Constantine is a senior marketing communications professional with experience in international agency management (Leo Burnett and BBDO globally), new business development and managing multinational and local client relationships.
Excerpts from the conversation:
afaqs!: Visual effects as a concept has always been associated with big budget Hollywood movies. How do you think this perception has changed over time, particularly in the Indian context?
Constantine: The perception about visual effects has undergone a thorough change, especially in last couple of years. Techniques are available, expertise is there, costs have come down and as a result, its usage has increased. Furthermore, the perception that effects are just for the movies has also become a thing of past. It is being used in broadcast television, amateur programmes and also in advertising; particularly in the case of product shots and sequences, visual effects are used to tell a story more effectively. This is a very good thing for everybody.
afaqs!: Do you notice quality visual work happening in India these days?
Constantine: There's no reason why good work can't happen in India. We, as a company, work on top end movies from both Hollywood and Bollywood and India is very much in the thick of the action.
Recently, we completed our work on Clash of the Titans in just eight weeks – which is a very short time span as per industry standards. To come out with such a robust output in such a short time frame, we made use of our worldwide network and took advantage of the global timeline. We had all our seven facilities at Hollywood, Vancouver, Winnipeg, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Chennai and Goa working on the same project at the same time.
afaqs!: How big do you think this industry is in India? What is its scope for growth all over the world?
Constantine: I wouldn't know the exact Indian figures but all I can say is that it's a massive industry here. To better understand this, let's look at how things are happening in other countries. In 2009 in the US, 3D movies was a 1 billion dollar industry, which is 12 per cent of the total movie revenue. Avatar was released on December 17, 2009 and it made 2.6 billion dollars in four months.
It's getting bigger and bigger by the day. It's just going to explode and India is no exception.
afaqs!: At Prime Focus, what are your expansion plans and how much are you investing for the same?
Constantine: In the beginning of next month, we intend to set up Asia Pacific's biggest integrated facilities, which will have access to 1,000 workstations across the globe and will be used for projects both in India and abroad. The idea is to effectively use the global time line so that work can be done 24x7, 365 days a year and this will also take care of the cost factor as well, given the cost differences between India and abroad.
For developing the new facility, we are investing about US$20 million. Furthermore, this expansion will be really exciting, specifically for India because it is going to give new experiences to people working in India on very sophisticated special effects.
afaqs!: What are your plans for India at the moment?
Constantine: Our plan for India at the moment is to develop more tools on the effects side. We realise that there is a much bigger market to 'effects' in movies, feature films, ads and television. We also intend to bring up our level of expertise in this area. The second part of it is to utilise India as a place to source talent and expertise. We are using India to create work for the USA and Europe.
The reason behind doing this is the cost difference between Hollywood and India. We are using geography for the advantage of our clients. It's a unique model on which the future will be built for this company – leveraging India's capabilities, volume and expandability to service India, the West and also increasingly, Asia.
afaqs!: What are the challenges that Prime Focus is facing in India?
Constantine: The biggest challenge before us is that a lot of work is going out of India to Singapore, Thailand, Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur, which can be done in India. Perhaps people have not recognised the potential here. We believe India has the potential to emerge as the centre for stunning visual effects in South Asia, Southeast Asia and even beyond. It's a very aggressive plan.
afaqs!: How successfully do you think the Indian advertising fraternity is currently using special effects?
Constantine: These effects have been used in ads for many years. Be it in a hair-care or toothpaste commercial, wherever there is a product demonstration, effects have been used. Today, the difference is that the effects used are more sophisticated.
The only problem here is that creative people feel that they can't go beyond a certain level of technology and therefore, don't include those creative elements in the ad story. They need to be a little more ambitious. My advice would be: don't shy away from us thinking that it is an expensive affair. If you have a good idea, before you present it to the clients, one could come to companies like us, who will in turn explain what can be done and how best it can be done; how long it will take and at what price it can be conducted. So when the creative person approaches his client, he is on a surer footing.
afaqs!: Could you share an interesting case where your expertise and global connections helped you in your work in India?
Constantine: The best example would be that of a Coffy Bite commercial for India by Rediffusion Y&R, Chennai. It had computer animation. The story shows two frogs sitting on lily pads in a lake, arguing whether one should have dark chocolate or the milk chocolate. As the production company came to us asking how to go about it, we got them Michael Fink, a very well known artist from Hollywood, who has given special effects for movies such as X-Men and Batman Returns.
It was interesting to see how a supervisor for Hollywood movies was working on a commercial in India. Also, it became quite easy to convince the client on this. This is a classic example of how we use our network to bring in knowledge and expertise from all over.
afaqs!: Are visual effects all about the glitz element, that special pizzazz alone? Do they have the potential to truly add to a story and not just wow the audience?
Constantine: Effects should not be there just for the sake of having effects. They should be there to help a person tell the story in a better way. Effects are just a tool, a means to make the message delivery better, demonstrate the product better and impress people better.
afaqs!: Being among the first Indian companies in this field to go multinational, how has the journey been so far for Prime Focus?
Constantine: Prime Focus is an Indian company which started to service the film industry, commercial industry and TV industry in Mumbai to do editing and post production work. That was 13 years ago. The skills that we learned then allow us to develop our skill in the digital world. We went from being just a post production company to animation, visual effects in Bollywood and commercials. However, our ability to produce world class visual effects came after we bought the Canadian origin company, Frantic Films VFX, three years ago. These guys were specialists in effects.
Prime Focus kept growing till it got to the point where it was all over – in Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad, Goa and Bengaluru. The next thing was to go public with an IPO. This helped us to acquire companies in the UK (VTR, a post production company; Simon Clarke, a visual effects company; and Machine FX, a TV post production company) and companies in the US (in addition to Frantic Films and Post Logic Studios, which are classic post production companies). Now that we have a wide network, the big challenge is to bring about integration in the system, which is just beginning to happen.
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