Be Indian in story and style: Hollywood animation expert

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By Radhika Bhirani

New Delhi, July 31 (IANS) International filmmaker Don Hahn, the man behind animated hits like "Beauty and the Beast" and "The Lion King", foresees promising times for the Indian animation industry, provided it draws on stories from its own culture.

"The Indian film industry is a source of some of my favourite films, especially musicals. Frankly, I can't wait to see what comes out of the Indian animation industry," Hahn told IANS in a virtual roundtable conference organised by Walt Disney.

The Indian animation industry, which is expected to touch $470 million by 2015, according to the latest FICCI-KPMG annual report, has witnessed a change in content over the years.

Historical and mythological themes recurred initially with films like "Ramayana: The Legend of Prince Rama", "Hanuman", "Krishna" and "Dashavatar".

India's first 3D animated feature film was the 2008 movie "Roadside Romeo", a co-production between Yash Raj Films and Walt Disney Pictures.

Post-"Roadside Romeo", filmmakers started exercising more variety in animated projects.
Films like "Ghatothkach", "Cheenti Cheenti Bang Bang", "Jumbo" and "Toonpur Ka Superhero" came after that.

But here's a word of advice from Hahn - "Story first! Technique and craft are important, but story is what brings people to the movies."

"I would encourage you to be yourself. Draw on stories and visual styles that inspire you and come from you and your culture. Don't copy Disney or Pixar. Learn from them, but then be yourself. I can't wait to see what your artists come up with. I'm sure it will be original and blaze a new trail," he added.

Seventeen years after it hit the screens to success in 1994, Hahn's award-winning "The Lion King", about a lion cub's journey to adulthood, released in its 3D version in India Friday. Hahn hopes the movie is received well by people across all cross-sections.

"I sincerely hope that the audiences in India appreciate the story and the craftsmanship in this film. I know they will. One thing that I've learned about 'The Lion King' is that it crosses borders and travels very well. It's not an 'American' movie as much as it is a human story that seems to move people no matter where it is on the planet.

"It's a film for everyone with themes that children and adults can appreciate. And if anything, the 3D version is more immersive and more involving because you can step into the film. It's a first for a hand drawn film and I promise that audiences have never seen anything like it," he said.

The 56-year-old feels it is essential for animation filmmakers to stick to timeless and universal themes for better reception.

"The film business is the fashion business. Things go in and out of style. But it's really hard to chase the popular trends when you make an animated film. It took four years to make 'The Lion King' and so you have to rely on themes that are somewhat timeless and can translate to an international audience."

Hahn, who has also produced films like "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" and "Atlantis: The Lost Empire", is currently also working with Tim Burton on a stop motion film (a type of animation) "Frankenweenie".