The demand for computer graphics and VFX in TV shows have given rise to a multi-million rupee industry in India. It’s not just about creating never-seen-before scenes and animated characters, but to take the viewers into a larger-than-life make-believe world. Sangeeta Yadav tells you more
From lavish palaces, scenic valleys, lakes and mountains, to the horrors of naagins, dayans, vishkanya and massive war scenes. Indian showmakers are redefining the whole TV viewing experience through their magnum opus computer graphics, visual effects (VFX) and 3D animation, aiming to be at par with Hollywood. The VFX experts have become an integral part of the shows, working behind the scenes to infuse life into a riveting storyline.
A trend which started with Ramanand Sagar’s Vikram Aur Betaal (1986), Ramayan (1987), Alif Laila (1993), Krishna (1992) and BR Chopra’s Mahabharat (1988). These shows turned out to be visual delights for the viewers and grabbed a lot of eyeballs through their extraordinary storytelling. The industry has grown over the years and with it the showmakers who are experimenting with cutting-edge VFX technology not just in fantasy, mythology and historical shows but in the daily soap as well which are loaded with a lot of supernatural elements and action.
Be it mythological shows like Siya Ke Ram, Mahabharat, Devon Ke Dev… Mahadev, Jai Santoshi Maa, or historical shows like Chakravartin Ashoka Samrat, Sankatmochan Mahabali Hanuman, Jodha Akbar, Suryaputra Karn, or horrors of Naagin, Vishkanya, almost every show on TV has got VFX that have contributed in making the serial a hit.
Surya Kant, founder of Moksha Mind VFX, who has done the VFX of Vishkanya and previously worked for 13 years in Ramanand Sagar’s show like Krishna, Jai Ganga Maiya, Hatim, Antariksh and Prithviraj Chauhan, opines that in the last 30 years, VFX industry expanded in a very big way and has now become a multi-million market.
“Earlier one person used to do all specialised work like texture, lighting, masking, tracking, 3D, matte and composition. But one man can’t be perfect at everything. Studios could not hire experts because of low budget for TV shows. But now the technology has really advanced and for every effect there are 10 softwares available in the market. There are specialised artists for every effect and the industry has more work for talented artists. The challenge is to make everything look realistic and create a world which is picture perfect that will leave you awestruck with its life-like make-believe characters and background. Creating something on these lines requires a lot of time, effort and trained specialised artists,” Kant says.
Dimple Dugar, who with his other co-founders Harsh Vardhan and Darshan Dugar, has launched The Pixellence Studio which has been working on nine TV shows including Naagin, Suryaputra Karn, Bal Krishna, Yeh Kahan Aa Gaye Hum, Kasam, Kalash, Meri Saasu Maa and Begusarai. “Building a great concept and being able to shoot it in the way it was visualised is in itself a huge success for the creative director and the show. The support provided by VFX gives the show a bigger push, an edge, and amazes the audience with its imaginary elements. The VFX effects are like icing on a cake for any show. One also needs to match the vision of the producer and director while keeping the storyline intact,” Dugar tells you.
Kant agrees adding that the director and the VFX team work in unison during pre-productions. “If the shot requires 3D, you have to decide before shooting the scene how you will design the shoot and where the 3D characters will be placed, what should be the lighting and at what angle it should be shot. Then they shoot and send us the footage. Though we plan the scene, it never comes out the way you want it, but we have to bridge the gaps through VFX,” Kant says.
Colors’ high TRP garnering show Chakravartin Ashoka Samrat recently bagged the Best VFX award from Best Animated Frames (BAF) Awards organised by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry’s FICCI Frames 2016. A 12-member team executed the VFX for Ashoka… that mainly consists of set extensions, crowd multiplication, animation and 3D modeling. For them, making the show’s visuals to Hollywood standards was an uphill task. “Ashoka… has gone techno-creative with the usage of high-end VFX. Matching Hollywood quality in India means skillfully combining emotions with technology. We are now in a position to make our shows even more visually stunning and delightful,” Abhimanyu Singh, founder and CEO, Contiloe Pictures Pvt Ltd says.
Despite the fact that good VFX is an expensive affair, its demand in the entertainment industry is very high and showmakers are pumping in more money just for having a few seconds of VFX. The costing in VFX industry for TV shows is calculated per second and depends on what kind of effect and animation the makers want.
One is told that the budget for TV shows has skyrocketed to such an extent that producers don’t mind shelling out Rs50,000 for a simple one-minute effect to Rs4 lakh for advanced effects like matte painting, mapping, 3D effect, wrapping, masking, tracking and much more. If one wants more advanced computer graphics and animation effects in the scene, the costing goes up accordingly. In advertisement industry, the budget is much higher as the charges are per second, starting from Rs12,000 to Rs15,000. For a three-second work, you can easily earn Rs70,000 to Rs80,000. And if there are heavy VFX required then you may make Rs2 lakh. It’s all about the level of advancement required.
One of the advanced VFX effects is morphing and 3D animation which helps in transforming humans into supernatural characters. Some of it can be seen in the character of vishkanya, naagin or a tiger in Yeh Kahan Aa Gaye Hum.
“In Vishkanya, the transformation of the protagonist who gradually turns blue for few minutes, the poison that spreads from her to the rabbit that she touches and how the vishkanya returns to normalcy is done through morphing. We make a CG screen and then wrap it. When three artists work for three hours, one will get a shot of three seconds,” Kant says.
There has been extensive use of morphing with 3D animation, live action effect and computer generated imagery in Naagin in creating a half-woman and half-snake, and in Yeh Kahan Aa Gaye Hum where Karan Kundra turns into a tiger. “The transformation has to be dramatic. The switch from a man into tiger and vice-versa, you can’t show it with a blink of an eye. We have to create a build-up to the scene. We show a slow transformation starting from the hair coming out from the hand, changing colour of the body and then eye colour from black to golden and teeth coming out. Everything has to be done interestingly or the effect will be lost,” Dugar explains.
Another effect matte painting has been the oldest and most common effect that has been used on TV shows to get the perfect backdrop. This is used mostly in mythological and historical shows. “In Bal Krishna, we’ve shown Vasudev crossing the river carrying baby Krishna in a basket from Mathura to Vrindavan. It was shown very dramatically. The river parted mid-way, making it possible for Vasudev to cross the Ganga. An animated sheshnag was also created who provides cover for baby Krishna,” Dugar says.
For Vishkanya too, Kant had to build an entire Howrah Bridge and its backdrop in 3D graphics and mapping. Such scenes require special sets covered by croma across the walls. To depict the war scene, in shows like Mahabharat, Dugar used 3D and matte painting. “In Suryaputra Karn, we used the technique of crowd multiplication to show the huge battalion. The warriors that are shown are pictures which you cut and paste. We have to shoot the scene in aerial angle in croma background and show the army coming from all sides,” she says.
Dugar also created a 3D temple for Naagin. “It was one of the prominent and exciting sequences because we created a 3D temple which had to match with the real temple and there was continuous smoke in the foreground. Keeping the smoke alive, we extended the temple behind to match the sequence,” Dugar tells you.
Matte paintings work wonders in creating night scenes which are shot in the daylight. “A lot of night sequences of Kasam and Kalash are shot in the daylight and converted into night through VFX. The moon is a little bigger and stars look brighter. Overall, it gives a great impact. For Bal Krishna, we created 3D animation of firefly that lit up in the glass bowl at night. We shot the sequence during the day and converted it into night,” Dugar says.
Kant says that the reason for doing this is because shooting the scene at night requires a lot of effort. “If there is a night scene, we generally shoot it in day light and convert it into night through CG effect so that one has to put less effort in the shooting. Shooting at night gives you real effect but the effort increases as you have to do a lot of tracking and masking and key out the reflections. The Howrah Bridge sequence in Vishkanya was shot at night and we worked on the VFX for three to four days. Shooting in daylight doesn’t require much time to convert. The only problem is that it doesn’t look real,” Kant says, adding that it takes one day to convert the day scene into night and put VFX whereas in night scenes, it takes two to three days to complete the VFX.
There have been scenes where the entire village or a house has been shown burning. Such shots, which requires heavy fireworks, are also created and given a realistic look through VFX.
“In Ek Thha Raja Ek Thhi Rani, there was a blast sequence which we created in 3D. There was also an airplane scene in which the hero makes his entry. The entry of the hero on the fighter plane was created on a 3D model. We created a previsualised shot in which the whole camera equipment and angle was decided and discussed with the directors,” Kant says.
While the money is really good for the specialised experts, the biggest challenge with every TV show is the time. “As compared to movies, TV shows have deadlines to meet. So the VFX experts have to choose lower rendering settings and HD resolution to give quick outputs. For films, it requires minimum 2K resolution and heavy rendering settings. Also, more detailed planning is involved.
“In TV shows, a scene can take approximately eight to 10 hours, depending on the shot and the degree of complication of animation, matte etc. Each episode has more than 150 VFX shots. Usually VFX shows are shot in static frames or through zoom-in zoom-out camera panning techniques. In Naagin, we have worked on rotation shots and continuous movement shots which are the most difficult to match in post-production. But we managed to do it efficiently,” Dugar explains.
Unlike in Bollywood where there are separate associations of various industries, VFX industry has no such dedicated association in India. There are a few good VFX artists available in the country. But many leave the profession due to erratic work schedule and pressure due to time constraint.
“The mentality is to get maximum work done at minimal cost. I have seen artists working continuously for four days. Due to this, a lot of people have stopped working and many VFX companies have shut down. Artists can’t work for more than 11 hours. It’s a creative field. If you stretch it too much, the work suffers. The artists can’t go anywhere as there is no association which can regulate and organise the industry in terms of working hours, wages, etc. There is a need for a dedicated association that deals with the issue of exploitation at work,” Kant says.
Another big challenge is the lack of talented artists in the VFX industry. “The learning process in this industry is very slow. Students, who enrol themselves in a three-year course in renowned institutes, learn very little. When I hire people, there are only a few who know their basics properly. It’s very important that they should be professionally trained and know the basics so that the end product is good,” Kant says.
Sajan Skaria, who has worked as a character supervisor in Pixar’s moviesFinding Nemo, Cars 2 and Toy Story 3, opines that it’s always a struggle to get a good movie and shows out the door, but it can be done. “John Lasseter always says that every Pixar movie was bad at some point. It is iterating on it and being brave at throwing things out that makes these movies better in the end. If the animation industry in India wants to grow, they will need to focus on quality by spending time and iterating on the stories they’re trying to tell,” Skaria tells you.
(The article was published in The Pioneer Newspaper – http://www.dailypioneer.com/sunday-edition/sunday-pioneer/special/the-effect.html).