Indian effects companies expect big changes

Lost amid all the debate over the historical accuracy of hit period romancer “Jodhaa Akbar” was the fact that it showcased Indian special effects on an unprecedented scale.

UTV turned to Tata Elxsi’s Visual Computing Labs to rebuild ruined forts with computer-generated images and used another 200 CG shots in its three battle sequences.

The company, part of the giant Tata conglom, has worked on Hollywood movies including “XXX: State of the Union” as well Indian pictures such as “Dhoom.” Apparently the military plane it created for “Rang de basanti” was sufficiently realistic that the Air Force called to check the producer’s permit. But for the most part, Indian films use few CG effects.

“In the main, special effects are still part of the post-production industry, not a sector in their own right,” say DQ Entertainment boss Taapas Chakravarti. “It has taken animation outsourcing 25 years to get to where it is today, gaming production took off in the last two years, and special effects could do so over the next three to four years.”

Hollywood is certainly interested in outsourcing to India, which boasts a fast-expanding animation sector and a world-beating IT industry. Warner Bros. Motion Picture Imaging last year formed an alliance with India’s Prasad Corp. to provide digital post-production and restoration services to Indian, Hollywood and international clients. Being literally the opposite side of the world from California can mean that jobs are passed back and forth for work during the night, and the two companies are building a dedicated high-speed line.

A year ago, Sony Pictures Imageworks acquired a 51% stake in Indian visual effects and animation studio FrameFlow. The 4-year-old company, which was involved in a dozen movies including “Click,” “Ghost Rider” and “Spider-Man 3,” has since been renamed Imageworks India. Sony says it is interested in real partnership, not simply outsourcing, and that it will expand the unit to 300 staff.

More fundamental change is to come. Eros is creating Eyeqube, a purpose-built effects facility around “Matrix” and “Harry Potter” ace Charles Darby. ”Visual effects will change the way Indian films are made,” enthuses Eros COO Jyoti Deshpande. “India is still driven by (onscreen) talent. But if you look at the top 100 films from Hollywood nearly all are animated or VFX-heavy films — the film becomes the hero.”

Deshpande says that to succeed, India will have to ditch some of its IT sector mentalities and get creative.

“We don’t want to be jobbers. We want effects designers as part of the daily set, thinking of scenes alongside directors,” she says.

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