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Bollywood sparkles with visual effects

Varada Bhat  |  Mumbai 

Ever since Shah Rukh Khan showcased the extended trailer of Ra.One to a few multiplex officials this May, the film’s visual effects (VFX) have become a talking point in the industry.

Ra.One, according to industry buzz, could outshine Enthiran in visual effects. The movie is expected to have 3,500 VFX shots, with around 750 people from across five countries — India, Canada, France, Thailand and the US — working on these.

If the buzz is true, this will be no mean feat. Rajnikanth's Enthiran (Robot was the Hindi version) was a box-office hit, raking in Rs 350 crore in worldwide receipts. The movie dazzled the audience with special effects, including a Matrix-like sequence, but it had only 2,000 VFX shots.

GUZAARISH: Hrithik Roshan trying to flick a fly off his nose. The fly was a VFX creation. 
Also, the grand house that appears was computer-generated and so were the candle tricks in the film;
ZINDAGI NA MILEGI DOBARA: VFX was used to recreate sky diving scene and the race between car and horse
ENTHIRAN: The last fighting scene in the movie, which had over 500 shots
BLUE: Underwater fight sequence; the shark was shot live along with Akshay. However, in one shot of the same scene, Sanjay Dutt puts his hand in the water and a shark emerges from the water, almost biting his hand off. This was achieved by a computer-generated shark

Short for Random Access-Verion 1.0, Ra.One is simply a case in point. A few years before, producers would hesitate to embrace technology. They preferred to spend on expensive outdoor shoots and sets, and ask for stock shots to incorporate in their films, note Bollywood veterans. It's only when Indian VFX units started working for Hollywood films like Avatar, Troy and the Twilight series, that the trend gathered momentum.

VFX is about creating scenes by using computers, that may not be possible in a live action set-up. It can also involve integration of live-action footage and computer generated effects to look more realistic. This would have otherwise been dangerous, costly or simply impossible to capture to shoot. “In Bollywood, VFX has evolved only in the last five years. Now directors and producers are getting involved at the script stage and pre-visualising the shots with the VFX team, just like they would the cinematographer,” says Nishit R Shetty, head of operations, Film Post Services, Reliance MediaWorks Digital Lab.

RMW has used VFX to recreate a sky-diving scene and a race between a car and a horse in Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara which stars Hrithik Roshan, Abhay Deol and Farhan Akthar. Another film, Urumi or Curling Blade, directed by Santosh Sivan, which depicts the arrival of explorer Vasco Da Gama in Kerala, has used special effects to re-create Portugal in the 14th century.

The first Hindi film to do so on a large scale was the 2008 release Love Story 2050, starring Harman Baweja and Priyanka Chopra. It had nearly 1,300 shots — the highest-ever for a Hindi movie then. Although the film bombed at the box office, it established a new benchmark for VFX in Bollywood.

Other movies where extensive VFX shots were used include Akshay Kumar’s Chandni Chowk to China (1,500 VFX shots), Aladin (1,600 shots), Blue (800 shots), Guzaarish (350 shots) and Enthiran (2,000 shots). Currently, industry insiders estimate around 70 per cent of Indian films are using VFX. Most of these films which relied heavily on VFX had mixed fortunes at the box office till Rajnikanth’s Enthiran bucked the trend.

An official from Red Chillies, who requested anonymity, says: “Most film-makers now believe that Indian post-production studios can deliver the kind of work they are looking for.” Echoing a similar sentiment, Kamal Jain, chief financial officer at Eros International, says that Bollywood earlier looked at technology like VFX as a cost-saving mechanism. “Now, it is also about the experience of watching a film with that kind of technology.”

Does that imply Bollywood is catching up with Hollywood? Industry insiders say the size of the budgets for Hindi films are way too small compared to their Hollywood counterparts. In addition, Indian producers spend 10-20 per cent of their budget on VFX, while Hollywood would earmark 65-70 per cent.

The Indian VFX industry came into the limelight with Hollywood producers seeing them as back-end viable and a less expensive destination for post-production. Studios saved 60-70 per cent by outsourcing their work to India. But over the years, studios like Prime Focus, Pixion, Crest and RMW moved up the value chain by getting high-end work and not just labour-intensive work. For instance, Avatar and the Twilight series was done by Prime Focus. The studio is also converting the Star Wars series into 3D.

RMW is currently working on a 3D film slated for release later this year, Conan the Barbarian.

According to a Ficci-KPMG media and entertainment report, the Indian VFX market stood at Rs 450 crore in 2010 against Rs 320 crore in the previous year, an increase of 41 per cent. The report says animation and VFX together are expected to grow at a compounded annual growth rate of 18.5 per cent to reach Rs 5,590 crore by 2015.

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First Published: Mon, July 25 2011. 00:04 IST