Bringing young Rajinikanth back
Cinema Express speaks with the little-known names behind the celebrated animation sequences in Kaala
Since its release, Kaala has been analysed in detail, its symbols decoded, its themes deciphered. One aspect of it though hasn't quite received the sort of attention it deserves: the VFX. The opening credit sequence and the flashback portions which showed the history of Tamils in Dharavi and Kaala's formative years, respectively, received widespread appreciation. It is an Indian company, Makuta Studios, that supervised all the work, with as many as seven studios working on the film. We talk to the unseen people behind the impressive work:
It was co-director Dhinakaran who got me on board and I flew to Hyderabad to meet Phaneendra of Laughing Dots, the company behind the majority of the sequences. I had to first understand the style of Pa Ranjith, and so when doing the layouts, we only used rough colouring and lighting to get his approval. Ranjith wanted even the colour and lighting to convey the emotion and mood of the scene. He knew what he was talking about, being an artist himself.
After sketching, lighting and colouring, we got into detailing, where we had to focus on the different layers for each mobile character. And then in compositing, we bring them all together.
If we're designing a moving arm, we do the arm separately and add them eventually. Before I got in, the team had rough frames with the right angles and synced audio; so it was relatively easy. The only challenge was to match the compositing by getting the frame ready and working on the lighting and colouring.
Ranjith approved it frame by frame, and the corrections were incorporated. Compositing artists did a fine job of putting together everything by adding filters. My job is to make sure human proportions are right. It is also my duty to make sure the mood and meaning in each image reflects what Ranjith wants. I worked for three weeks on about 20 shots, and for the rest, I had to supervise work. It was an intense experience and we worked for an average of 12 hours every day.
Senthil Kumar R
Director and Co-founder, Hybrid 360 Art Tech
By the time I got on board, the design and style were already locked. We got to work on the animation, compositing and final work for the flashback portions. While we worked on the design animation (design, animation, and compositing) of the first minute, we got the designs already for the rest, and did the animation and composition. From our team, 15 people worked on Kaala and we worked on the final one month of the process. Ranjith wanted the images to look realistic and was keen that the audience not see it as a cartoon. We maintained a style guide, and so no matter how many people worked on the project, the outcome looked similar.
Creative Director and Co-founder, Laughing Dots
Makuta Studios called me one day and said they had a project. Only after we said yes did they reveal that it was for a Rajinikanth film. It was a dream come true for us as we always wanted to do a film starring him. I flew down to Chennai to meet Ranjith and team. We worked on both the intro sequence and the flashback. They had done 99 per cent of the work when it came to research and we only had to put the missing pieces together. The research also included the time period, the costumes and so on. There were references to how Dharavi looked years ago and how its people were. The team however couldn't get the footage or the right material to tell the story and that's where we filled the void.
We began with scribbling the sketches and came out with a previsualization for the storyboard. We also came up with a timeline along with a rough voiceover. When we came back, the real challenge started. We're a studio of 60 people and about 20 people got segregated into teams to work on the project but only about five people can deliver the quality this project demanded. Along with the deadline concern and the quality demanded, there was the need for all of us to be consistent. We tried to get freelancers but that didn't work out. That's when we got in touch with other studios and people like Thiyagarajan, and studios such as Hybrid, Pixalot Labs and a friend's studio from Trivandrum, collaborated with us. We distributed work among ourselves and it took us almost three months to deliver the quality expected.
All the frames used in the film are digitally painted. The work we had was something that would take six months but we got it done in three. My primary job was to follow what Ranjith wanted and along with another team member, Jayakumar, to research on which studios could deliver what we wanted. Since we wanted motion graphics animation, there were only a few studios who could do it. Right at the scripting stage, we were clear that we wouldn't shoot the scenes as we did in Kabali. The other option was to cast another person as Kaala's younger version, resembling Rajini sir, but that needed time, good casting... Considering those scenes depict what happened after India Gandhi's announcement about the Emergency, the sets would have cost more than the budget. Ranjith was also very clear on being politically correct with what we portrayed. So when he took the call to go ahead with paintings, the challenge was to figure out in which style we had to present it. Animation can sometimes seem trivial, but we wanted it to be photorealistic as those scenes conveyed emotions such as love and betrayal. So we needed artists who understood human anatomy and were skilful painters who could draw the mood with details.
Ranjith gave me the liberty to take calls when it came to these sequences. Another challenge was to show the actors the way they are. For Rajini sir, we took references from Mullum Malarum, Thambiku Entha Ooru and Johnny. But it was for Nana Patekar that we found it harder. We took references from his 70s film but all those films of his had him sporting a beard. But Ranjith was keen that he should have only a moustache. So we had to work that out too. I have seen the film in 15 theatres and people are enjoying the animation sequences, especially the scene where Rajini sir throws a look at Huma Qureshi. That was taken from Thambiku Entha Ooru. We couldn't have translated the same with any other medium. Each panel took 10-12 days of work from drawing to rendering to final out. Some artists went into depression while others said they want to leave the industry. But we handled it all well at the end and kept encouraging them. It's all paid off.