San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Costa Rican-Made Animation to Hit Bollywood

World-class, state-of-the-art technology and homegrown creative talent has secured two San José companies a lucrative deal to make animated movies for the Indian film industry, popularly known as Bollywood.

Animation studio Flex and post-production specialists Estudio Dart, based in the eastern suburb of San Pedro, have struck a three-film deal with award-winning Mumbai production company Pritish Nandy Communications (PNC) and Motion Pixel Corporation in Miami, giving the Costa Rican firms unprecedented access to the world’s most productive entertainment market.

The deal is a “big step” for both the studios and for Costa Rica, said Ana Lil Mora, CEO of Estudio Dart.

“We’re all very excited. Bollywood is the future for the film industry; everyone is going that way,” she added, explaining that the huge population and national enthusiasm for film in India means they can’t lose.

Work on the first film, a 3-D animation of popular Bollywood movie “Ek Khiladi Ek Haseena,” is already under way. Described as a cross between “Ocean’s Eleven” and a James Bond movie, it will feature the voices of the same big-name Indian actors from the original and include the romance, song and dancing for which Bollywood is famous. The film is scheduled to be released in India late in 2008, initially in Hindi, but makers are also eyeing the global market and plan to translate the film for release in other parts of Asia, Latin America and the United States.

It’s no wonder the Tico companies are excited. This is the first time Costa Rican studios have co-produced films with India, according to Mora, and in doing so they join Disney and other major filmmakers also tapping into the fast-growing sector of Bollywood animation. It seems that this genre is the next big thing in cinema – a phenomenon PNC head Pritish Nandy puts down to its universal appeal.

“These are films that everyone will watch, irrespective of age,” he said. “You will now see Bollywood movies truly going global.” Mora agrees.

“Animation overcomes cultural and religious barriers,” she said. “The sky’s the limit; anything is possible.”

The Costa Rican firms won the deal after Manny Bains, chairman of Motion Pixel Corporation, scoured Latin America looking for the right animation company for the project, according to Mora.

“He chose us because of what we can offer here in Costa Rica,” she said. “We are cheaper but maintain the highest industry quality, and the United States is just a few hours away. Plus, many people speak English, so there is no language barrier.”

Dart and Flex have collaborated on animation projects for several years, most recently receiving acclaim for shorts with social content such as “Anna,” a tale revealing the tragic lives of children living on the streets of Latin America, and this year’s “Burópolis,” a critique of Costa Rica’s institutional bureaucracy.

Getting Technical

Both Vinicio Musmanni, president of Dart, and Osvaldo Sequeira, director of Flex, pride themselves on their investment in the latest technology, which allows them to compete in the multimillion-dollar international market.

“Our policy is to offer the best quality in the shortest time possible,” explained Sequeira, which he says is only possible with the most up-to-date technology, such as Avid Nitris online editing equipment, IRIDIS color-correction equipment, Silicon Imaging cameras and Adobe Creative Suite 3 software.

But without the creative energy and raw talent of the workforce, no amount of expensive software could achieve the results that Dart and Flex can boast about today.

It seems to be a happy marriage of machine and imagination. The technology frees up time for the creative juices to flow; even so, it takes weeks to develop characters from concept to finished 3-D models on the computer. It’s a labor of love, from the hands of those crouched over their desks sketching character forms in pencil, to those focused intently on their screens, adjusting lines and colors to create the magic of the dazzling animations (see sidebar).

Aspiring post-production specialists are also set to benefit from Dart’s investments. A computer suite is being added to the Tico studios, where highly talented professionals will come to be trained in the use of the best tools in the industry.

“We want to open doors to those who can’t afford to spend years in the universities,” Mora said, warmly enthusiastic about the plan. “Some of the fees are just impossible, so courses are available only to the privileged.

We see high school students who draw beautifully and have great ideas, and we want to give them opportunities to learn with us and potentially to work with us. We’ll also be offering scholarships to the most talented.”

The future of animated film from the production floor of Costa Rica looks bright, thanks to Dart and Flex’s continued investment in technology, quality and training. But what’s next for the studios?

“Bollywood, for now, is quite a handful,” Mora said, adding, however, that both companies are expanding to meet ever-growing demands and are always looking to move into other markets.

From the Drawing Board

Even with the aid of technology, it’s a labor-intensive process to bring an animated film from concept to end product. Costa Rican animation and post-production firms Estudio Flex and Estudio Dart do everything in house, which, according to Ana Lil Mora, CEO of Estudio Dart, is their main advantage. The process goes something like this:

–Estudio Flex (a workforce of about 15) develops the character list and profiles and produces character sketches by hand.

–Sketches are scanned onto computer and used to create 3-D models, a labor-intensive process known as “rendering” that takes about two weeks.

–For the Bollywood film (poster shown above), Flex had to create about 90 backgrounds (e.g., a restaurant, airport and casino). This process often requires a great deal of research to accurately represent a setting.

–At each stage, drawings, models and animatics are sent to the client for amendments, and are sent back and forth until approved.

–Animated scenes are handed to Dart (a workforce of more than 25), which does all the editing, visual and special effects, audio and post-production (known as digital mediation) to produce the final product.


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