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Creating a world of illusion

R. C. Kamalakannan, T. K. Jayakumar, and V. S. M. Mohan of Indian Artists have won the national Award for Visual Effects for the film, "Magic Magic". CHITRA MAHESH talks to them.

(From Left): T. K. Jayakumar, R. C. Kamalakannan and Srinivas Mohan.

VISUAL EFFECTS is all about illusions — create something like it's happening. You take 50 or 60 people and multiply it into thousands of people. You are presenting an illusion that it's happening. That is what visual effect is all about. But to do all this, you require skill — which few people specialise in. Like those who run `Indian Artists,' an organisation started in 1989 at a time when computer graphics was a relatively new field. And the driving forces behind this venture are R. C. Kamalakannan, T. K. Jayakumar, and V. S. M. Mohan. Kamalakannan, who started his career with a 64 K home computer called Commodore for titling his videos, wanted to excel in computer graphics and set afloat this venture when he met Jayakumar, a chartered accountant, and Srinivas Mohan, a programmer turned 3D enthusiast, and now one of the world's best compositing artist. As a trio, they are in the limelight because of the National Award they just won for their work in Jijo's "Magic Magic". They are unassuming, and talk most modestly about their work.

Initially, they worked in the area of subtitling and in small commercials — especially for firms such as JS Films. They then branched into films. Apart from doing several commercials such as LG, Samsung, Fair&Lovely, transition into films was a natural progression. From their first film, "Kaadhalar Dinam" till "Boys," it has been a long haul. "Run", "Magic Magic", "Dhool" and "Ramana" are also some of the films they have worked on. `"Ramana" is our best picture as far as visual effects are concerned. Simply because people couldn't make out the effects — it has been that effective!'' "Magic Magic" is a film for which their work has been nationally recognised.

How do they feel about that? Very good they say. But "Magic Magic" was a little more complicated because it's a three dimensional stereoscopic film directed by Jose.

How do they work on projects? They are very time and cost efficient because they have their own post-production facility where all their work is done. "We oversee the shoot, pre-production work, we discuss with the director, and the cameraman on the set and then decide on the kind of effects that the movie will ultimately sport.''

A scene from the3-D film "Magic Magic"...

For instance, they say a film like Jurassic Park has prehistoric animals — creating them is a separate activity. They are three dimensional character animations. The 3D arm of the studio does the animations and the VFX department composite those 3D characters on the live footage. Usually, in films, there is more of compositing than three-dimensional work. Their work starts from the script stage itself. " The director calls us and then they give their inputs on that. We make a storyboard for approval. Then, go to the location, oversee the shooting part, bring those negatives after editing, which are then scanned and taken into the system for compositing. If there are 3D elements like birds in the background and other things, those are composited as well — all these are then put together, recorded back into the film for the final version.'' It sounds simple but is far from it. How many people are doing this sort of work in India? They say, in India, visual effects started in the north by Shyam Ramanna of Crest Communication while in the south, it is Sai Prasad of Prasad Digital.

"Devdas," they say, has lots of effects — invisible ones. It has blended so well with the film. Ramoji Film city also does this kind of work and then there is us, Indian Artists. There are small entities here and there doing good work too."

Animation is totally different from visual effects. "For commercials, we do lots of 2D animations. We have that software and enough personnel." In India, films have not been released mainly for visual effects like in Hollywood. They are incorporated into a social or comedy theme, or whatever the plot is. And how expensive is it to use visual effects? Not much, they say, compared to what it was earlier. Now it is just one-third of the older cost. And do they see a future in cinema without this? No, because it becomes more important as digital cinema comes in. Then, all the shots have to be colour-corrected to match, and we may have to grade those colours sector-wise.

Which are the films they think are outstanding when it comes to visual effects? Twister, they say very spontaneously. Proprietary software for that Twister effect has been specially written. ``Then of course there is Matrix One and Two-lets hope one day we can do as much if not more in this area.''

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