On VFX/Visual Effects: In Talk with Kamal Hingorani and Mukul Rawat

On VFX/Visual Effects: In Talk with Kamal Hingorani and Mukul Rawat

You have enjoyed the thrill of Spiderman swinging through the skyscrapers. You have witnessed the weird reality-bending magic of Dr.Strange. Or for that matter, the glorious battle of Endgame. Sure, the characters and the stories were compelling on their own but it was also the grand spectacle that Marvel Studios provided that made these movies popular. MCU gave us a mesmerising world, complete with its tantalising magic and superpowers. It convinced us of the reality of the unreal. 

Such is the power of VFX. 

You have probably heard this term before. You might have even seen the blue and green screens as well used for this VFX. After all, these days most movies rely heavily on it. It’s not just limited to the big action blockbusters anymore and it’s gaining wide-spread popularity among the Indian filmmaking scenes as well. 

Today, we talk to two professionals from the industry: Kamal Hingorani, a VFX professional and co-owner of Anymediaworx, and Mukul Rawat, an award-winning VFX supervisor. Among other things, we take a deeper look at what goes behind creating VFX images and why Indian VFX lag further behind than their Hollywood counterparts.

On VFX/Visual Effects: In Talk with Kamal Hingorani and Mukul Rawat

Kamal Hingorani

Kamal Hingorani has worked in the industry for almost 20 years, during which he has undertaken various roles: VFX Producer, VFX Shoot Supervisor, Visual Effects Supervisor, and an artist. He has experience designing, creating, and directing some of Indian television’s most magical imagery while also winning the Best Visual Effects award five times along the way. He has also established and managed VFX production studios, his first being Colour Cubes (2006-2012, with more than 15 personnel to act as a VFX vendor for large production houses. He is currently the Co-Founder/VFX Producer & VFX Supervisor in Any Mediaworx, a studio that he set up in 2017 along with his partner Yogen Thakker.

On VFX/Visual Effects: In Talk with Kamal Hingorani and Mukul Rawat

Dr.Mukul Rawat 

Dr.Mukul Rawat has been in this industry for the past 26 years. He got his Ph.D. in Biochemistry from AIIMS, New Delhi, following which he spent the next 9 years as a research scientist in the USA, working on gene cloning of Mycobacterium Leprae, and Hepatitis B Virus among other things. He did a filmmaking course in 1993 and in 1995, he got into the filmmaking line of work with Ad films. He was the writer and director for the 1998 sci-fi serial Captain Vyom. He established the animation and VFX team Maya the Magic Shop. He was the DA for the Aamir Khan film Ghulam, for which he also did the VFX. He headed the CMM studios while doing VFX for several features, serials with a team of 100 2-D and 3-D animators, compositors, and graphic artists. He pioneered the use of motion control cameras in Bollywood for Rahul Rawail directed Kuch Khatti  Kuch Meethi. He was entrusted with the most challenging VFX work. He had to create actress Kajol’s double and a double of her double as well (so quadruple role). As an independent VFX supervisor, Dr. Rawat has done more than 35 features, the most popular being Raaz 1. He has also been nominated for several nominations. He has also worked as COO of Shemaroo Ent. establishing the DI pipeline (Bal Ganesh, Ghatotkach, and several others).

Now, before we proceed with the interview, we will take a quick glimpse at the history of VFX. It’s as compelling as the interview itself, we assure you. Well for starters, did you know, visual effects existed as early as 1857? 

Oscar Gustave Rejlander pioneered the world’s first “special effects”. He did it by putting together different segments of 32 negatives into one single image, creating a montaged combination print. This inspired further practices and new developments. Eventually, Alfred Clark committed to a technique that is now widely accepted as the first motion-picture special effect in 1895.

Georges Melies is considered the ‘Father of VFX’. He is famous for his innovations in motion pictures. He used techniques such as double-exposure, stop motion, and slow motion. Since he was one of the first to film fictional narratives, he is regarded as the inventor of special effects in movies.

You must have seen the blue and green screens used for these VFX effects. These colours are furthest from the skin tones on a colour wheel. Thus, they are clear chroma keys featuring performers. Usually, black, grey, and white seamless backgrounds are used for still photography. In such cases, attention to clothing and lighting is imperative. The black material is used to absorb excess light.

However, in earlier times, before the blue and green screens came into use, the black screen was predominantly used for such special effects. This type of screen allowed selective exposure opportunities and playing with contrast enabled hiding undesirable objects. For example, black threads were used to move objects against a black background allowing the ability to mask those threads. Another good way to use the black screen was using cut outs and mixing the edges with the background, thus allowing an integration with the shot.

It’s important that we bring your attention to VFX in the Indian filmmaking scenario. After all, it has a history of its own. Indian VFX has gone through a phenomenal evolution. We had Dada Saheb Phalke who was the first person to use VFX for his film Raja Harishchandra. Then we had the Tamil/Telugu movie Maya Bazaar (1957) which introduced a modernised VFX in India. These days, we enjoy the rich grandeur of Bahubali. 

Now to take this conversation further, we turn to our esteemed guests of the hour. 

Vanshika: How has been the change between shooting on location to now shooting using green screens? Which process is more strenuous?

Kamal Hingorani: Shooting against the green screen can be both comfortable & strenuous, depending on how prepared the crew is. If the director, DOP/Cameraman, actors & VFX team know what they’re doing then it’s a comfortable space to be in. It requires a lot of planning & preparation. Storyboards & animatics have been a life saviour.

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Vanshika: Between shooting on location/sets and using VFX, which process is more time-consuming? 

Kamal Hingorani: I’m sure shooting on set can be more time-consuming as we have to keep shifting the cameras as per the angles of the live location. Lights have to be shifted in case we are doing opposite angles. VFX requires a dedicated team of professionals willing to put in enough time.

Vanshika: Which is costlier, shooting on locations/sets or getting VFX done?

Kamal Hingorani: Shooting on real locations is a costly affair, but if not well-prepared shooting on a green screen can be costlier. 

Vanshika: What were the techniques used in older movies or tv shows for VFX?

Kamal Hingorani: The most commonly known & used techniques in the older movies were projection or paintings. They would give the illusion that the actors are in a particular location, or probably while driving. For example, they would have to play the footage of a moving road, project it on a wall behind the car where the actors are seated, then keep the camera stationary. This way the directors would get their shots in-camera and wouldn’t have to go for VFX or extra post-production time.

Nowadays projection is coming back with a more realistic approach with gaming software (like the unreal engine), where the background is projected on an LED wall which is connected to the computer, which gets information of the position & magnification of the camera which uses trackers. This way the director is no more restricted to taking fixed shots, he can move the camera around. The other technique was Optical Illusion which was used in the first Star Wars movie. Then, the use of miniatures, which are still used till date.

Vanshika: What has helped in the revolution in VFX in Indian cinema? 

Kamal Hingorani: It’s the stories that help VFX supervisors & artists to think ahead and do some research and concept art to push the boundaries. We need to respect our writers who provide us with that kind of source material that forces us to brainstorm.

Producers nowadays understand that certain imagery can’t be achieved on camera and that the VFX process will consume time & money. So, they are ready to invest in both of them. Thus, the team is able to come out with breathtaking visuals.

Vanshika: How important are stories and writer’s vision in terms of VFX?

Mukul Rawat: The role of a writer is extremely important. VFX is only effective if it helps successful storytelling. That comes from the creativity and imagination attempted by the writer and what is required to bring life on the screen. 

Despite, the efforts on the end of the writers in terms of exploring new realms and the monetary support by producers, VFX in Indian cinema is lagging behind. When we compare the VFX work done in India with a Hollywood movie, we see stark differences in quality. Bahubali, a movie that was deemed as the pinnacle of VFX in the history of Indian cinema doesn’t have the ability to receive appreciation from international audiences.

On VFX/Visual Effects: In Talk with Kamal Hingorani and Mukul Rawat

On VFX/Visual Effects: In Talk with Kamal Hingorani and Mukul Rawat

Vanshika: What is the reason behind the relatively poor quality of the Indian VFX? Why aren’t we able to match up to international standards?

Mukul Rawat: The most important reason is that our budgets for film and VFX are less than one-hundredth of a Hollywood film and that we cannot afford new developing techniques and technologies. Yet another aspect is we never developed technology-based idioms such as sci-fi, which was the starting point in Hollywood cinema. We are confined to our operative storytelling and never developed a market for experimental and novel ideas.

However, there are certain movies that remind us that Indian cinema has the potential to tap into new horizons of exploration within VFX. Films like Mr. India, Ghulaam, Raju Chacha, Kuch Khatti Kuch Meethi, RaOne, and Bahubali did have good VFX work.

Vanshika: How can India progress in terms of VFX?

Mukul Rawat: We have more talent and workforce available than anybody else and all that is mostly used or outsourced by foreign films. We need to create the domestic market and sustain it. That requires developing the required idiom and the grammar for experimental storytelling.

Vanshika: Would you like to give any tips for those who are interested in pursuing a career in VFX?

Mukul Rawat: Go for it if only you are passionate about it and you won’t be disappointed. If you go for earning money only then you may not go very far.

Here’s to a bright future for VFX in Indian cinema!

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Author’s note: This article may not have been possible had I not been motivated by my mentor Vaishali ma’am to cover this topic. She gave me ample guidance. Thank you to my father, Prashant Lakhani (film editor, script writer, director, and creative producer) who keeps the flame of wanting to learn and explore more alive within me and also for his insights and contacts. However, the biggest credit goes to Mukul Rawat sir and Kamal Hingorani for being very patient and kind while answering my questions. Your contribution has enabled the article to take the shape it has.

Author Biographical Note: Vanshika Lakhani is pursuing her degree in Mass Communications and  Journalism from Jai Hind College. She is also an alumnus of St. Xavier's College from where she studied Arts. She reviews films, web shows, books, and music. Her articles have also been published on other portals like Film Companion and Cafe Dissensus Everyday. She is a huge content enthusiast and enjoys talking to people who tell her about new content to consume. Now she is associated with Explore Screen: The Cognitive Dialogue as an intern. 

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