We recently had the chance to catch up with Anish Mehta, CEO of Cosmos-Maya, one of the leading animation studios in India. The company, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, boasts of a 14,000 sq. ft. state of the art studio located in the heart of the Indian entertainment industry, Film City in Mumbai. It has expanded to other locations in Mumbai and Hyderabad, with a total area across its studio facilities in excess of 70,000 sq ft.
Starting life as a service provider in 1996, Cosmos-Maya has been on a global growth trajectory with a clear business expansion plan. The studio has gone from a local work for hire shop to line producing for international companies such as the BBC and Disney. Here is what Mehta told us about his growing company’s plans in 2021:
Animag: Can you tell us a little bit about the early days of the company?
Anish Mehta: Cosmos-Maya was founded by veteran filmmakers Ketan Mehta and Deepa Sahi, who established their roots in the field of animation in India in 1996, when they started work as a service animation unit in the heart of Film City in Mumbai. During this time, they built up a reputation as one of the most reliable units for animation, and simultaneously started the Maya Academy of Advanced Cinematics (MAAC) to catalyse the technical training ecosystem in the burgeoning 3D animation market.
What is Cosmos-Maya focusing on in 2021?
Growth! We did incredibly well in the domestic Indian space in 2020 with five new kids’ television shows, and we plan to maintain this trajectory in 2021 with two international co-productions already in the pipeline. We have a new show coming up titled Dabangg, based on a blockbuster Bollywood franchise of the same name, which will be a landmark production for us, and broadens the scope for IP extension within the Indian content space. The third season of Eena Meena Deeka will be released, this time with WildBrain Spark joining us as an international partner who were attracted by the global potential of this IP. This year also marks the release of Putra, our latest international production for the Indonesian market.
Beyond children’s animation, we plan to expand more into the fast-growing EdTech sector, and the global licencing and merchandising market. In light of that, we have initiated production work on The Incredible Monsta Trucks, a show designed to lend itself to our growth in consumer products.
How did you make the transition from service provider to content producer?
We had been service animators and trainers for nearly 15 years, and after each season of a project that we worked on we’d have to establish our job-worthiness all over again for the next season. We didn’t have a stake in the projects we were working on. Eventually we decided this was an uncertain way of business, and that we should work towards establishing greater creative control in our projects. This meant becoming more entrepreneurial, starting to build our own IP and nurturing our desire for storytelling.
In 2010, the company moved forward in this direction and entered the IP production space, starting conceptualization of the popular show Motu Patlu – which would go on to release in 2012 on Nickelodeon. This kickstarted the studio’s content library.
In 2015, Cosmos-Maya made a strategic move to go global with its first internationally focused IP, Eena Meena Deeka, which launched in the European market, following which we set up a digital platform and licensing/merchandising wing under the name of Wow Kidz. Wow Kidz also has its own multichannel network on YouTube where it currently caters to 54 million subscribers in 18 languages across 34 channels.
By 2016, Cosmos-Maya had established a leading position in the market with ten TV series in simultaneous production, working with reputed names across the domestic and global animation industry to produce nearly 25 episodes a month. In 2017, the company solidified its market ownership at 60% of the domestic animation output in India, and KKR-backed Emerald Media came on board with a controlling stake in the company.
What would you say are the biggest challenges facing the studio in 2021 as we all face the realities of COVID continuing to wreak havoc around the world?
I think like most business units – media or non-media – the biggest challenge in 2021 is to streamline our work/production processes to maintain the same adherence to timelines as we did in 2020, irrespective of whether we work from home or out of the studio premises. We have always been active in adapting to change, and we managed to discover our own rhythm in the new normal. Production timelines and timely delivery was ensured and uncompromised. Our entire workforce at Cosmos-Maya synergized wonderfully to ensure that all our planned shows and projects in 2020 released as scheduled, and we hope to remove kinks in that process (if any) to facilitate a seamless and productive work process. Hopefully we shall get to transition back to a situation akin to the old normal.
Which animation tools does your team currently use to produce animation?
In the largest chunk of our work, for 3D animation we use Maya by Autodesk and for 2D animation we use Flash by Adobe. For rendering we adapt and use various other technologies: We partnered with Epic Games’ Unreal Engine (known for bestsellers like Fortnite) for production of The Incredible Monsta Trucks. Beyond these, we are working to develop Toon Boom Harmony to ramp up the 2D animation end. For ensuring efficient and timely production tracking and seamless delivery across all processes, we have our own proprietary software.
How many people are currently working at the studio?
We are moving toward becoming a completely self-sufficient studio powerhouse with end-to-end and exhaustive animation capabilities. A team of nearly 1,200 animation artists and technicians help us reach towards this goal.
What are some of the animation highlights we can look for in 2021 from Cosmos-Maya?
We will have a much more diversified – artistically and stylistically – range of animation while maintaining our signature volumes of delivery. As we mentioned, we have multiple international feature films and four to five new shows and seasons already planned for 2021. We shall work towards expanding our business in the co-production sector, which besides extending our global reach, also helps us get a much better understanding of audiences and their tastes in different territories and the kind of topics and subjects families and their children today are interested in exploring.
We are using this understanding to bring on more contemporary and mature storylines in the future and diversify our portfolio beyond the standard pre-school and kids’ genres. Moreover, we seek to bring in new creative dimensions with our existing bestsellers like Motu Patlu that have started to attract big audiences in the European market.
What is your take on the animation industry in India?
It’s been just a little over a decade since the Indian kids’ animation sector fully came into being, i.e. the homegrown IP production sector. We see a lot of creative development happening in this space, with skilled artists and technicians with a contemporary voice coming onboard. The growth trajectory has been absolutely great for the Indian animation sector, a chunk of which rests in the kids’ genres, and a large segment of the future scope of this industry lies in genre and audience diversity. We hope to see more mature content for different age groups coming up, with significant strides in adult animated content, too.
What do you want animation and kids content professionals around the world to know about your studio?
If we could describe our studio in a few words, they’d be: young, meteoric and powerhouse. We started our expansionary phase just over a decade ago, and our ambition is reflected in our current scale of business, both within and outside of India. We are artistic, experimental and are known for maintaining excellence in our delivery capabilities. For anyone who has an artistic bent, a vision for the media space and a business acumen, Cosmos-Maya is a place to spread their wings. Our growth in these past eight years is testament to our vision of becoming a completely self-sufficient creative organism.
What do you love about working in animation?
Animation is unbound by ideas of perceptions of reality. Any visual that the human mind can synthesize, animation can achieve. It is a format that lends itself almost naturally to the most fantastical narratives. For a fraction of the cost and logistical input, content creators can achieve the most surreal video storytelling from animation as compared to conventional live-action filmmaking, which is also evident in the growth of the CGI service industry, propelled by filmmakers looking to reduce their infrastructural footprint by achieving entirely realistic worlds rendered into their content through the magic of special effects and animation. Animation lends itself to any kind of genre today. From crazy kids’ cartoons, movies and educational content, to adult satire and political commentary, filmmakers have utilized this format to give a semiotic depth to their narratives which can be seen in mainstream movies like Frozen or Inside Out, or in darker films such as Waltz With Bashir. Where films are supposed to be larger than life, animation provides viewers an absolutely new dimension to explore.
What does the future hold for Cosmos-Maya?
The company is exercising its efforts to grow the corporate brand globally. We are establishing ourselves more firmly in the theatrical film space, with Dogtanian and Three Muskehounds, our co-production with Apolo Films coming out in 2021, and multiple other film projects in the offing. We have partnered with Italian producer Gruppo Alcuni for the next segment in our title Leo Da Vinci. The digital tech space is rearing to see a value of $1.336 billion in 2022E, and we’re making the best of every inch of that growth.
Cosmos-Maya used 2020 to ideally position itself to ride the increasing demand for kids’ content from the expanding OTT and pay TV climate. Our distribution and licensing arm Wow Kidz sources 2D and 3D animated content from North America, Europe and Asia-Pacific among various other markets. The company is making strides in all possible avenues of the animation spectrum. EdTech is Cosmos-Maya’s youngest and fastest-growing division and is expected to account for 20%+ of production revenues for FY 2022E. We are the preferred content partner for EdTech decacorn Byju and are in active discussion with leading companies in this space in India. Moreover, we’ve forayed into EdTech driven OTT, amping up the L&M to have a deeper access into the consumer side of the business, focus on scaling up the quality of animation further with some high-end mainstream North American projects – the groundwork for which has already been laid and continuously evolving to ensure the retention of the significant majority stake of the Indian domestic animation market.
Building on initial efforts in FY 2020A for International Service Work, the company has been able to grab multiple high quality, high-margin projects such as Prince of Tennis, Monkey King, etc. and will continue to grow on the back of those as well.
Learn more at cosmos-maya.com.