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Sunday, October 24, 2021

The VFX factor

An increasing number of Bollywood films are relying on VFX to add supplementry touches to their films, be it to recreate an era or simply enhance the natural surroundings. Screen takes a closer look at how VFX has become the way to go for most film-makers

Written by Priya Adivarekar | Mumbai |
Updated: August 22, 2014 1:00:28 am
VFX in Kick VFX in Kick

Director Vikram Bhatt’s latest venture, Creature 3D, has touched new heights in technology, becoming the first Bollywood film to have a unique creature with mythological roots, made completely by VFX, playing the lead. Created by animators at the Prasad EFX Labs based in Chennai, the creature was made using CGI animation (a process used for generating animated images by using computer graphics). “This is the first Indian film to show and use an indigenous CGI animation creature in 3D, without using any help from international studios or animators. My reference for the creature was the dinosaur in Jurassic Park. We wanted our creature to look better than that and when I met one of the artists working on our film, he said ‘That was 1993! Ab toh visual effects aur bhi advanced ho gaya hain,” mentioned Bhatt at a recent promotional event of the film.
With several VFX studios springing up in the country, Bollywood film-makers are not shying away from using visual effects (better known as its abbreviated term VFX) to enhance different elements in the film. One of the earliest Bollywood films to use heavy VFX shots was the Harman Baweja – Priyanka Chopra starrer Love Story 2050, that used around 1200 VFX shots, but even the VFX couldn’t help save the film as it bombed at the box- office. But, it was the Shah Rukh Khan starrer Ra.One (2011) that became the first Bollywood film to raise the bar of VFX techniques, using as many as 2500 VFX shots in the film. Eventually, the Hrithik Roshan starrer Krrish 3 (2013) marched ahead, with a record breaking 3500 VFX shots in more than 50 sequences. The most recent release that had a fairly good number was Aamir Khan’s Dhoom 3 (by Tata Elxsi) and Salman Khan’s Kick (by Prime Focus) with 1500 and 1000 VFX shots respectively. In fact, the popular scene where Khan confidently crosses the railway track, despite a speeding train approaching him, was shot with a chroma key green screen in the background. The train, obviously, was all part of the visual effects.
These examples not only point out the excellence achieved by the Indian VFX industry, but also the increasing use of technology in Bollywood films. Before it’s use became extensive in Indian cinema, VFX studios based in the country were mostly busy catering to Hollywood projects and a few feature length films where the plot required extensive VFX. But, the scenario is not the same anymore, with almost every modest to big budget film these days requiring a minimum of 100 or even more VFX shots (on an average). Hence, around 70 – 75 per cent films today require visual effects. Pankaj Khandpur, Creative Director – Tata Elxsi, the studio that has worked on the VFX of films like Ek Tha Tiger, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag and Dhoom 3 stated, “From a typical Hindi film that required 100-200 VFX shots until five years ago, we are now doing 1000+ shots per film. The scenario is definitely changing.” Close to 60 -70 people work in a core VFX team of any well known studio, while the number of additional artists may range anywhere around 200, depending on the requirement of the project.
Earlier, VFX work would come into the picture only during the post-production, but studios are now involved in the process with film-makers in the pre-production stage itself. Most VFX studios believe that a well researched and detailed pre-production helps in bringing out the best of the visual effect elements in films and is a must. “The VFX pre-production involves development of the concept and the use of pre-visualisation. If VFX is an integral part of the project and the script is ready, the process must automatically take over. It is during this stage, that we have detailed discussions with art directors, cinematographers and film-makers, prepare a story board and see if there are portions where the budget can be brought down by choosing VFX instead. There is a big advantage in using VFX for certain kinds of sequences and fortunately, Indian film-makers are finally waking up to it. Extensive VFX may increase the budget, but it can also be economical. It is much cheaper to create images on a computer screen, as compared to taking the entire cast and crew to an exotic location to shoot,” mentioned Viral Thakkar, Creative Director – Pixion, which has worked on films like Bhaag Milkha Bhaag and even parts of pre-production VFX shots in Krrish 3 (the project was eventually taken over by Red Chillies VFX at a later stage). He further added that although the VFX department still doesn’t get the respect it deserves in Bollywood, since it is quite an integral part these days, things are slowly changing and I personally believe we are heading towards a positive direction.”
But not all films are VFX centric. Flagship VFX projects may include single scenes that can take anywhere between four – five months to work on. The trailer of Krrish 3 alone took six months to make, while the film took more than a year. But a few other projects, where the effects are intelligently blended into the background or surroundings, may require a more subtle approach and lesser time. A good example would be last year’s release Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, that required simple VFX (done by Prime Focus) that was subtly integrated into the skin of the story. The VFX of the entire film took four months to deliver. Such films have standard requirement of effects that include crowd multiplication, journey shots in trains and cars, weather transitions, colour changes in the environment among others. “Even Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, that was delivered in a tight schedule of 90 days, involved a lot of VFX, that had to blend in with the surroundings and were used to enhance the environment, create the bridge where Sonam (Kapoor) and Farhan (Akhtar) are seen spending time together and even the stadiums, which required maximum work, since the crowd and the ambience had to resemble a particular era. At the end of the day, when you watch the film, one can’t make out if it is all VFX or the real footage,” mentioned Thakkar.
Keeping in mind the endless possibilities that VFX can offer, Bollywood film-makers today know that it is their biggest trump card. Earlier, they would make do with stock shots that a studio would have, but that concept is fast becoming extinct. “We have never used stock footage in any of our projects. Every VFX shot is custom created and that is the need of the hour,” adds Khandpur.
But despite everything going for it, very few Indian producers or film studios are willing to shell out more than 10 per cent of the entire film’s budget on the VFX. “Our technology, methodology and software is completely at par with Hollywood. We are using the same techniques for India as Hollywood uses. In fact, we deliver Hollywood projects as well from India. The gap is only between budgets. If you compare the situation to that of Hollywood, a high-action or VFX-heavy film would have a VFX budget of at least 15 to 30 per cent (or even more) of the total budget. In Bollywood films, the ratio is much less,” adds Khandpur. Thakkar is being optimistic about the future, as he believes that with technology and infrastructure getting better, and the ever rising demand for VFX, the budget gap may diminish in the next five years.

Computer movements decoded

When it comes to VFX, a lot of people confuse the term with special effects and even animation. We got Pankaj Khandpur of Tata Elxsi to decode the terms for us

*Animation:

Typically, it displays animated characters on computer-generated backgrounds (For example: Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Roadside Romeo among others).

Visual Effects (VFX):

The creation/addition of computer generated (or live) elements on the already shot real, live action footage.

*Special Effects:

It is used to differentiate from VFX (mentioned above) and generally means physical, non computer-generated effects (For example: Real fire, actual stunts, actual vehicles blowing up etc).

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