How did the Robot look come into being? Srinivas Mohan, the VFX supervisor of Endhiran, shares the details with Malathi Rangarajan
Even as I step into Srinivas Mohan's room I recoil in shock. Rajnikanth, the robot, is standing tall and majestic in a black leather suit, sporting stylish shades! “Come in,” Srinivas, the VFX supervisor of Endhiran, welcomes me with a smile. “Touch the face. It's silicon but feels like real skin.” I do, gingerly, and find the ‘skin' so true-to-life! “Hollywood technicians made 40 versions of Rajni, which were multiplied several times over for the scene where Chitti looks for scientist Vaseegaran from among innumerable robots — that famous ‘Mae Mae' scene, where Chitti bleats?” Srinivas begins.
Did they need mannequins at all? “We could've had 100 men and superimposed Rajni's face on theirs. Or we could have shot Rajni 100 times and combined them. But humans can't replicate robots perfectly and the audience has to know the difference between the real Rajni in the group and the robots. I told director Shankar the options available and suggested we go in for the infallibly robotic mannequins,” Srinivas explains.
It's been three years of ceaseless toil for Shankar, Srinivas, VFX producer T. K. Jayakumar and their team at Indian Artists Computer Graphics. After their National Award for the digital skin they created on Rajni in Sivaji, it's been an entirely Endhiran sojourn for these men. “Pre-production took a year and a half. From storyboarding, every step of Endhiran has been different. Making a film of this magnitude completely in Hollywood would have cost at least 600 crore! But we had the work distributed — some parts in Hollywood, some in Hong Kong and a lot here and in Hyderabad, where P.C. Sanath pitched in,” says Srinivas. “And topping it was Shankar's meticulous planning with pre-visualisation.” What's that? “The entire story with appropriate divisions was shot as 3D animation and everything from camera angles to editing was done on the computer first. Once Shankar locked the final version no changes were made. So time and money were saved at the actual shooting.”
To make it clearer, Srinivas shows me the computer-animated version of the sequence where Chitti is thrown out of the train, his skaters come out from under his feet and he wheels down the tracks — sequences that have helped lionise Rajni more than ever before! “Every minute movement in Endhiran is Shankar's idea, which we've visually created,” Srinivas smiles modestly. “Western technicians found the story and execution innovative and international magazines are going gaga over the production,” he adds.
Stan Winston Studios in the U.S. was given charge of the animatronics of Endhiran and the special make-up for Rajni. Also CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) done here and in Hong Kong's Kinomotive Studios and Menfond Electronics have contributed immensely to Endhiran's unbridled gallop at the box office. “Visual Effects have been used in 2,000 shots, including the dual roles of Rajni which haven't been filmed the usual motion picture control way,” he says. Is it animatronics that rules the climactic sequences with various formations of the figures of Rajini? “No, that's CGI unleashed. Animatronics creates electronically animated puppets. Behind every robot in Endhiran were six puppeteers remotely controlling the movements! But even animatronics needs to be fine-tuned with CGI,” says Srinivas.
Endhiran's editor Antony has also been on the job from the beginning. Generally the editor enters only after shooting is completed. “Cinematographer Ratnavelu was another asset — working industriously all through the project. And work meant from 6 in the morning till midnight. The last six months before the release were particularly crazy. We hardly found time even for a catnap,” laughs Srinivas. “But excitement, which began the moment Shankar called me over to narrate the story, only increased with every passing day.”
“He has taken visual effects to new heights. He deserves an Oscar” — Shankar's words at Endhiran's audio release in Malaysia sum up the filmmaker's impressions of Srinivas' visual effects skill. “‘I knew it would be a job well done but I wasn't prepared for such flawlessness,'” complimented the superstar. And when on seeing the final output Rajni exclaimed, ‘We did it!' words cannot explain my exhilaration,” says Srinivas.