Indian-origin VFX artistes creating special effects waves in Hollywood

From blockbuster features like Thor: The Dark World and Avengers, if it weren’t for the post-credit scenes, many cinegoers would be in the dark about the number of Indians contributing to the lavishly mounted spectacle they have just watched.

Published - July 21, 2019 12:14 pm IST - New Delhi

A scene from Avengers: Infinity War. File

A scene from Avengers: Infinity War. File

The Indian imprint on Hollywood is acquiring, quite literally, new dimensions and the dazzle of special effects in films ranging from extravaganzas like Thor: The Dark World and Avengers to more intimate cinema like The Shape of Water and The Handsmaid’s Tale .

If it weren’t for the post-credit scenes, many cinegoers would be in the dark about the number of Indians contributing to the lavishly mounted spectacle they have just watched.

It takes a village, or in this case a massive industry, and Indians are increasingly a vital part of the VFX (visual effects) credits scrolling up in the darkness of a theatre.

The reasons are many – the comfort level of communicating in English, the ability to get the work done and cheaper costs.

“Indians are known for their hard work, dedication and cheap labour which attract the industry to hire them. Most of the people can speak and communicate well with clients and bosses, which gives them an upper hand compared to other countries,” said Harsimmar Singh, who has worked on Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) biggies like Avengers, Thor: Ragnarok and the award-winning show The Handsmaid’s Tale .

Mr. Singh, who works with Take 5 Productions Inc. in Toronto, recalled his experience of working on Man of Steel when he was in India at the time.

“It was meant to be a big deal for us because the Hollywood studio approached us for labour. We used to make only 5 to 10% of what the artistes used to make in the U.S. and with no overtime pay,” the 29-year-old said.

Countries like Canada, New Zealand and Singapore have emerged as major hubs for employing VFX artistes as they are equipped with animation and VFX schools that offer advanced education in various streams, explained Mumbai-based Shreeraj Nair, Senior Technical Executive, Frameboxx Animations and Visual Effect.

In Canada, The Vancouver Institute of Media Arts and the Vancouver Film School are some of the names that provide Indians an avenue for advanced studies.

“The same goes for New Zealand where there are education centres such as Media Design School, Massey University etc. These centres help them find employment all over the world. Singapore too has its fair share of VFX studios,” Mr. Nair said.

Hollywood may have been going in for a diversity push in its content, but many VFX artistes believe that it’s not all about inclusion.

Indians manage to get these jobs, which require extensive training, skill, precision and talent, courtesy cheap labour and smart and hard work, they said.

Indrajeet Sisodiya, who works as a compositor at Pixomondo’s Toronto branch, said a lot of names from other races and nationalities cropping up in the end credits is just another phenomenon in the industry.

“It has been happening gradually over the years as Indian artistes slowly started getting accepted for overseas VFX study courses leading them overseas work opportunities. Others who are immensely talented in VFX in India get jobs offered directly from overseas studios and that’s another way of entering Hollywood,” Mr. Sisodiya said.

He has worked on Hollywood blockbusters such as Fate of the Furious and is currently working on director Roland Emmerich’s Midway.

Another reason for more Indian names out there is because many of these artistes aren’t actually overseas but working in India with international VFX studios opening up branches in cities like Mumbai and Bengaluru.

Thor: The Dark World , for instance, was outsourced to Prana Studios Ltd (Mumbai) and Bengaluru-based Mr. X contributed to 2018 Oscar winner The Shape of Water.

“This gives a lot of talented Indian artists the opportunity to work for big Hollywood banners. And, if they are good enough, they are even given an opportunity by the VFX companies abroad,” said Montreal-based Sumit Panchasara, who works with Moving Pictures Company.

According to Mr. Panchasara, whose credits include Dumbo and the upcoming Angelina Jolie-starrer Maleficent: Mistress of Evil , while most of the CG (computer graphics) assets of Academy Award winner Life of Pi were developed in India, Disney’s Tinkerbell series was entirely created here.

Pranjal Choudhary, of Toronto’s Mavericks VFX, said the number of VFX shots in movies have gone up. VFX companies in the West have opted to outsource a lot of work to their Indian counterparts as India easily has an advantage in terms of turnovers.

“A lot of these big Marvel movies are just not possible to make without employing thousands of Indian VFX artistes. It also allows the artistes in Hollywood to focus more on the creative aspect of the project,” said Mr. Choudhary, who worked on 2014 Best Visual Effects Oscar winner Gravity .

Earlier this month, many Indian and Indian-origin names, including Sherry Bharda of Hichki fame and Srinivas Mohan, best known for his work on 2.0 and Baahubali: The Beginning , were invited to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science (AMPAS) to represent the Visual Effects department.

Mr. Nair said it is about time Indian artistes in this field got their due.

“It’s amazing to know that such talented Indian VFX artistes have been invited to the AMPAS. Indian visual effects artistes are getting their much deserved recognition,” he said.

“It’s also an indication of exciting times ahead for the Indian visual effects sector,” he added.

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