3,500 VFX shots in RA.One

raone-firstlook-Shahrukh-300x168It’s India’s first big-budget VFX wonder. And when we say big, we mean BIG. In just a month, Shah Rukh Khan will unleash his upcoming mega-budget RA.One. Like most of Khan’s previous releases, this film too will be a Diwali release featuring Khan himself in the lead in a product that will not only entertain but is also likely to set the cash register ringing.

But what really sets the film apart from any other Indian film are the special effects. So here’s why this product is so, well, special.

There are close to 3,500 VFX shots in RA.One. That’s 800 shots more than James Cameron’s 3D blockbuster Avatar, which has 2,700 shots in VFX. The film is also being pieced together by more than 1,000 people working in shifts in 14 to 15 studios across the world. Small wonder the film took six years.

So does all this impressive hi-tech wizardry mean we are finally at par with Hollywood in the VFX department? Some experts feel we may have already made our mark in the VFX arena. According to the 2011 FICCI-KPMG Indian Media and Entertainment Industry Report, the Indian animation industry is predicted to grow from the present US $1.8 billion to US $2.9 billion by 2015.

Interestingly, the idea of making a VFX-loaded film took root when SRK was working on his 2004 release, Main Hoon Na. His production house then worked on the special effects of his next film, Paheli, and a number of SRK’s advertisements as well. Finally, it all added up. Why not make a VFX-heavy film even though it would mean setting up a separate VFX studio?

Keitan Yadav, COO and VFX Producer, Red Chilies, summarises the journey, “In 2006, we opened our Red Chilies VFX Studio, which was set up solely to produce a superhero or sci-fi film. During the last five years, we scouted for talent across the country and turned down any outsourced work that came our way as we wanted to focus on our own plans. In the last five years, we did 21 films. We made mistakes, we learnt from our mistakes and thus prepared for our flagship project, RA.One.”
RA.One. has used different types of VFX. Some of these effects are invisible, where the viewer is unable to tell where the scene is shot while there are other scenes with in-your-face effects.

“There is no software or technique in the industry that we have not used for this film. For 3D, we have used software like Maya, Houdini and Macs. For composites, we have used Nuke and Shake. We have even written our own programmes. We programmed certain things rather than doing them manually,” Yadav explains.

He says 14 to 15 studios have worked on the film, including some in London, Canada, Massachusetts, South India and Mumbai. “This is the first time we are collaborating with different studios and not competing with them,” laughs Yadav.

The filmmakers decided they wanted the special effects of RA.One to be at par with those of other studios across the world. And that’s what made the difference. But it not only raised the bar but also the budget.

One of the most popular trademarks of any superhero is their suit, and G.One’s suit underwent a lot of fine-tuning to fit the bill. While SRK shot the film wearing a simple suit, a lot of shimmer was added to it later to enhance its look.

Harry Hingorani, Production Director and VFX supervisor, Red Chillies, explains, “Since G.One is made of electricity, we wanted to add more features. Match-matching, which is matching the suit with the background, has been done by many studios. It is a very difficult process. If we didn’t have to do this, we would have released the film by now. There are 800 shots of the suit alone, which is about 40 minutes of footage.

Hingorani adds, “We shot the film at VT station and also a few portions in Lonavala, which look like Mumbai in the film. We have erased the trees and put in CGI buildings. So about 50-60 per cent of the film has been shot in croma.”

RA.One will be released in both 3D as well as 2D versions. The 2D to 3D conversion of the film is being undertaken by Prime Focus, an Indian studio that has worked on many Hollywood 3D films including the Oscar-winning Avatar. A skill set of around 1,000 people was required to execute the conversions.

Among the high points of the film is a sequence where cubes come together in a specific formation, which in turn, morphs into the superhero and SRK’s character in the film G.One. This sequence is a signature effect of the villain, RA.One, too.

It took a great deal of time to develop pipelines for the cubic transformation. There are six-seven different algorithms required to facilitate all the in-screen action, and developing these were a daunting task for the VFX team.

Also, there are not many programmers in the country who can handle this type of VFX work and this was a huge challenge. Both Hingorani and Yadav point out that there are no VFX degree courses in this country, which made the task even more difficult, the VFX industry is not recognised.

“We don’t have a structured education system that filters students. In our country, we stumble upon talent quite by chance. A lot of people from small towns take a computer course and get into the industry as no special educational qualifications are required. A lot of filtering happens at the job level, which should happen at the educational level,” Yadav points out.

VFX has grown by leaps and bounds and at a rapid pace. Our studios, software and hardware are at par or even better than the West as we are a new breed of studios.

“RA.One is the most expensive film to ever come out of India. One of the many things we realised was that you cannot fool the audience in the name of VFX. We thought we should marry a story with VFX and wow the audience. It is not possible to raise the bar above Spiderman or Superman but when you watch RA.One, you will be proud to watch an Indian VFX film,” smiles Yadav.

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