Press Release from Synthespian Studios
Ra.One has become a superhero movie of global proportions that is attracting international audiences and breaking box office records across India. While Bollywood fans worldwide eagerly awaited the release of India’s biggest film to date, numerous VFX studios spread across the planet were busily working on its production.
The United States is no longer the only country looking to capitalize on international talent pools; Indian cinema is rapidly emerging as a key player in this changing business landscape. Outsourcing has become less about cutting costs, and more about strategically leveraging a global network of talent to optimize diverse skill sets. It is now increasingly important to find talent where it is, not simply where it is cheapest.
In the case of Ra.One, Bollywood megastar Shah Rukh Khan found it in a little digital studio tucked away in the bucolic Massachusetts Berkshires.
Helmed by industry veterans Jeff Kleiser and Diana Walczak, Synthespian Studios is a digital design and production boutique specializing in character animation and visual effects. In February of 2010, Shah Rukh Khan signed Jeff Kleiser as Lead Visual Effects Supervisor to oversee the production of more than 3,500 VFX shots for Ra.One. Among other international talent, Nicola Pecorini (The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus) was brought on board as Director of Photography, Nino Pansini (Surrogates) as Stunt Cameraman, Andy Gill (Pearl Harbor) as Stunt Supervisor, and Terry Bamber (The Phantom of the Opera) as First Assistant Director.
Impressed by their previous transformation work on the Mystique character in the successful X-Men trilogy, Red Chilies Entertainment hired Synthespian Studios to execute 120 visual effects shots involving complex digital transformations of live-action characters. For Ra.One, graphics programmers headed by Helge Mathee wrote custom software (nicknamed “Q-Bricks”) that emulates artificially intelligent systems, giving the component digital cubes a unique dynamism as they break apart and re-form. The visually stunning net result is an eerie effect in which thousands of cubes behaviorily collaborate with one another as they transmute into unified characters and objects.
Jeff Kleiser notes that Ra.One not only raises the bar with groundbreaking visual effects, but further reflects a globalizing paradigm shift for the production process itself. Ra.One’s extensive post-production work is being carried out by a total of 800 artists working at 10 different facilities around the world. While most shots were produced in India by redchillies.vfx, Shah Rukh’s vfx company helmed by Keitan Yadav and Harry Hingorani, Synthespian Studios brought together an array of talent from the US, Canada, Germany, France, and South Africa. The Synthespian team was managed by executive producer Michael van Himbergen and producer Wendy Gipp, with CG supervision by Edward Quirk. Working closely with redchillies.vfx, Jeff has split his time between on-site supervision in Mumbai and reviewing work-in-progress from his studio in Western Massachusetts.
“Ra.One’s visual effects represent a global effort from many different companies. It is only through recent advances in digital connectivity that this sort of remote, virtual collaboration has been possible,” says Jeff. “We normally had video conferencing sessions every other day to review work-in-progress, using collaborative tools that allowed us to sketch on top of shots to discuss how to improve them. Artists and technicians at different facilities around the world could participate as though we were all huddled in the same screening room. It is truly revolutionary that talent becomes the most important quality rather than proximity or cost. We can pick out a team from around the world, and work with them remotely on even the most complex shots that require elements to be created in separate locations and composited together into the same shot. Five years ago, this would have been inconceivable.”
Ra.One is directed by Anubhav Sinha, starring Shahrukh Khan, Kareena Kapoor and Arjun Rampal. The film released on Oct. 26th coinciding with India’s week-long Diwali celebration.