Hollywood loves visual effects or VFX, though the same can’t be said of the over Rs.80-billion ($1.6 billion) Indian film industry. However, a co-production by Bollywood badshah Shahrukh Khan may be about to change things in India.
His mega-budget “Ra.One” reportedly has 3,500 VFX shots, which could mark a new beginning for the technology in Indian filmdom.
Shah Rukh, who has co-produced “RA.One” with Eros Entertainment, admits Indian filmmakers cannot match their international counterparts in the use of technology but says he is trying to make his superhero movie a world class experience.
“It’s fortunate that I have the resource to take ‘RA.One’ to a certain level. I don’t have the resources to take it to a bigger level…I give this technology to all new directors and actors so that they feel ‘Yes, we can do it’ and much cheaper than Hollywood,” said Shah Rukh.
VFX means creating such scenes with the help of computers that cannot be set up or shot on camera and SRK has collaborated with Jeffrey Kleiser, co-founder of US-based Synthesian Studios, to supervise the work done by Redchillies.VFX team.
The Indian filmmakers mainly avoided VFX because of budget constraints.
For instance, the makers of “Avatar” splurged Rs.1,100 crore ($230 million) on the sci-fi thriller, while “RA.One”, touted as the most expensive Bollywood film till date, had to pack everything into a meagre budget of over Rs.100 crore.
The box office collection is equally important to motivate filmmakers to endorse technology, notes Naresh Malik, COO of Reliance Mediaworks.
“Historically, Hollywood blockbusters which are the biggest spenders on VFX have been able to recover their investments through the box office collection and hence continue to improve on their technology use. Indian filmmakers will also engage higher technology once they are confident on audience uptake of the same,” he said.
Merzin Tavaria, co-founder of VFX studio Prime Focus, feels despite all the problems, India is catching up with the VFX and 3D.
“The number of VFX shots has gone up from a mere 20-30 to 1,200-2,000. Films like ‘Love Story 2050′, ‘Chandni Chowk to China’, ‘Guzaarish’ and ‘Robot’ are examples of the kind of VFX being churned out for Indian films now,” he said.
Malik added: “‘Robot’ (a Rs.190-crore movie) and ‘RA.One’ have been able to match their international counterparts in the use of VFX and the technology use is improving consistently in Indian films.”
Awareness can boost VFX use in films, feels Tavaria.
“Apart from the budgets, there is a need for filmmakers to realise the potential of VFX and post- services. VFX should be a part of filmmaking right from scripting and pre-production. There might be scenes which are expensive or dangerous to shoot, but probably the same can be achieved in VFX without burning a hole in the pocket or risking the actor’s or stunt man’s life,” said Tavaria.
“There might be locations where you wish to shoot, but due to permission or weather issues, you might not be able to. For instance, in ‘Chandni Chowk to China’, the actual shooting started towards the end of 2007, but the pre-production for VFX scenes started six months before the shoot,” he added.
VFX might not be used in a big way in films, but the Indian VFX studios have found prominence in world market.
Prime Focus worked on “New Moon” and “GI Joe”, “Merzin Tavaria” and the significant part of James Cameron’s mega epic “Avatar” and earned about $5 million from the revenue of the sci-fi.
On the other hand, Reliance Mediaworks worked on blockbusters like “Harry Potter” franchise and “Troy”. They are currently handling “Shark Night 3D”, “Conan”, and “Secret Diary of a Call Girl”.
The FICCI-KPMG 2011 report pointed out that VFX and post-production segments grew 42 percent and 17 percent in the total of the Rs.23.6-billion worth industry for 2011. It also revealed that nine out of the 10 highest grossing movies worldwide relied on special effects and that in future filmmakers will use stereoscopic 3D where VFX plays a crucial role in film production.
Tavaria says 3D is catching up big time in India.
“3D will be a massive market in the coming few years. India is set to make the most of it. After the successful execution of ‘Clash of the Titans’ and ‘My Soul to Take’, Prime Focus is now in the process of converting its first Bollywood feature film ‘Joker’ into 3D. As 3D- enabled television sets, mobile phones and laptops hit the market, more and more entertainment service providers are creating 3D content,” he added.
Some of the other big VFX studios are Pixion, Crest Communications, UTV Toons, Pentamedia Graphics, Prana Studios, Color Chips and FX House India.