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Zoic BC Creates VFX for 'Midnight’s Children'

Zoic Studios VFX Supervisor Ralph Maiers and VFX Producer Lauren Weidel lead a team of artists into the dizzying world of Delhi’s slums during the end of British Colonial rule for Indian-born, Toronto-based director Deepa Mehta’s motion picture “Midnight’s Children.”

Culver City, CA -- For Indian-born, Toronto-based director Deepa Mehta’s motion picture Midnight’s ChildrenZoic Studios VFX Supervisor Ralph Maiers and VFX Producer Lauren Weidel led a team of artists into the dizzying world of Delhi’s slums during the end of British Colonial rule. Zoic Studios worked exclusively from their Vancouver studio to create the visual effects for the film, comprised of 293 VFX shots. Midnight’s Children was adapted for the screen by the novel’s celebrated author, Salman Rushdie. The film will release in select U.S. theatres on April 26th, with a wider national rollout beginning May 3rd through Paladin/108 Media.  

One of the most significant locations in the film is the Jama Masjid, a 17th century mosque that towers above the slums of Old Delhi and is one of the best-known mosques in the country. VFX sequence plates were assembled from diverse sources, including aerial plates, original location stunt photography and stock footage of period locations. Environmental scene extensions of Old Delhi were a large part of Zoic’s VFX assignment for the film.

As conceptual design began, Zoic held a series of cineSync sessions with Deepa Mehta, Production Designer Dilip Mehta and Producer David Hamilton on location to directly involve them in the look development, geography of the mosques and the slums. The environments evolved along with the editorial cut—as the mosques grew in importance in the story, the scale of the mosques also increased. Zoic Studios’ Compositing Supervisor Kenton Rannie and Environments Artists Patrick Kavanaugh and Debora Dunphy used Nuke’s 3D tools to create style frames from the plates, manipulating scale and placement of the mosques in the enhanced environments.

Once Deepa and Dilip settled on the “environmental blocking” of the sequence, the Zoic team began detailed development of the foregrounds and backgrounds, and integrated the revised blocking with the cinematography from the various locations and stage sets. Final touches such as torches and sconce lighting were added to enhance architectural lighting and create a visual distinction between the ghetto and the holy shrines. The compositing team absorbed the challenge of merging the location plates with re-imagined CG features. These elements helped to highlight the lushness of the Delhi and Mumbai color palettes.

Additional major sequences involved the Children of Midnight and included three sequences that portrayed Saleem’s gift of conjuring children. These “conferences” happened at stages as the children grow into young teens. To Deepa Mehta, the conferences thematically represented the growing strength of India and Deepa was very concerned with appropriately depicting these story points. Zoic accomplished these transition effects with a team of 50 artists. The complicated visualization started out as a plate of the room and all of its furnishings. Using rotoscope tools to isolate every element of the room, each child was given a luminescence. The number of composite layers quickly added up to hundreds of individual objects and children. Lead Compositor John Fukushima finessed the complicated arrangement of the many layers and color passes that the transition effect required.

Supervisor Maiers recalls, “At one point, Mehta exclaimed, ‘That’s it!’ and we knew the formula had hit the mark.” The three sequences fill about 10 minutes of screen time, but took approximately 7 months to create. Ralph Maiers worked closely throughout the DI with the finishing colorist to be sure the color identity traveled all the way through to final product.

One of Maiers’ favorite VFX shots in the movie will be an invisible effect to most viewers: a period Douglas C-47 Dakota cargo plane added to stock footage of the period Pakistani airport. The plane was modeled, textured and lit to match the scene by CG artist Matt Anderson, and flawlessly composited by Kenton Rannie. Maiers says, “What I loved was the seemingly effortless way the plane glides into its landing, beautifully animated by Zoic CG Supervisor Michael Cliett.”

Zoic Studios is very proud to have been chosen by Deepa Mehta and producer David Hamilton to play a part in the making of this important film. Midnight’s Children premiered at the Toronto Film Festival, where screenwriter/author Salman Rushdie won a Genie Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, and Seem Biswas won for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role.

Source: Zoic Studios

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Jennifer Wolfe is Director of News & Content at Animation World Network.