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‘VFX is the third hero of 2.0’- Cinema express

‘VFX is the third hero of 2.0’

...says Srinivas Mohan, the VFX Supervisor of the upcoming Rajinikanth film

Published: 27th November 2018

Director Shankar's tryst with visual effects began as early as with his first film, Gentleman (1993), as arrows glided out of Prabhudheva's eyes in the song, Chikku Bukku Rayile. Twenty five years later, his hunger and love for VFX remains voracious as ever, and has taken the form of 2.0, India's first film to be shot fully in 3D. With special effects being such an inseparable part of 2.0, we talk with the VFX Supervisor, Srinivas Mohan, who has been working with Shankar since Boys.

Bringing people back to the theatre

‘With decreasing footfalls in theatre, Shankar wanted to make a film that will bring back back to the big screen, a film that will be worth their time and money and yet, one that has Shankar’s signature stamped on it. That is how the journey of 2.0 started. With each film of his, Shankar has pushed the limits of technology. With Sivaji, it was the fair-skinned Rajini idea. With Enthiran, it was the whole climax. What we have achieved with Enthiran, with just a budget of 14 crores, is nothing short of incredible. Even Hollywood would have struggled to do what we have. With 2.0, we have made a 1000-crore film at one-third the cost.’

The trick to reducing budget

‘We created the character designs in Enthiran (the snake and ball formations) in CG. Now, when it comes to CG, hair is really tough to simulate. So too are the eyes. This is why if you see the design of Chitti, he is made with short hair, and Rajini sir wears glasses throughout. Similarly, neither Chitti nor Chitti v2.0 will wear flowy clothes which take longer to simulate. All of this leads to a 50% reduction in budget straightaway without taking away from the essence of the character.’

The bird of 2.0

‘Take the bird of 2.0 that you have seen in the trailer. Even during scripting, it was designed as one made of cellphones. After reading the script, the concept art was hand-drawn to best reflect Shankar's imagination. Next, we convert it to 3D as part of the pre-visualisation process. This takes into account not just the character but also how it interacts with the environment. One of the main reasons why the film got delayed was that the original studio which we had been commissioned for this process, didn't provide the design we wanted, and by the time the design came about, it was too late and it was money that couldn't be recovered. So the bird that you see is not the original bird that was designed. So yeah, even the bird is version 2.0. (laughs)’

Commissioning the graphics work

2.0 has 2,500 shots overall of which 2,150 have VFX. We spread the work across 25 VFX Studios not just for quality reasons but also for financial reasons. Even one shot incorporates different elements and we sourced them to different studios to finish the process faster. Adding on to the earlier bird example, we commissioned one studio entirely for city extensions and of course, we reached out to Double Negative (Academy Award-winning VFX Studio) entirely for the climax.’

Hulk and 2.0

‘Having worked in Baahubali, I knew that the audience have seen grandeur before. But with that film, what you saw was the background being enhanced to a large scale, which we have also utilised in 2.0. But where 2.0 stands out is in all the emotions and facial expressions of Rajinikanth and Akshay Kumar. I would say VFX is the third hero of the film because without VFX, this story wouldn't have been possible. Shankar had one rule: That the face and reactions of Rajini sir be the same. Rewatch the climax of Enthiran and you will see that the giant Rajini (cellman) won't have Rajini's face at all whereas in 2.0, you will see only Rajini sir and Akshay at all times. The technology that you see in play is probably explored only in Hulk (of Marvel's Avengers).‘

Depth of field

‘We haven’t done 3D for the sake of it. At a design level, Muthuraj sir (art director) has created a lab with different elements that spans the length of the structure. Now Nirav (cinematographer), in framing these shots, did it in a way that you see all these elements, thanks to the field of depth that cannot be as vast, if not shot in 3D. We have used VCam (Virtual Camera) for the first time in Indian cinema in 2.0. Usually pre-visualisation and storyboarding happens in 2D but here, because we had a lot of action sequences, we recreated it in 3D world. While I used to use the camera present inside the digital world, we thought we should probably ask the cinematographer to do the same as well. You would have seen something similar in arcade games of yore except that the limitations associated with such games aren’t here in this film. So when Nirav, for example, moves 1 feet in the real world, in the digital world of the stadium, the movement spans 100 feet. When you watch it in 3D, you will get four times the experience as you would watching in 2D.’

Matching up to Hollywood

‘Tamil cinema is now catching up to what Hollywood has been doing for the past decade. Right now, I am spending time educating the industry about VFX. I have designed a VFX Supervisor course for the MGR Film institute that is currently in its 4th year. I would ideally love to be in a position where my creative chops are utilised more.’

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