Remember the song sequence, ‘Oru Koodai Sunlight,’ in Sivaji which showcased a stunningly fair-skinned Rajinikanth? It was not mere colour correction or make-up that helped achieve it. It was digital skin-grafting, a technique that involved a lot of experiment and diligence. The six-and-a-half-minute screen time took one year of hard work! CG wizards Srinivas Mohan and Jayakumar, the helmsmen of the firm, Indian Artists, were behind the Sivaji spectacle.

Said to be the first such attempt in computer graphics in the world, the industry of the team has paid off, and how! The two will walk the hall of fame in New Delhi on October 21, when they receive the National Award for Special Effects for the year 2007 for their splendid effort in Sivaji. This will be their second All-India win after the award for Navodaya’s 3D stereoscope, Magic Magic in 2002.

“Shankar, K.V. Anand, make-up artist Banu and 25 of our CG artists toiled with us to make it work,” they say.

Director Shankar discussed his idea with them before he went to Rahman for the song. “If it can’t be done, the sequence will fall flat. And once you give me the assurance and I go ahead, you have to make it work,” he had told them. Srinivas Mohan took two days to work on the possibilities. Rough tests yielded positive results and he gave Shankar the green signal.

Indian Artists first studied the European complexion in detail. When compared to the hero’s dark complexion, Srinivas found fair skin to be more translucent. Meticulously, K.V. Anand, ‘ Sivaji’s cinematographer, re-shot every single movement of Rajinikanth, with Jacky, a young English woman, with flushed cheeks, whose skin was later to be digitally grafted on the superstar. (Jacky was one of the many dancers, who swayed to the beats of ‘Oru Koodai’ in the background.) For every shot, Anand had to change the lighting to suit the fair skin and vice versa. All of the 630 shots of the hero and the other 630 with Jacky were scanned in 4K resolution to enhance clarity. The parts of the body (face, hands and legs) of the two that had been captured in the 9000 scanned frames were then separated, and the white skin was mapped on Rajinikanth’s image using software. Whew!

Said to be an innovation, the Sivaji achievement has been noticed in CG circles worldwide.

Not just Sivaji, Indian Artists have been part of director Shankar’s team since Indian. “Jayakumar met Shankar in the U.S., and Venky a specialist in such effects helped us set the ball rolling,” says Srinivas.

Impressive repertoire

Besides nearly all of Shankar’s films, their impressive repertoire includes Dhool, Ghilli and Kuruvi. Who can forget the CG magic in Ramana where an entire apartment complex is burnt down and Vijayakanth finds Simran burnt in a sitting posture! He touches and the ashes crumble! “The scene won plaudits, thanks to Murugadoss. Creating fire and water are the most challenging in CG,” says Srinivas. “Their movement and direction cannot be controlled, so simulation becomes essential.”

The water they’ve created for Eeram sends a chill down your spine!

Can you believe it? In Anniyan, the innumerable buffaloes that chase the villain into a den is CG done with just one buffalo! “The animals are lethargic and listless in their movements. Nothing can make them agile,” he laughs.

“This is one field where art and technology combine to create miracles. The director should understand both the potential and limitations of CG. Only then can we get the required results. Arivazhagan, director, Eeram, knew what was possible and cameraman Manoj Paramahamsa shot the exact angles we needed to work on. We created the magic of water as an eerie killer without actually using H2O,” smiles Srinivas. “Success lies in incorporating CG without letting the audience know it. No point in making graphics obvious.”

And about Enthiran, their latest? “Hopefully, the intensity of visual effects in Enthiran should make every frame a much-talked about one. The pre-production took one and a half years and we’ve been working on the CG of the film for about two years now! But when hard work gets recognised what more can we ask for?” signs off Srinivas.