Bollywood Goes Hi-tech

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‘Krrish’ – India’s first superhero movie – was a big hit and proved that an Indian superhero was more than equal to Spiderman and Superman, thanks to the stunning special effects created by Craig Muma and Marc Kolbe, who were the wizards behind such films as ‘Independence Day’ and ‘Godzilla.’ The action scenes for ‘Krrish’ were created by Tony Ching Siu-tung who has worked with John Woo and Zhang Yimou, and who created the action shots for the Oscar nominated ‘The House of Flying Daggers.’

And if you loved the special effects in Shah Rukh Khan’s ‘Don’ and ‘Om Shanti Om’, those state of the art helicopter chases and blow-ups were courtesy of Red Chillies VFX, a division of SRK’s own production company, Red Chillies Entertainment.

Yes, one can forget about the amateurish fight scenes and burning toy cars of the past – special effects, animation and action shots are now all the trend, and very serious business in Bollywood!

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“‘Krrish’ was a classic example where such special effects were woven into the story –and I think many more such examples are going to happen,” says Uday Kumar of Adlab Films in the US, which distributed the movie. “ While the awareness of the younger directors in using these techniques is there, I think the technology and the ecosystem to enable this is also happening at a much faster pace than ever before in India. We are going to see increasingly such special effects, innovative ways of storytelling being part of the canon of many directors.”

Many Indian filmmakers are turning to foreign experts for their special effects requirements: for example, ‘Love Story 2050’, a futuristic love story involving a robot, is using four international firms for their special effects.

Collaborations are also happening where the big studios are stepping in from Hollywood: you have Walt Disney Studios signing a deal with Yash Raj Films to co-produce a series of animation films in Hindi. Both companies will be equal partners in the venture and will contribute creative, technical and financial support to the project. The first film to be co-produced is ‘Roadside Romeo’, set to release in 2008. The film will utilize state-of-the-art computer animation technology done entirely in India, and will use the voices of Saif Ali Khan and Kareena Kapoor for the canines.

Although India is the land of outsourced tech jobs, it has mostly been grunt work for animation films and special effects, and insight into the technology is slowly getting focused into understanding the grammar and the language of creativity and special effects in Bollywood.

Adlabs’ animation division is producing a 3D feature film, ‘Sultan the Warrior’, starring the South Indian superstar Rajnikanth. The film is a co-production with Ocher Studios, which is headed by his daughter Soundarya Rajnikanth.

In fact the film industry is now getting the financial backing of corporate houses and it’s happening quickly, with setting up of post production facilities not only for India but also with an eye on the business in the US too. Says Uday Kumar, “That’s going to create its own momentum. Because of corporate financing of the movies, Indian companies are getting bolder to try bigger projects. There’s collaborative efforts with the world market, and also the technical core competence in India which is a value proposition in itself – so it’s a matter of time.”

Several companies have got a hand in the special effects pie: Visual Computing Labs (VCL) is a division of Tata Elxsi Limited, part of the Tata Group of Industries, and provides 2D & 3D animation and special effects to clients internationally out of locations in India and California. Besides working on Hollywood films, it has done the special effects in films like ‘Veer Zaara’, ‘Dhoom’ and ‘Swades.’

Rhythm & Hues, a LA based studio, has operations in Mumbai and has worked on such Hollywood movies as ‘Night at the Museum’ and ‘Superman Returns.’ It has worked on the lead animation and VFX facility on the recently released ‘The Golden Compass’ as well as the upcoming ‘The Incredible Hulk’, ‘The Mummy 3’ and ‘Alvin and the Chipmunks.’ A lot of Hollywood action is happening in Mumbai and Hyderabad, at the Indian operations of Rhythm & Hues.

Eros International has launched EyeQube, a visual effects company headed by Charles Darby, who created the visual effects of movies like ‘Titanic’, ‘Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban’, ‘The Matrix’ and ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.’ The company is handling the special effects of ‘Aladin’ which is part of five-film deal between Eros International and Sujoy Ghosh’s production company Boundscript. ‘Aladin’, a special effects film, will star Amitabh Bachchan, Sanjay Dutt and Riteish Deshmukh.

One of the biggest companies is Prime Focus Group with six visual effects and post-production facilities across India and four facilities in London. It recently acquired Frantic Films, which adds new facilities in the US and Canada. Prime Focus Group is also acquiring Frantic Films Software, which develops visual effects software solutions. Frantic Films has worked on such Hollywood films as Superman Returns, X-Men 3 and Poseidon.

There are scores of Indian companies involved in animation, special effects and post-production work, and with the continued interaction between Hollywood and Bollywood, one can look forward to some unbelievable special effects and animation. As Uday Kumar of Adlabs Films observes, “The creative community has to come up to speed because I’ve seen that every time someone has pushed the envelope in India, there is an audience that has taken it.”

© Lavina Melwani

DID AISHWARYA REALLY CLIMB 200 FEET?

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Here are some secrets from Visual Computing Lab about what really went on in Dhoom 2:

In another first, the ‘Fort Heist’ sequence in the first-half of the film is notable in that there was no fort at the time of shoot. A small 16 ft x 16 ft terrace, 12 ft high was the only set actually built; VCL’s team then virtually ‘created’, in CG, the entire palace, fort and walls that appear in the entire sequence, and added them digitally to the live-action. The ‘city’ that appears far below the fort is also a digital creation, adding depth and size to the entire sequence. Thus, Aishwarya’s 200 ft climb up to the top of the fort was actually a climb of 12 ft, and the final Hrithik-Aishwarya leap out over a 300 ft drop to the city far below, was also a safe 12 ft drop.

Other interesting VFX samples in Dhoom:2 were the creation in CG (computer graphics), of some of the ‘gadgets’ used in the film: the robotic arm from the remote-controlled miniature ‘car’ that steals the diamond (including the diamond), is computer-generated, as are the ‘mechanical’ insects that are released to create a diversion during the ‘Coin-Heist’ in the second half of Dhoom:2. The ‘wire person-puller’ and ‘magnetic attacher’ as wrist-gadgets were also a combination of real and CGI imagery.

(Source: Visual Computing Labs)

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Lavina Melwani is a New York-based journalist who writes for several international publications. [email protected] & @lassiwithlavina Sign up for the free newsletter to get your dose of Lassi!

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