creators’. It’s a good thing in the long run but it is causing waves financially for those who have had the ball and been running with it for a century.

  6. Scott Ross says:

    agreed…. for now China and India are the world’s factories…. but soon… soon… they will become the world’s richest economies…. oh, that has happened already!

  7. Raghavan says:

    Animation Industry has to mature in India in the first place.Many studios make their employees work 24/7 and pay just 4-5K a month.

    • VFX_Boom says:

      I think you find most in the VFX industry are in favor of home grown talent in foreign lands. And if that home grown talent thrives and makes a product that the locals love, or hell, the rest of the world, and is hugely successful, then that’s pretty awesome.

      Unfortunately, the big film studios see it another way. If there is any foreign talent that in a cheaper economy………’s exploitation time, Baby!

      The mainly US and UK companies that are in Asia and India are not there to be your friend and share culture and prosperity with you. They are there to increase their profits. Bottom line.

      Personally I hope the folks in India are able to take away a vast amount of knowledge from the outside companies, and are able to break away and start your own VFX/Animation industry with you as your own bosses. But in a good way, not a Prime Focus boss way.

  8. abhishek says:

    at this point I can surely say that this story was not researched throughly and its just trying to prove a point that how indian VFX and animations sucks in terms of quality .
    Will make it easier here and try to explain how this article is showing just one side of the coin.

    1. Delhi Safari at its crux had a flawed plot, a bad production design,script was bad and was a usual bollywood crap,difference being it was an animated one.

    2. The director of the movie Nikhil Advani is one the biggest film failure stories in India(i think so) .he started his career with a blockbuster drama and after that could never repeat it, the films he has made after his debut as a director are all average or really bad fair, most of them being high budget involving big names and still bombing at boxOffice, and expecting an animated blockbuster from this guy is a bit too much at most.

    3.Unlike cameron and bay indian directors are not very ambitious when it comes to international audience they have this notion of “good enough for bollywood” and they are happy minting money out of it,
    those who are aware of the international market don’t try VFX tentpoles and usually stick to drama and reality genre rather than a VFX escapist cinema.

    4. bad animation was not the reason for delhi safari underperforming, it flopped because of bad story usual bollywood drama and songs which the “multiplex” audience is not very fond of these days, and single screen theater don’t take risks of releasing animated movies, they always go for mass entertainers.

    5.people who are supervisors here are mostly 10-12 yrs old veterans and the quality back then was shit so i do think supervisors are to be blamed for not pushing the envelope. the day we have our own Dennis Muren,john Knoll, Dykstra we will be there, if a US based company has a good supervisor handling indian artist you will get the same result, i know this because I work in such environment.

    hope above things explain the delhi safari debacle

    when i see people drawing flak just because they have to , it is ridiculous ,specially when its coming from seniors like Scott Ross,Dave Rand and others.

    please check the facts , do a thorough research before criticizing indian talent. there are sequences that has been worked on in india in movies like transformers , tron, life of pi and many many more … need i say more.

    nobody complains about the profits that the US companies make with outsourcing, nobody has a problem with that. …

    as an indian artist i also go through the same short deadlines, loads of work and guess what even less money .

    people have different opinions about globalization ,here is mine ,
    its time for globalization, deal with it, i personally love it because i get to work with people of different culture,different countries, great talent and that is fascinating

    calling china and india factories just shows your mindset, we are not machines, we are as human as you are 🙂

    i am not sure but it does seems like some people(not all) in US have a problem with other countries developing and catching up, but hey we are not your problem, you can’t blame us for bad economy, ever heard of derivative frauds and corrupt financial practices happening in US.

    Soldier On ……

    • Abhishek, your points lose their impact because of your inconsistent spelling, grammar, and formatting.
      As with animation in India, many times passion overshadows (and over-rules) proper technique.

      A couple points, however. Yes, some sequences have been done in India of major films. But these examples are usually of the “grunt work” kind (roto) and usually has to be redone twice as often as work from a Western studio. This is not theory or rumour: many of my students who are working in these studios and on some of the projects you have mentioned have confirmed this. Is this the fault of the artists? Usually not: this happens mostly due to the “meh…good enough” attitude of India studio management. Also, key-frame animation is not a money-maker for these studio since good animation requires years of training by the artists and such talent is still rare in India. however, “grunt” roto and other work can be done with little or no artistic sensibilities; just knowledge of the software and basic principles. Since the so-called “animation schools” in India churn out hundreds of such limited knowledge graduates, it is very easy for the unscrupulous owners of the studio to essentially work their current crop of artist to death (80-90 hour weeks) and then fire them before they complete the one-year “fresher” level.
      One notorious example of this is Prime Focus.
      Vying for the “Scrooge of the Decade Award” is their policy of asking new hirers to PAY THE STUDIO Rs.10,000, this deposit to be repaid after one year of successful employment. The studio’s justification of this is that they essentially have to “train” all new artists to their “high” level of quality and if these artists leave after before a year’s end, the studio takes a “loss”.
      Of course, they don’t mention that it is an unsaid policy that they FIRE most of the artists before the deadline. Considering that Rs. 10,000 is a HUGE sum for most Indians and the monthly salary at Prime Focus is about Rs 6000-8000, the despicableness of this policy is quite profound.
      (I wonder if the management of DD was inspired by this business model…..)

      • ABM says:

        Umm we all know this. So what’s the point you’re trying to make? That because artists are not treated well in India, so all the work being done here should be stopped and shipped back to the US? And frankly speaking, what I don’t understand is that if its just the “grunt” work that’s been done over here, what is it that’s making you guys lose your sleep over there? I mean all the great jobs are still over there, right? So what’s all this hullabaloo about?

        As for what kind of work is done in international studios in India like MPC, R&H and Dreamworks, its significantly much more than just the grunt work. I agree the number of such artists is a fraction of the total artists in India, but the numbers are rising.

        And puhlease, inconsistent spelling and formatting doesn’t negate any of the points Abhishek mentioned. They are all true.

      • The point is that even though, at this point, the work done in the West is a superior quality than India, jibs are still being shipped over there because it is “cheaper”. The “great jobs” are disappearing because accountants are worried more about a couple pennies than the time and effort this current crop of Western artists have put in to refine their craft.
        Yes, the numbers are “rising”, but they are rising in a ever-growing sea of mediocrity. The percentage is growing smaller and smaller in lieu of “faster, cheaper, crappier”.
        This is, hopefully, an professional discussion and such sophomoric expressions of “puhlease” for you own personal display of self-righteousness are not appreciated or wanted.
        I did not say that inconsistent spelling and formatting NEGATE Abhishek’s points…I said it lessens their impact.

      • jonavark says:

        “And puhlease, inconsistent spelling and formatting doesn’t negate any of the points Abhishek mentioned. They are all true”

        Agreed. Your points were clearly understandable.

  9. ABM says:

    And that is exactly what I said in my first post. Your colleagues in the movie studios in your country are not thinking about you and the long years you have spent honing your skills. It seems they simply don’t care. All they are doing is looking for cheaper options. Today it is India, tomorrow maybe it will be Africa, who knows. And so, its your own people who don’t care, and somehow all the negativity is directed towards India! That’s what I find strange.

    And I apologize for my language. I’m usually very professional in my conduct, its just that this all-year-round India bashing sometimes gets into my head.

  10. Abhishek says:

    sorry for the late reply,

    @Philip- i don’t know what students you are talking about but i would like to know in which of the studios in US or Vancouver students get to work on high end VFX shots doing the “sexy” stuff in the beginning of their career
    In India a student has to do rotos in the beginning , i haven’t heard of any student who went straight into comp or light or fx for that matter. Only Rhythm and Hues provides apprenticeships and not everyone is able to get a job straight out of that.

    As for the “grunt” work you are talking about, it happens only in the stereo conversion facilities, the likes of Rhythm and Hues and Prana are doing some amazing work, if you have this assumption you will be pleasantly surprised if you ever dig deep and see what work happens in these studios.

    There are instances where people might have to do extra work but doing the work twice is substantially low, if you think that adjusting falloffs for rotos is work done twice, in that case i’ll just shut up and will not offend you further 🙂

    I have said it before somewhere and I will say it again, personally my intention is not to take your job, i work in VFX because I love it, the whole idea of getting to work with talent from all over the world is icing on the cake, yes the VFX guys in US are amazing, I am amazed every time i meet one, just reminds me how little i know and how much I have to learn in coming times.

    what frustrates me is that just because of some people the good artist also have to take the criticism. Not Fair


    • @Abhishek- let me try and rephrase what i have already said: i m NOT blaming the artists, no matter where they come from: US, China, India, Antarctica, etc…. The focus in India is not on the quality, but on maximizing profit. The same can, of course, be said for the West, but with the labour costs so low and the minimal regard managers in India have over the workers in their employ, this profit-centric environment exists in at a level that most Westerners cannot fathom.
      Hand in hand with this is the prevalent (but not 100% I concede, but in most studios I have visited in Mumbai) disregard to quality control. There is this mind-set of “eh…we spent enough time on this. It’s good enough.”
      Even after four years I living in India, I still have difficulty understanding this mentality. I learned to live with it and even use it to inspire my students to do better and be proud of the work they do, but it’s still like running full-tilt at a brick wall when these same students go out and try to get a studio job.
      I despair because I see conditions repeating here in West, where the focus in on quantity and not quality. Of cheap and fast over artistic excellence. All driven by MBA-diplomaed producers who wouldn’t know imagination if it bit them on the ass. 🙂

  11. Jorge says:

    This happens in all industries,dosent matter how much one denial the fact.

    Always will be one better than you.

    The big problem here its people making wonderful vfx and still get his ass banged,dont blame kids working 24hs in a little studio.

    Blame yourself for the lack of balls.

    Sorry for mi spelling English its not my first language but hey at least i can understand 2 different languages,how many of you can do that?

  12. Thank you for the article. It vas very helpful.I appeciate your point.Please give me more info on this!

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