Visual effects or VFX came of age with SS Rajamoulis’ Baahubali – The Beginning, a bi-lingual blockbuster which grossed Rs3,000 million, out of which Rs 850 million was reportedly spent on VFX alone.
The grand sets, misty waterfalls and lush forests, beautifully choreographed song and dance sequences made Baahubali an iconic film of sorts. It brought cheer in 2015 to an otherwise lacklustre year for the Indian film Industry in which just Hollywood and regional movies did well.
According to industry discussions by KPMG, India had 300 animation, 40 VFX and 85 game development studios which employed more than 15,000 people. These units were handling content production and outsourced as well as collaborative animation services. That Indians wanted more was also evident from the collections for international productions such as Penguins of Madagascar, which reported a gross collection of Rs 97million in 2014 to Minions, which made about Rs173 million in 2015. In February this year, Deadpool collected Rs 4.10 crore on its first day.
VFX is used within any feature to achieve something that is not physically possible to get in-camera either due to practicalities, safety or budgetary limitations, says Pete Draper, co-founder and division head, Makuta Visual Effects, a US-based company with a branch in Hyderabad that was involved in the making of Baahubali. The movie’s gorgeous waterfalls that beat the Niagara Falls hands down were created digitally as sourcing a 1.5km waterfall was impossible. “For something like Maheshmati (the grand city in the movie), it wasn’t possible to build such large-scale buildings, so the physical sets that the actors interacted with were extended,” he says.
Makuta, which was also involved with Rajamouli-directed Eega (Makkhi) and Ghajini, began work on Baahubali after Eega was completed, around January 2013. Draper says it took them time to realise how big the feature (Baahubali) would be, both on the amount of shots required and the grandiose scale of the physical and digital sets. For Makuta alone around 90 artists worked in varying disciplines in the VFX pipeline, from modelling, material and lighting design, camera tracking, compositing (etc).
Draper, a CG specialist, says he “always had an interest in art but also had a big interest in computers which, back in the early ‘80s, meant you were juggling with 3kb of memory and trying to get as much out of it as possible. I used to code little graphic systems from trial and error using code from magazines or books that were available. Throughout my school years I’d take art and additional computing classes to learn as much as I could because I had a passion for it. However, it wasn’t until I was at university (doing something completely unrelated to my final career choice) that I discovered that I really enjoyed doing CG animation and that I could actually make a living out of it.”
And yes, VFX artists use pencils and sketch pads as 2D art is quick, says Draper. Any design work can get blasted out with multiple iterations before committing to any digital medium which, sometimes, takes considerably longer.
When asked who was the actual star when it came to animation in the making of Baahubali, he is quick to respond: “Our VFX Artists of course!”