Akhauri P. Sinha walks MINI ANTHIKAD-CHHIBBER through the magic of VFX, which makes James Bond look cooler, the monsters meaner, and Richard Parker more majestic

Special effects are now so much a part of films that we don’t even think twice about it. “That is the thing about this business,” says Akhauri P. Sinha, Managing Director of MPC Bangalore, which has handled special effects of some of the biggest blockbusters in recent times. “The better you get, the more invisible you are. We are the anonymous part of showbiz.”

With the parent company in London, MPC has branches in New York, Los Angeles, Vancouver and now Bangalore. “We are two years old,” Akhauri comments, showing us around the plush office in Whitefield where the walls are decorated with posters of the movies worked on, including Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger tides, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Fast Five, X-Men First Class, Dark Shadows, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows and Prometheus.

Two of the season’s biggest films, the latest James Bond film, Skyfall and Life of Pi have work by MPC. “In Skyfall towards the end of the film, the castle where Bond and M wait for Silva looks very different in reality compared to its cinematic look,” said Akhauri, showing before and after shots. And it is nothing short of dramatic as the lake and mountains were added on digitally to enhance the bleak, lands’ end vision for the final stand-off.

For Life of Pi, Akhauri says: “MPC’s areas of work included creating two massive storm sequences: the sinking of Pi’s cargo ship The Tsimtsum, and the Storm of God, the dramatic climax to Pi’s journey aboard his marooned lifeboat. Other work included animating over 20 panicked animals aboard the sinking ship, creating a CG lizard, hornbill and cassowaries for the opening titles and the first shots of Pi leaving India on board The Tsimtsum. By the way, planning and execution of the storm sequences took over two years to complete!”

“The VFX team would be involved at the script stage itself,” Akhauri says describing the process. “They need to be present at the shoot for an idea of what needs to be masked and so on. For example, Ridley Scott had basic sketches of how the alien planet would look in Prometheus. From those sketches, to actualise his vision is where the VFX team steps in. Specific artistes take on specific jobs to flesh out the director’s vision.”

Considering how porous the Internet can be and with all work being done online, security can be a concern. “The Internet is a double-edged sword. On the one hand geography doesn’t matter — you could be working in London or Vancouver or Bangalore. But on the other hand there are security concerns, which any content owner will have. However, there are procedures, protocols and firewalls in place. We work on a proprietary pipeline.”

Speaking about the VFX scene in India, Akhauri says: “There are some very talented people in India today. The newer breed of filmmakers does not hesitate to use technology. However, you must remember that VFX is expensive. Movies such as Ra.One, Robot, Magadheera and Eega create an expanding frame of reference. I am delighted that stories like Eega are getting made into films. It is a concept that would have been unthinkable had the VFX industry not made the strides it has. Kudos to Rajamouli!”

Akhauri says the biggest high is “Crew screenings. We book the hall and watch the film we’ve worked on. Woe to anyone in the audience who has not worked on the film because there would be so many comments, hooting, whistling and cheering that they would not be able to watch the film in peace!”

Suresh Hari, HoD, Roto/Prep and Jigesh Gajjar, HoD, Matchmove, accompany us when we go to the screening room to look at the screeners. Even though I know there is an entire team working to create the kraken in Clash of Titans or the wall of shattering glass in Quantum of Solace, there is still shock and awe as the images unspool.

While Suresh’s favourite film tends towards the classic with Star Wars, Jigesh was sold on the “opening shot in The Matrix. That was when I decided to work in special effects.” Jigesh had a chance to work on The Matrix Revolutions when he was working at ESC Entertainment in the US.

Even though films are all about selling an illusion, VFX according to Suresh is definitely rooted in the real world. “We have tools to make fur and then there are groomers who would cut and style the fur!”

“The devil is in the details,” Jigesh chimes in. “We’ve booked time in the zoo to watch animals, we’ve hired anatomy and physics experts to tell us how the muscle would move for so much weight, height and distance. Take a dragon for instance. It is a mythical creature. But we need to work out the wing span that would keep an animal of that size airborne.”

“Even if the creature doesn’t exist in the real world, it is our job to root it in reality,” says Akhauri. “While you are watching the most fantastical things on screen, somewhere at the back of your head you are unconsciously processing what you see. And if it doesn’t obey the laws of the natural world at some level, then it is not believable and would not work.”

The reality behind the smoke and mirrors!

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