This is the first of the YourCoimbatore #EntrepreneurshipSeries. We will bring you some inspiring stories on entrepreneurship and socialpreneurship from Coimbatore.
We are profiling Sivaprasad Velayudhan, many of you know him as Siva of Realworks Studios. His claim to fame – one of the CGI sequence titled “RANADHEERAN” which his team did using open source software Blender, inspired by Rajinikanth’s character Kochadaiiyaan Ranadheeran. Then of course, there was a fan made trailer for Kabali when the fever had gripped the town, well the world.
To get you a background, animation is now an integral part of the multimedia industry, except that Siva feels that you pay a bomb investing in the software, forget the hardware that costs double the bomb that we can’t play with as he would share with us.
Sometime in later part of 2001
In the rented 10×10 structure which has been turned into a make shift office, in Maharani avenue, Vadavalli lies a “high-end” assembled Computer (Pentium III 500MHz, 16Mb RAM, 8GB hard disk, and a 15inch CRT monitor) runs 3D studio max version 2, and the sequence is ready for rendering.
A single desktop doesn’t do the job and the jugaad is at work with home computers from friends place turning additional resource during night here for rendering. Having achieved with two more desktop towers added to the work, now getting them all to work together the file starts rendering, just in time to be shown to the client the next day.
It was a logo inspired by the SUN TV logo with the globe and all that, for a local channel called SRI TV.
What helped Siva and the so called team was a music composer in their midst, their classmate Saravana Kumar, getting the music BGM to the tee. It helped because you knew the timing and then set the camera during your work on 3D.
The client likes the work and the team is happy.
Few months down the line, they get to know the hardware has to be really invested and the prices weren’t pocket friendly at over a Lac for a desktop with a configuration that could run Maya or Softimage.
Some of the projects that didn’t see the light of the day from the sketches include, Jataka tales, Panchatantra and some Amar Chithra Katha. On the final one they didn’t think through the intellectual properties or copyright issue. Well who cares, its all about the passion that we have.
Cut to 21 July 2014
I am back home, sometime after 8 pm I see a video on my FB timeline that would go on to redefine the way Open Source and Computer Animations and Graphics will be looked at for the future in India. You will get to know how they ended up doing this in masterpiece from Siva in some time as you go about reading his journey. This is the Ranadheeran video which set the trail.
Now it’s time to listen to Sivaprasad on his journey and how he still continues to operate inspite of so many handicaps that he comes across. Believe me this is a long, long story and you will love it for sure.
So let’s take our story back to the earlier days and how the ride has been in his own words…
The inspiration as always… who else…
Like any other studio in the world, we were of course inspired by Disney, when we started. But neither did we have the business acumen nor the technical expertise and creativity, which was required to run such a media shop.
But we had one thing for sure, the resolve to bring back media industry to Coimbatore. We wanted people from all over the world to reach out to Coimbatore in order to get quality Computer Graphics done.
And that’s one thing which I haven’t given up till date.
Back then it was called Palette Technologies, a partnership firm between Me, Kaushik and Somaskandan. We were friends who used to play cricket together.
After the aforementioned SRI TV logo, and couple more TV logos, we never received any fourth order ever. So that’s how the dreams to create Jataka, Panchatantra or Amar Chithra Katha went through the drain.
And like any other company during those years, we started web designing and print designing, which of course got us enough recognition and some money to be less worried about getting placed or getting a job.
The 2005 funding and getting back to Square ONE
In 2005 we got funded, to set-up a bigger venture, we were very excited and were in full swing setting up our dream studio. But it didn’t last long. We realised a little late that we were never going to be true partners, but only employees. Too late for getting back to Palette. We had lost the clients and traction that we had built for past 3 years.
And only way for us to survive (financially of course) was to get into regular paying Jobs. We went our ways. It’s tough sometimes when you see dreams as a team going down the drain.
After that, I worked in Chennai at an agency as Creative Executive juggling, web, print and flash animations projects for a year. But I also got a few jabs at 3D animation projects.
That’s when one of my colleagues, attended an interview at an ad agency in Coimbatore. He told me that they are looking for a 3D Visualiser to head their team and the pay was at par with the industry as well. Workplace, just 5 km from home and a good pay-check brought me back to Coimbatore. And the bonus was that I could play cricket with my friends during weekends.
A year went on, one fine morning I felt like staying back home. I looked back at my office hours. I felt that at my work, I was not expected to give my 100%, the ideas, the restructuring of software pipeline, hardware shuffling, networking and setting up render farms were all disrupting their regular work-flow, which brought more frowns than smiles. It probably dawned on me that I was not employable material and the only way I could do some disruptive stuff was by starting something of my own.
So, there I was standing outside my workplace, with 7 years of experience with no job and no salary at the end of the month, but I was back on familiar turf “Square ONE” and that was not new to me.
But That’s when I realized I still had the guts and grit to be an entrepreneur. A Bodhi Moment perhaps.
The Entrepreneurship journey – Realworks
After few weeks of being unemployed, the ideas were falling in place, and a chance meeting with a friend, Mr. Arun lead to a discussion on setting up a 3D animation studio together.
He was looking to invest time, effort and money in people who were passionate in what they did. He called the concept “ISHTA”. I could see someone with a vision and understanding to give enough freedom for passionate entrepreneur to grow.
We started Realworks Studios India Pvt. Ltd. in August 2008.
We had long discussions, on the Business model, and finally we decided to go with a B2B model. We decided to help other 3d animation studios and agencies in expanding their technical arsenal and also in offloading their excess work.
Being in Coimbatore was an advantage, because the running costs were truly low that could be passed on the to the agencies and we had a pricing advantage that way.
We always hired people who we thought were passionate and willing to break their backs to get the best results and so, most of them were freshers or almost freshers
The idea behind that was “you can’t pour into a cup that’s already full sometimes to the brim!” Back to the Zen ways.
We trained the team on Linux and Blender and GIMP and few other tools required for 3D visualisation. At the end of the training, the team was split into 2 and they competed against each other by creating an architectural walk-through of our dream office.
The results were amazing… you can see the results for yourself…the first team
the second one
The first client
We made a DVD of these walk-through and distributed to around 400 agencies and architects in Chennai by hand.
We got ‘ZERO’ Calls
I had given up on the selling our services, when one day I got a call from a builder in Chennai, asking me why we were stealing quality work from others and showing that as our own. He was referring to the demo DVD that we had distributed to their architects. It was because, they couldn’t believe that this could be done in Coimbatore. I took that as a compliment and fixed a meeting immediately and we had our first client.
That’s how we started rolling. We started getting more work because of our first work. Till date we don’t have a marketing/sales team. It’s all word of mouth for us.
We did lot of walk-throughs for agencies and architects, and we started doing product and process visualisation on the way. Major portion of the orders that we get are Architectural Walk-through and Product visualisation. If the quality and price is right, there’s always demand for these services.
Talking about open source, why, the feasibility and commercial viabilty…
Obvious reason, “YOU CANT BEAT THE PRICE” and because of the same reason, Its more than viable, commercially.
Imagine investing 5 to 10 lakhs for 1 seater. Here’s the cost of the industry standard tools.
3D suite – 2.5 to 5 lakhs depending on the tool of your choice
Image processing – 40K to 60 K
OS – 15K
Office Suite – 10 K
Editing Suite – 40K to 60K
Grading set-up – back then it was 40 lakhs per seater, even today it isn’t much cheaper
Compositing & Effects Suite – 1Lakh to 5 Lakhs depending on the tool of choice
You get all these for free in Open Source.
We had set-up 20 seater, Imagine the costs. (roughly around 2 crores)
And more than that, Imagine earning 2 crores only for the software. Proprietary software are the ones which are actually not Commercially viable in Indian scenario.
Yes, It does have a steep learning curve, because most of the time, you are the only one doing it. But I think its worth it, in comparison with the kind of money that you would have to spend.
Even today, nobody is trying to set-up a full blown 3d visualisation house using Open Source Pipeline. Companies either try to migrate one portion of their pipeline like asset building, or Image processing. They don’t go full blown open source pipeline based studio.
Actually, its easier today because of a very supportive community, forums and tutorials.
Thoughts on Avatar, where they created / invented an animation platform to work for the movie. How would you look at such ambitious projects and the background thereof?
I wouldn’t call it ambitious, that’s how humans have been innovating, starting from wheel to fire to Powerwalls. Man has been building tools to achieve what they want.
Its only that, we as a group have started accepting mediocrity and settling with the available tools. And the education system and society around us are happy with the grades that we get in exams. It doesn’t encourage minds to think different or find new solutions for problems. We aren’t tool builders any-more, we are just tool users.
And that makes us go WOW at somebody’s effort to apply their mind to solve a problem.
George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson, had all invented new tools and platforms to make their films. Even James Cameroon had built underwater diving technology for the movie “Abbys,” but in recent times, social media has helped such efforts reach the masses, and hence the frenzy.
More than just clicking the like and share button and going WOW at something like this, we should encourage and equip our kids to pursue such ventures. And change the social and education system to appreciate the same.
So how did Ranadheeran happen, tell us what happened after that?
Like any other studio working on Computer Graphics, we too had the dream of making it big in the movie industry. But our business revolved mainly around Architectural and Product Visualisation.
One day when my team was searching for music for one of our walkthroughs, they came across a sound track from a musician called ‘Green D John’. The track was called ‘Heal Me’ from one of his albums ‘Loophole’. The track triggered lot of visuals in our minds. So we sat together and brainstormed and decided to create a 3D cinematic to promote ourselves.
It was November 2013 and Kochadaiiyaan was to be released and was getting postponed more than once. We were ardent fans of Rajinikanth and were getting impatient to see Thalaivar in Photo-realistic 3D. So we decided to do take things in our own hands and create a 3D Cinematic as a tribute to him.
We also wanted to test our Open Source Pipeline which we were exploring, for Cinematics and Pre-visualisation.
So there it was the beginning of Ranadheeran. We took 10 weeks to complete it. Around 700 to 800 man hours were spent on it. We worked after office hours, initially spending few hours a day to more than 10 hours on it towards the end.
The entire clip was done using Blender + GIMP for the visuals and Audacity for audio mixing. Modelling, Texturing, Shading, Lighting, Rendering, Editing, Compositing, Simulations and Effects were all done in Blender
The outcome was that we proved ourselves that something presentable could be done using an entirely open-source tools based pipeline, that too within a fixed time-line and budget.
We had completed Ranadheeran far before the movie was released, but refrained ourselves from releasing it, considering the adverse possibilities, since we weren’t connected with the movie itself.
I uploaded it on You-tube on July 21, 2014 and shared it with friends on Facebook. I wasn’t expecting much other than some critical reviews from my artist friends, which I did receive.
We had a great feeling of accomplishment after uploading and we all were very tired that day and decided to leave early..
It started to trend on FB and twitter…
While at home, I received a call from one of my team members that the video was trending in Facebook and Twitter. When I checked it truly was. Views in YouTube were growing by 100s. And I started getting calls throughout that night. It continued for next 2 to 3 days. I slept whenever I could between calls and Facebook pings. That was the best sleep I ever had. We had around a lakh views in 4 to 5 days. That was huge for us. We got covered by THE HINDU, which was again a first time for us.
We kinda became famous in about a week. We started getting inquiries for movies, shortfilms, web series and what not. It’s a great feeling when your work pays off. We all celebrated by going out on a Team Dinner. I tried to pull in all my team members, even those who weren’t currently with us. Almost everyone was there except one or two who couldn’t make it.
They were all a true part of the Realworks that we are today. Being with the team which helped me create the family called Realworks was something that I always dreamt of. It was a nice night, everyone going home feeling accomplished and acknowledged.
So you still don’t have a marketing budget as you mentioned before, how do you continue getting work?
Right from the beginning, we did not have big budgets for marketing. Our work brought us more work. Working with agencies has its benefits too. They do the marketing for you. We charge on a cost to cost basis for them, so that they can add up their marketing costs and still be competitive.
And once in a while, when we know that we have improved our technology and skills, we do promos like ‘Ranadheeran’ and ‘Kabali Trailer’ to showcase the same. That’s working great for us too.
Let’s get back to Coimbatore, do we have enough talent in here and is it financially viable?
I sincerely believe that if we don’t find talent, we have to build it. All of the work that you see in our portfolio is done by a team which once started with no or very little knowledge of Computer Graphics.
We are a self taught team, be it Architectural visualisation, Cinematic or VFX for Movies. And all my team members are first time users of Linux, Blender and GIMP.
I believe a team with the drive to accomplish something great is the only thing that you need to build a talent pool. But unfortunately that’s something which is rare to find these days anywhere.
And as for the financial viability, I think Coimbatore is great. The running costs are low compared to cities like Chennai or Bangalore.
The resources are loyal and less influenced by the job jumping culture. I have team members in my team who have been with me since 2008.
Now with the advent of better bandwidth internet, work place is no more a constraint.
So thanks for your time, lets close in with your ideas for the future?
Quoting President Abraham Lincoln “The best thing about future is that it comes one day at a time”
Knowing that today is the future that I have been waiting for all these days, I try to give my 100% and am having great fun doing so.
And as a team, we are always looking for ways of challenging ourselves and having fun in the process.
We look at ourselves as a Technology Company than a Creative company. So we drift along with the technological growth the industry and the world is getting into. And that’s a ‘BRIGHT FUTURE’ if you think about it.