Animated in Nepal
Just when Kiran Joshi was trying to get more business for his Incessant Rain animation studio in Kathmandu ten years ago, one of his artists decided to quit. The reason was lack of support on his career choice from his family. Joshi had to do something, so he announced an Open House in which family and friends of his animators could come and see them at work.
More than 175 parents attended the event, and one of them was the mother of the artist who had applied to resign. She had tears in her eyes when she finally found out that her son was not playing video games all day at work.
Ever since, open houses have become an annual feature at Incessant Rain, not just to retain existing talent but also to welcome new ones. This year’s Open House had 640 attendees, among whom were prospective artists who wanted to see what is now possible in Nepal through state-of-the-art computer animation.
Joshi was encouraged: “This year was the highest turnout yet, and everyone was surprised that we create animation for the latest Hollywood releases.”
Indeed, Incessant Rain Animation Studio has moved to a larger studio in Chhauni, employs 140 artists producing animation and VFX projects for Walt Disney Studios, Fox Studios, Universal Network, Paramount, Warner Brothers, Netflix, Amazon, and many others.
“Nepal is on the world map for animation production, and that is thanks to the enormous talent pool we have in this country,” says Joshi, who divides his time between California and Kathmandu.
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The problem now is retention: how to ensure that gifted Nepali animation artists are not poached by companies in Singapore, Malaysia or India doing similar work. While some have left for good, others have gone to gain more experience and returned to put it to good use back home in Nepal.
“Initially it used to annoy me that artists we painstakingly trained left us for jobs abroad,” Joshi confessed, “but I have come to accept that as a given.”
Nepal faces stiff competition from Asia’s animation industry. Countries in the region have more human resources and get a big share of the animation projects. But Joshi says his emphasis on quality and reliability has projected Incessant Rain as a world class studio producing high standard animation. The company has so far worked on 94 movies, 124 tv series, 28 commercials, 15 public service announcements, and 10 location based entertainment. Joshi is now confident enough to create original content such as documentaries and fully animated films.
In 2015, Incessant Rain produced the documentary Moving Mountains with the British Red Cross on the stories of ten survivors of the 1934 earthquake in eastern Nepal, and showed Dharara tower in Kathmandu collapsing in a future quake. The film was criticised for panic mongering, but within a few months of its release Nepal was struck by the April 2015 earthquake when the Dharara actually collapsed.
Incessant Rain then made a sequel, Moving Mountains, the Awakening in 2017 for the International Red Cross. The film told stories of child survivors and warned of the next Big One so the country can be better prepared.
Joshi plans to organise an animation conference in Kathmandu to tap into young Nepali students with art backgrounds. The studio is also building an animation lab for art experiments and research. Incessant Rain is collaborating with Kathmandu University School of Arts to have animation as an elective course, under its Arts and Design faculty in Hatiban.
Says Silicon Valley digital entrepreneur Bijay Niraula: “We need more people like Kiran, who has his feet in both East and West. He has trusted connections in Hollywood, and because he is Nepali, is able to function here.
But he has also shown that it is possible to give back to Nepal while doing international work.”
Job satisfaction guaranteed
Renu Shrestha was planning to move to Australia with her husband when she was training at Incessant Rain in 3D animation. But even as a beginner she worked with dedication and passion, that eventually led her to be promoted to lead an all-male team of five texture artists. Now, she doesn't want to leave her dream job in Nepal to go to foreign land.
“At first I had my doubts about managing a team, but we are all professionals and it is the work that binds us,” says Shrestha. “There is a lot of respect for the work we do here, irrespective of gender or age, so I do not regret not going abroad.”
Project supervisor Kundan Basnet has been at Incessant Rain since the studio’s beginning, and oversees visual effects and animation projects. Originally from Ilam, Basnet self-taught the basics of animation to himself and now supervises teams from 3D animation as well as VFX.
As soon as he gets a script, Basnet sits down with team leaders and breaks the story down into different types of work, resources and expertise required. He is responsible for meeting the client’s expectations.
Says Basnet, “The creative satisfaction we get here is amazing. All the work is credited, we get a sense of belonging and everyone is eager to learn.”