What the ‘hell’ is that!

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spine-chilling A scene from Anniyan
spine-chilling A scene from Anniyan

animation Tata Elxsi’s VCL won the National Film Award for Best Special Effects for “Anniyan” recently

When director Shankar wanted to recreate hell for his film Anniyan, he made a call to Tata Elxsi’s VCL (Visual Computing Labs). Three months of animation work and one blockbuster later, the VCL team has won the 53rd National Film Award for Best Special Effects for its work in Anniyan.

“It’s great working with Shankar,” says Pankaj Khandpur, creative director at VCL who worked with the director on Boys as well. “He doesn’t let anything stop him from achieving his vision and is constantly raising the bar.”

Interesting project

It was Shankar’s vision for — the website that takes Vikram’s character through all the punishments that await sinners in hell — that led him to VCL. Working closely with him, they conceptualised and created ‘hell’ in 3D animation — choosing punishments from the ancient Scriptures and designing the website’s Grim Reaper-like guide astride his bull.

“We tried to stay true to the Scriptures, while creating imagery that wasn’t too gory,” says Pankaj. “It was an interesting project since we had to visualise it all without any reference point.”

Then there was also the ‘cosmic’ zoom scene over Chennai city from the clouds down to street level — something that no real camera can achieve. “Aerial views and paintings of Chennai city were stitched together along with computer generated images (CGI) of clouds to create this long, one-piece camera zoom,” explains Pankaj.

The Mumbai-based company has been in the animation business for five years now, doing a lot of work for Bollywood and Hollywood films (Spiderman 3, Ghostrider and Into the Blue to name a few). Only, audiences aren’t aware that CGI work has gone into the films. For example, did you know that the airfield and jet planes in Rang De Basanti are all CGI? Or that the rain, snow and sleet in Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna were computer generated? How about the fact that the 50,000 spectators and the cars were added into every race scene in Tararumpum using computers?

“A lot of the visual effects we do are unseen, and it’s a credit to us when the audience doesn’t detect them,” says Pankaj. Some of their most subtle work goes into historical films, such as Gandhi My Father, where they recreated Durban’s port to look like it did all those years ago. Right now, they’re busy recreating massive battle sequences involving hundreds of thousands of soldiers and armies of elephants for Jodha Akhbar, as well as working on Drona and Aamir Khan’s Taare Zameen Pe.

So the next time you watch a movie, keep an eye out for those special effects. Whether it’s a fantasy song ‘Girlfriend’ in Boys or the death-defying stunts of Dhoom 2, it’s highly likely that you’re watching the VCL crew’s work.




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