Shah Rukh Khan’s redchillies.vfx garnering critical acclaim

 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.

The New York Times Square sequence which is part of a song sequence, was originally shot on the streets of Alabama and then recreated to look like Times Square using plates from different angles, were shot separately in Times Square and then added into the song to give it the big apple feel.

Another challenging sequence for us was the Zero G sequence. We created the entire interior replication of the Zero-Gravity chamber in Autodesk Maya designing suite. It was shot in a studio in Film-City and we had to show them floating in zero-gravity. The entire set was designed in vfx &

CGI. We also created an extensive walkway leading to the Zero G lab which had heavy-duty digital monitoring devices which was also created in CGI.

 

In the rocket launch sequence, the actor is escorted to the lift at the rocket launch site which leads to the AERO-BRIDGE. The Fx simulations for the smoke, fire and the rocket body particles was challenging. For this sequence we had to be very specific for the scene scale, it had to look massive , so from the concept to modelling to animation to compositing, we concentrated on very minor details. Hi-dense, detailed smoke and fire simulation was the key factor for the sequence. From earth to space travel and the cloud bed interaction with the Rocket, this was a head-storming task and we achieved that successfully. Dynamic camera angles for some shots also made the visuals more impressive. We won Filmfare award for BEST VFX for our never-been-done before work in Zero in 2019.

‘FAN’ released in 2016 was a movie with digital body reshaping, here we changed facial features like eyes, nose, jawline, forehead, hairline, making the protagonist a completely different person by de-aging him to 28 years old and shrinking him not only by 2.5 inches, but also making his body leaner in 2400+ vfx shots. We didn’t want to use a body double as Shah Rukh Khan and the vfx team were very certain that there would be no real challenge if he didn’t play both the roles in the movie. Since the movie is about a die-hard fan of the actor, it was very important for us to retain the mannerism of SRK, which would be impossible for a body double to replicate. We had to reinvent a new pipeline as this feat wasn’t achieved before ever for such a long duration. As for the timeline, redchillies.vfx had projected 18 months to complete this feat however, we were given the timeline of 11 months, in which we achieved & released the movie on time. The major Visual Effects implemented to look SRK young are making his iconic nose sharp and small size CG nose, overall body shape shrink to show a thinner/leaner version of young Shah Rukh Khan lookalike with leaner shoulders, bigger eyes, straightened eyebrows, Lips changed in proportion of thin face, jawline sharpened and changed the overall skin tone.

 

Besides the shrinking of the body, there were massive set-extensions which were created for the movie. For the end climax scene, we created the entire city of Delhi shown from the terrace, where both the actor & the fan are fighting each other. This sequence was also complex as it entailed a double-role shot with both the actor & the fan in hand-t0-hand close combat. We even re-created the entire city of Dubrovnik in Croatia where the chase sequence takes place, where we can see them jumping from terrace to terrace, running in-between narrow streets. redchillies.vfx even created indoor set extensions for the song sequence which takes place in a ballroom. There are a lot of complex double role shots also executed in the film.

We even created a dilapidated wall which has a very fast-paced chase sequence of the fan escaping the police. All of it was created in CGI in an indoor studio after references taken of a house wall in Croatia

Another sequence was the airport sequence for which the Director decided we recreate Heathrow airport on the terrace of YRF studios, Mumbai

 

We won several VFX awards like FICCI BAF, IIFA and Filmfare in 2017 for our outstanding vfx work.

‘Ra-one’ released in 2011 a stunning superhero movie was the 1st of its kind in Bollywood and one of our benchmark projects with 3400 VFX shots which make 80% of running time amounting to 125 minutes. This volume of vfx was the first ever undertaken by any Indian studio The team spent a good deal of time developing the pipelines for the cubic transformations in the film for the villain Ra.One. There were six or seven different algorithms required to facilitate all the on-screen action, and the development and testing of these pipelines had been the most challenging aspect.

In one of the sequences, we used a technique called ‘Time Slice’, where the same action is shot by multiple cameras from several angles to convey the powerful impact of being ejected skywards in one one of the fight sequences. Over 60 still cameras were used to create a sequence where the characters frozen, but the camera moved moving at about 220°.

 

The face of the villain was created by adding geometrical cubes to wires visualised for Ra.One’s face. It took over a year-and-a-half for the entire film. Ra.One assumes several avatars from Akashi, played by Tom Wu, to Kareena Kapoor’s Sonia till he finally takes the face of Arjun Rampal. Each mutation was meticulously planned and executed to the extent that every cube was prepared and created by computer technology to precisely match each player’s physical attributes. Entire suit of Superhero G-One and R-one was replaced with digital suit done in VFX which is an exceptional feat to accomplish as the actual suits had deteriorated majorly.

 

For this movie we swept all the major awards received the including the 59th National Award in 2012 for Best VFX, Filmfare, IIFA, Zee Cine Awards to name a few. During the climax, G. one absorbs the particles of Ra.One and his body becomes brittle & he disintegrates into minute particles & his body collapses on the ground. This sequence was rendered using multiple layers and was composited keeping every minute detail in mind like his suit, cubes & his disintegrated particles. We even created a miniature of VT station which showed a train coming through the station which then, was then converted on the big screen to show a real-like train coming through the station in the climax.

‘Krrish 3’ released in 2013 was another benchmark project of ours which won numerous awards for Best VFX. First time in Indian cinema where large scale realistic building destruction & explosions were achieved by using extensive vfx simulation. This project had complex CGI creature transformation and realistic mid-air fighting sequences which totalled to 1800++ vfx shots. Mid-air fighting, glass effects breaking, flying shots, creature creation was all part of the work taken up by rcvfx. One of the most iconic shot was that of Hrithik Roshan standing on a construction crane which was 2000 meters above sea level. Superhero Krrish fought against the evil mutants created by KAAL where KAYA could morph into multiple avatars including the scary beast when she dies, which was generated in CGI. Another mutant had a lizard like long tongue, again generated in CGI, another was a very fast super-sonic mutant was also created in CGI.

Q4. There is a feeling that Indian Studios are not capable of delivering a vfx laden movie like Avataar, Interstellar, and Avengers..etc. Where do you think Indian studios falter when compared to the Hollywood VFX Studios? Do we lack technical and creative manpower when compared to the West?

Hollywood is an evolved and mature industry in comparison to Bollywood and they started using visual effects way earlier than us. Their genres are also very different from those of Bollywood. Their

big budget movies from Abyss to Avatar to Jurassic Park or the DC/Marvel/Disney movies are primarily Vfx driven whilst in India, the industry is still evolving. Bollywood on the other hand has primarily focussed on musicals, dramas, comedy but now with the arrival of new generation of directors, producers, digital platforms like Netflix, Amazon etc, we are seeing a huge demand in visual effects and a change in genres like horror, sci-fi/ mythology, periodic dramas where the usage of vfx is extensive. Another challenge is that the directors & producers are yet to fully imbibe and understand vfx and its usage. Indian filmmakers are still learning the art of using vfx effectively and economically which Hollywood has mastered. Bollywood is improving by the day and we are sure with the right kind of exposure & experience we will reach Hollywood standards one day. Having said that, the vfx driven movies are almost at par with international standards, considering our market & budgets compared to that of Hollywood.

Q5. redchillies.vfx has delivered quality vfx in some of the past movies. Is there a vfx movie in the making by the team which could prove to the West that Indian studios can deliver and Is Red Chillies focussing on international vfx job work or is it only focussed on the domestic Indian market?

We have proved with Zero, Ra.One, Krrish 3 and FAN that given the time and budget, redchillies.vfx has delivered International quality visual effects. redchillies.vfx have also been actively involved in foreign projects from time to time. We have partially worked on projects like Sin City 2, Chinese movies like “Feng Sheng Bang & The Legend of Taimur (Genghis khan) as well as a film by a NY based Independent filmmaker “The Good Shepherd.” We are also working on outsourced work through other International various studios who are working on Hollywood projects.

Q6. What kind of services does rcvfx offer?

The state of the art facility in Goregaon West, Mumbai provides a full-fledged visual effects services right from conceptualisation to on-set supervision to visual effects final delivery with our Indian & International vfx divisions. Our redchillies. colour division has 2 film grading suites and one digital grading suite using Baselight. We even have a DIT division, DCP mastering division which provides Digital Colour Grading Features, Trailers & TV Spots, Editorial & Conforming, ACES workflow, Digital Cinema Mastering & KDM Delivery, Digital Mastering for 4K UHD & OTT Content, On Set Services DIT & Dailies etc.

We are the only postproduction house in Asia which has bought the TechnoDolly- Motion Control rig, world’s 1st telescopic crane designed for programmed repeatable moves, for live action and motion control. We are in the process of setting up Motion Capture which can be used for making previs, gaming & other film work. So, a full-fledged post-production set up is available here at redchillies Goregaon facility.



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