Joe Gareri of Sony Image Works talks about the art of visual effects in films

Did you know that Spidey got a few of his superpowers from visual effects artists sitting in Chennai?

A big chunk of visual effects that Hollywood employs is actually done here at Sony Pictures Imageworks, Chennai. Artists here are currently working on Disney's Oz: The Great and the Powerful and Smurfs 2.

Joe Gareri, General Manager of Sony Image Works, spoke at length about the art of visual effects when he inaugurated the Shasun Film Club at the Shri Shankarlal Sundarbai Shasun Jain College for Women.

We caught up with Gareri, who had also worked as the visual effects producer on the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, Men In Black-2, Mask-2 and The Ring for an interview.

“Years ago, only a few films had visual effects. Today, every film has some sort of clean up that's needed, apart from the planned visual effects,” says Gareri. “In the bigger films, such as The Amazing Spiderman 3D, you know in your heart there's no way someone can do that...But there are some visual effects that are invisible. We do our job right, and nobody knows we did anything. The idea is that you stay with the story.”

Joe has now worked out of Chennai for five years at Sony Pictures Imageworks with a team of 120 visual effects artists. He finds the movie-going experience very different.

“I watched Ra.One because a friend of mine was the visual effects supervisor on that film. That was done really well. Every time I go to a movie theatre here, it's packed. In the U.S., everybody's quiet. Here everybody's screaming and dancing, phones are ringing... It's an amazing experience.”

How does he rate Indian talent for visual effects? “For the most part, Indian talent is very good. Guys in the U.S. can't believe the work we have done here. We mostly do the set-up work here, before the animation is put into place. We have to be quick and good in what we do. The artists here have really come a long way in understanding what is expected. When we were working on Spiderman in 3D stereo, it took the guys little time to get up to speed since working with 3D plates requires a different approach than working with 2D but by the end of Spiderman, they got it.” He prefers to call them artists and not just technicians.

“The thing that impresses me is their willingness to learn and do it better. Some of the artists that I have worked with in the past in the U.S. would get frustrated. They would think they are too good. To be a good visual effects artist, you have to understand different aspects and the artists here are really good at that. It does take a bit of time to gain that understanding but they are willing to learn and improve. That's the biggest cultural difference between artists here and there.”

He believes that Indian films just have a different way of looking at visual effects. “It's not lack of creativity. It's just a different way, different style of expressing. It's not like Hollywood does better visual effects. If they had better budgets and more time here, they would appreciate it more.”

The big leap in the visual effects business over the last few years has been the shift from 2D to 3D based effects. “I think over the last two or three years, people have realised that not every film needs to be converted to 3D. Some films look good on 3D and some don't need 3D. The big jump is more in terms of character animation. Like what we did for The Green Lantern where we had to replace his whole body with animation. A few years ago, when you had got animation done, you would prefer the camera not to move. Today, we have the technology to track a plate when the camera moves, with a lot of foreground action. Technology has grown and we keep up with it by ensuring that we have quality training staff to teach the freshers about the latest plug-ins that are developed every few months.”