Visual acoustics

Did you know that Hrithik's house in 'Guzaarish' and the tidal wave in 'Chandni chowk to China' wasn't real? Read on

While shooting for Guzaarish, Sanjay Leela Bansali had a tough time making Hrithik’s house look authentic in the shots. An old church outside Goa which was turned into his house, looked different in each shots throughout the day. As the sun unpredictably brightened and dimmed each time, the look of the church changed. But the enormous grand house that we see in the film was actually was a computer graphics creation, complete with broken windowpanes, the dramatic sky in the backdrop and a CG carpet drying outside. And the person responsible for this transformation is Merzin Tavaria, head of visual effects at Prime Focus and his team.

Merzin has been at the helm of VFX at Prime Focus since its inception and has played a vital part in growing the company from a garage start up to one of the largest visual entertainment services firms in the world. "I started in advertising and this happened by chance. I was teaching animation in US where Namit Malhotra was my student. We set up an editing studio where the main focus was commercials and TV serials. We started doing color correction and cutting promos for music videos. At that time, the quality of film promos wasn't what it is now and since we had the right exposure, we decided to take it up."

A scene from 'Dabangg 2'Over the years, visual effects have come to play an important role in the making of a film. What started as a small sub-unit under the action kitty is now a full-fledged division. “Earlier, there would be a small number of cable wire removal shots and that was our only contribution in the film. Our work was mostly in the post-production department when the action directors would shoot their sequences and then come to us. Now filmmakers are aware about the ways they can use VFX to achieve their creative vision. Our work starts even before the film goes in the floor,” says Merzin.

It begins with pencil sketches, colouring and realising concepts (which are open to change in the course of production). The step is the break down the scenes, which need VFX. “The one paragraph brief can have as many as 50 shots. So we sit with the director and plan out each sequence. For example, the earthquake scene in 'Kai Po Che' had to be planned in advance. This is followed by storyboarding, where a detailed break-down of each scene is done. This helps the director to plan the shoot. Tavaria explains, “Details like in which direction the actor should look, where is the tall building in the scene, which direction is the car coming from, etc, need to be explicitly communicated. For example, the jetty fight sequence in 'Chandni Chowk to China' where there is a huge tidal wave shooting out water up to more than 100 feet in the air was the most challenging sequence as it involved particle dynamics. "It was something we had never done before and the results were satisfying."

The earthquake scene in 'Kai Po Che'Tavaria believes that you have to focus a lot on detailing at this stage as this stage of the craft makes or breaks a scene. “Earlier the discussion would take place with four pencils and a mobile phone. Now the whole set is made in CG now.” He also says that most people don't notice the intricate detailing that goes into every scene. “We work on a shot for 8 months and you will see it in 10 ten seconds! In every film, we try to put some kind of a signature to denote this. For instance, there is a scene in 'Saawariya', which is extremely detailed. It's a top shot of the city which has people walking inside their houses, there's a guy getting out of the car and walking towards his house, there is a dog standing next to a guy. These are things the audience will never notice but if I don't put all this, the emptiness will start showing immediately.”

In the business of connecting with the audience, there would be elements which would need to be watered-down. "Hollywood has been toying with the genre of science fiction for decades, right from the 'Star Wars' era, so they have evolved. So when we did ‘Total Recall’,  you had robots flying around and a whole cityscape in CG."  But here, this genre is just being established, so films need to connect with what the audiences can relate to. Tavaria explains, “If I am too futuristic in any design concept, the common man will not relate to it. If we show a car, it has to look like a car in the first place, not like a hi-tech missile.”

From color correcting scenes to VFX driven sequences, the journey has been a long one. "When I first started out, nobody even offered a chair or tea. Now we are an integral part of a film," he concludes.