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'Ra.One': India's 'Iron Man'

Mamta Narang provides a sneak peek of India's biggest superhero/VFX movie.

Bollywood has its own superhero with an arsenal of VFX. Courtesy of redchillies.vfx.

Ra.One is the maiden feature by Bollywood superstar and producer Shah Rukh Khan (nicknamed SRK and King Khan) from his entertainment production company, redchillies.vfx. He began his career with the TV serial Fauzi and became an overnight heartthrob. His last film, My Name is Khan, was an international hit. SRK now wants to conquer the hearts of children, not by adorning a special suit -- the costliest worn to date by any hero onscreen in India -- but by providing a superhero to children. The intention is to shake up viewers across the world utilizing some of the latest CG advancements. Mamta Narang interviews Jeff Kleiser (who served as lead visual effects supervisor) along with the heads of redchillies.vfx: Harry Hingorani (production director and vfx supervisor) and Keitan Yadav (COO and vfx producer). Ra.One is slated to be released in October coinciding with the Diwali festival.

Mamta Narang: What's the total VFX budget of Ra.One?

Keitan Yadav: At this point in time, this can't be disclosed, but all I can say is that this is the most expensive and one of a kind VFX movie done in India to date. The VFX budget is enormous like the budget of a big Bollywood blockbuster.

MN: What has been the most challenging work in Ra.One to date?

Harry Hingorani: Sixty % of work in Ra.One is visual effects. We have around 37 sequences and a majority of them are difficult and time consuming, as you can see in the trailer. The most challenging sequence is the suit of SRK, which is a combination of visual effects plus reality.

Jeff Kleiser: We have spent a good deal of time developing the pipelines for the cubic transformations in the film. There are actually six or seven different algorithms required to facilitate all the on-screen action, and the development and testing of these pipelines has been the most challenging aspect of the show for me.

The scope and complexity of shots posed a new challenge.

MN: How long has the VFX work taken?

KY: We started the Redchillies.vfx in 2006. Shah Rukh Khan wanted to make something big involving VFX and that was the intension behind starting redchillies.vfx. We gained knowledge. We didn't do any projects after the movie My Name is Khan. We had 150 artists just focused on doing the research and development. We concentrated on setting up the right team and the software in the preproduction. The shooting started on March 2010 after extensive R&D.

MN: What's unique about Ra.One?

HH: A superhero is being offered to children, which has never been done in Indian cinema before and this global team.

MN: How many professionals are working officially? How is the management done?

KY: We have been working 24 hours, in multiple shifts and on multiple shots and sequences. At times, multiple studios are working on one shot. There are 300 artists from redchillies.vfx out of a total of 650-700 people working at other studios worldwide.

MN: How many shots are there?

KY: There are 3,500 + shots amounting to about 2 hours and 15 minutes of combined VFX. A major chunk is happening at redchillies.vfx. We have planned much in advance and have outsourced the work pretty early to curb the domino effects of delays.

redchillies.vfx developed its own approach to CG transformations and digital doubles with help from Jeff Kleiser.

MN: What kinds of VFX techniques are involved?

HH: We have developed and used a lot of proprietary software, plug-ins & pipeline tools. Besides using everything off-the-shelf, we have done a lot of sequences through scripting to fasten the process.

MN: Keitan, what kinds of challenges have you have faced?

KY:

The challenges faced are firstly the huge scale of the project, working with multiple studios both locally & globally, complexity of the shots & sequences, syncing the entire production pipeline and keeping tab of the progress and finally quality control.

MN: What about you, Jeff?

JK: It has been an exciting journey. Generally, I have been in a position to provide the solution where the solution doesn't exist. There has been lots of collaboration. And most of the time we have written our own software.

MN: What it's been like working with SRK, director Anubhav Sinha and redchillies.vfx?

JK: It's very exciting. SRK takes filmmaking quite seriously; very friendly and humble; he gives so much attention despite his busy schedule. Director Anubhav Sinha has a wonderful vision of the film and has become a good friend during the production. We have developed a very close relationship that allows for the design of 130 shots being executed by my company, Synthespian Studios, as well as the thousands of shots being executed by redchillies.vfx.

MN: Harry, what software are used in the making of?

HH: Houdini, Maya and 3ds Max. For composting, Nuke, Shake and Fusion. We have setup a few plug-ins to export the 800 suit Matchmation shots from Maya to Houdini to render everything procedurally, hence making the whole procedure automatic. In regards to compositing, we have used the same procedure using Nuke scripts.

Ra. One represents a turning point, thanks to this global partnership.

MN: In India, the animation and VFX industry is booming. How would you guys rate the quality of education on a scale of 1 to 10?

HH: 3.

MN: 3?

HH: Yes, 3. Well, that's the fact. Most of the faculties that are teaching in institutes have been trained by their institutes. That's why VFX falls into a loop. We need to learn a lot apart from this. In the case of Ra.One, we have Jeff, who's the lead vfx supervisor and we need more collaboration like this to be on the global map. Budget is a big constraint; if we have higher budgets, we can dig more.

JK: Well, I can't answer this question because I haven't gotten the chance to visit any of the institutes. India has lots of talent, which requires nurturing and I would like to help initiate the Indian chapter of the Visual Effects Society.

MN: Harry, do you see Ra.One advancing the Indian VFX industry?

HH: Yes, some of the big VFX movies didn't do well. But I do see Ra.One as a turning point. The Indian industry has started recognizing the value of VFX. Still, we need higher budget films with a focus on VFX.

MN: Jeff, personally how you see the future of Hollywood plus Bollywood? Will there be a true amalgamation?

JK: Yes. I will definitely spread the word to whomever I meet in Hollywood, especially at the studios, that there is very good talent in India that should be brought in to work with Hollywood productions.

Mamta Narang is founder/director of AAshmam, a company that provides high-end software solutions.

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