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News from AnimationXpress

Published on : April 12, 2010
News from AnimationXpress

Visual Computing Labs (VCL), a division of Tata Elxsi Ltd has delivered special effects for the Hindi movie ‘Prince‘ that released on 9th April 2010 all over the world.

VCL was responsible for the complete visual effects in the movie from scratch to screen, including supervision of work by various other studios. Over 80 VCL artists, and over 70 artists from various other studios who were supervised by VCL, worked very hard on Prince. Sherry Bharda, VCL Head of VFX and Pankaj Khandpur, Creative Director, VCL actively supervised the entire visual effects delivery along with the supervision of VFX Supervisor on Prince Vishal Anand (with additional set supervision by Vishwas Savanur).

VCL‘s Pankaj Khandpur shared, "Prince is undoubtedly one of the most challenging and VFX intensive Hindi movies ever made in India and VCL is pleased to have played an active role in this. VCL has not only set high standards, with ‘Prince‘, we have taken the concept of breathtaking visual effects to a whole new altitude".

"While it took 3 years time for the making of ‘Prince‘, VCL had to complete active VFX work of over 1600 shots, most of them complex CGI, within an extremely challenging timeline of barely 12 weeks. The fact that VCL was able to comfortably achieve this deadline is a fitting testimony to VCL‘s capabilities and efficiency when it comes to quick and effective production within a short time span. VFX intensive scenes in the film are pre-visualized in 3D, to ensure detailed planning prior to every shot", said Sherry Bharda.

Expressing delight at the way the VCL team has performed by meeting the deadlines and not compromising the quality, Pankaj Khandpur added "Movies with intensive visual effects have created an entirely new segment; the cutting edge work showcased in Prince will definitely help in enlarging this segment. The seamless coordination shown by different teams in creating such a master piece was an enriching and exhilarating experience for us."

Most difficult scenes which required extensive VFX work from VCL:
1) The O Mere Khuda Song - The actors were all shot on chroma and the song was designed to fit into 3 major sets - (a) The LED light set, (b) the tunnel and (c) the stage on water set.

The LED light set had over 50,000 bulbs on the walls, running graphic patterns in sync with the music. The shots were tracked and the set built up around the characters. The DOP was a vital part of this process because with a virtual set, he could change the scale and perspective to better suit the shots - so while the set was laid out in 3D space, the graphic designers worked on creating patterns to sync with the beat of the track. Once this was ready, the patterns were roughly projected on bare walls and put into the edit for the director to check. Only when this was locked did the work of prepping final files begin. As the bulbs were hugely expensive and inefficient on render time, the programmers wrote scripts that generated a bulb with a light only when it was part of a pattern. Thus, bulbs were generated and killed only as required and huge render savings were realized as this eliminated the need to keep rendering 50,000 bulbs every frame.

2) The Athlon bridge sequence - 70 shots of choppers, exploding trucks, spikes, underwater extensions - this scene had it all, including a holographic image of the lead actor and his girlfriend. This scene worked out very well - possibly the best of the VFX work because of the detailed planning here prior to shooting. This entire scene was pre-visualized in 3D - the director locked the camera movements long before they actually shot in Durban. VCL VFX Supervisor Vishal Anand also gathered all the relevant data from camera information, lensing etc to lighting information from probes and digital stills. All this material was brought back and once work started, the production team was able to actually construct a mock up of the bridge virtually to scale; needless to say, this made everything more simple and easy. The production team had to embed spikes down the length of the bridge, put choppers overhead, a truck between the traffic and a hologram of the hero throughout. For all this, perfect world scale and size was paramount so the shots did not jump in continuity. The lighting data too proved invaluable to get the perfect lighting on the choppers. Since there were choppers already in the shots it was even more critical that the CGI choppers blended in perfectly, shot to shot.

This would have been impossible without the lighting data off the shoot. Also without the scale model, it would not have been able for the team to cast true shadows on the CGI objects. The ‘money shot‘ here was the exploding truck. Again, the team shot plates for the explosion and a truck blowing up. Unfortunately, there was no way the truck could be choreographed to go through the series of tumbles planned shot to shot, to finally topple over the bridge and into the water. So, the production team decided to drop all live action, used the timing and lighting from these plates as reference and proceeded to re-create the entire explosion in CGI. Everything including the scorched remnants of the bridge finally happened in CG. The action continued underwater - the truck was meant to land on a riverbed - the plates shot were of a dummy falling into a swimming pool. VCL‘s matte painting department then went in and extended the plates giving it the depth of the murky river bottom. VCL‘s effects department added water, caustic light over the truck and the swimmer, also additional floating particulate, all to add to the feeling of depth. There were bullets fired underwater, the trails of which were also added in CGI.

3) Oribi Bridge sequence - This involved over 180 shots of a chase leading to the dramatic nail-biting finish of the hero‘s getaway on a rope bridge suspended over a 500ft ravine. The bridge is old and rotten and he drops down to it on a bike to make his escape. All the while, the bridge and hero are struck by bullets and the bridge starts crumbling, the ropes start snapping and it eventually falls - just as the hero reaches the other side of the cliff. The production department found a sheer rock face to shoot from and the drop below. However, all reverse angles had to be generated as matte paintings - there was no way the production teams could cross the ravine to shoot those angles! Again, with basic concept art and a pre-viz, the VCL team started working on the dramatic edit of the bridge, slowly caving in under the onslaught of bullets. Once this was nailed down, the bridge was now rigged and prepped for animation. While the closer shots were hand-animated as the director wanted specific actions here, the wider shots were all done through dynamics, including the persistent gentle sway of the bridge and the collapsing plank

4) DCOI - Diamond Corporation of India - This is a major heist in the film - a diamond robbery and then a dramatic escape off the roof of the 40 storey building! The actual jump was done in Bombay, off a 7 storied building. This had to be changed into a CG re-created 40 storied skyscraper. To match the cityscape of the other shots, apart from the 3D CG master building, extensive matte paintings were created and digital projections for the entire cityscape were built and then replaced. All the chroma key windows were replaced with city plates, both day and night. The jump off was shot at day, with the lighting inconsistent as were the locations. The scene was designed to look graphic and surreal - the matte paintings and the grade of the entire sequence helps achieve this.

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