Shah Rukh Khan is a perfectionist to the hilt. The decision to set-up redchillies.vfx was done with an intent to set-up a world class vfx facility, comparable to the best in Hollywood. Keitan Yadav & Harry Hingorani teamed up with Shah Rukh Khan in 2006 and setup redchillies.vfx.
redchillies.vfx has established itself as a leading vfx studio and delivering high-end projects in the VFX arena for local and international markets.Keitan Yadav, COO & VFX Producer & Harry Hingorani, CCO & VFX Supervisor share their journey in an exclusive interaction with Broadcast & Film.
Q1. Tell us briefly about the birth of redchillies.vfx Studio. What motivated Shah Rukh Khan, Keitan Yadav and Haresh Hingorani to set up redchillies.vfx Studio?
Shah Rukh Khan wanted to establish a studio which could deliver on his vision of world-class vfx quality Hollywood-style sci-fi superhero movie in India. Since this project was very close to his heart, he felt the other vfx studios wouldn’t do justice to his passion and thus, with the help of Keitan Yadav & Haresh Hingorani, he set up redchillies.vfx in 2006. He also wanted the entire industry to benefit from this world-class post-production facility in India to create world-standard movies.
Q2. What are the latest technologies equipped at redchillies.vfx studio? Give us brief description of the VFX technology workflow pipeline implemented at redchillies.vfx.
redchillies.vfx is equipped with technically advanced world's latest centralised storage technology with 1.2 petabytes of disk space for all our data flow needs which has the capacity to work on multiple visual effects and colour grading on film, 4K digital platform like Netflix & Amazon, broadcast, OTT simultaneously.
The studio has a heterogeneous OS environment including Linux, Mac and Windows that are powered by high end workstations with superior NVIDIA Quadro GPUs. Our pipeline includes Houdini and Autodesk’s Maya & Max, the industry standard for 3D design software for photorealistic vfx and Arnold for rendering along with other rendering tools. For compositing, we use Nuke studio which offers a cutting-edge toolkit for node-based compositing and for editorial we have Final Cut Pro & Avid. We also have a state-of the art review suite using scratch and for Pipeline management we have Autodesk’s Shotgun, for rendering needs we have around 8000 in-house cores & we scale our render capacity additionally by 10,000 cores, based on our needs for larger projects. The high capacity networking infrastructure includes Spine of 100GbE Fibre Switch, and the Leaf is 10G which carries a whopping switching capacity of 3.2Tb/s. In addition to the software, hardware and tools, we have developed proprietary new age weapons to beat all the cinematic limitations and deliver quality output as per the clients’ post-production needs. We have an in-house team of programmers who develop scripts and plug-ins ingeniously proprietary scripts & programmes to ease the functioning of the studio. With the help of our strong R&D team, we were able to create and conceptualise unique, never-been-done-before projects like FAN & Zero in a span of 6 months, with no material to refer to for these unique projects.
Q3. Please highlight some of your most creative and challenging VFX work. What were the major technical challenges the entire team faced for the VFX creation and how did the team overcome them?
Some of our creative/challenging projects so far are as follows:
‘Zero’ our latest project released in December 2018 was the 1st of its kind again. In this, never-been-done-before movie, we had to use special effects to shrink an actor of 5 ft 10 inches to 4 ft 6 inches for a duration of 130 minutes, a feat never achieved before in any movie globally. Apart from creating a dwarf effect for 130 minutes, the other challenges we faced were maintaining eye-level between the actor & co-actors throughout the movie, making sure creative vision of the Director is not compromised, and ensuring the interactions and body contact between the actors is seamless. The main challenge we foresaw was ensuring the eye-line between actors in the scenes where the actor would be interacting with his co-stars in different situations like fight sequences, dancing as well as showcasing emotions. We were quite clear that we didn’t want to shoot the protagonist separately and then composite him in the scene later as this would be possible only for 1-2 minutes duration and not for the entire film. That’s when we realised, we had to shoot all of them together in the same scene. This challenge was cracked by using Lego blocks. We created blocks (fake floor) with the depth directly proportional to the height of the actors we needed to reduce. These blocks would be removed where Shah Rukh Khan would be moving in the scene. The actors would stand on these blocks and perform on them while the protagonist would stand in the pit 1.5 feet deep; surrounded by the blocks. For this very reason we ended up replacing the floor in the entire film. Also each shot required minimum 5 plates : first plate being a previsualisation shot, second being a regular plate with Shah Rukh Khan surrounded by the boxes at a level lower than his co-actor’s, third being a shot which had Shah Rukh Khan and his co-stars act at the same ground-level (for his characteristics), fourth plate involving the co-stars repeating their moves but without Shah Rukh Khan in the frame (to capture their movements), and the fifth being the one in which Shah Rukh Khan had to position his arms at a wider angle to show more of his body since it was going to be shrunk later using visual effects. There was an additional pass to capture the HDRI in post-production using a chrome ball. These shots were then consolidated and composited at different scales; then merged into a single image. To show the accurate movement, we used CG trackers while shooting. By placing them on the actor’s body we curated a matte image and then 3D image, from these scenes.
Besides creative challenges, the vfx production pipeline had to be planned in detail. redchillies.vfx realized that they had 2,50,000 tasks spread across 2400 shots, and each shot had minimum 5 plates and around 16 odd tasks. Streamlining the vfx production process was critical. Once the rotoscopy & BG generation was completed, we had to start the dwarf creation process.
Mera Naam Tu was the most complex sequence in the entire film taking about 9 months to complete. A seemingly impossible amount of VFX technology and color-grading had to be employed. For instance, the rainwater in the movie was generated in CGI at 800 fps while the song was being shot at 48 fps. The two elements had to be merged into one scene. From coloured powder (gulaal) to the rain drops, all was CGI because the protagonist had to be shrunken and we had to re-create the entire set. This included animating and matching the motion of all characters for the entire song and set extension. The original set needed to match pixel to pixel with the CGI set and for that we scanned the real set using Lidar Scan. The set creation was just one part, texture lighting was equally important as we needed to get the CG elements and interactions to look real.
The background extension was also CG, where we can see the movement of the plants and fluttering leaves. We had a lot of simulation done on the coloured powder(gulaal) and the interaction with the characters and photo-real light simulation on the gulaal.
800 servers, out of a total 2000 for the entire movie, were hired just for this song; given the exorbitant amount of processing power required. This was the most complex and took the longest to complete.