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‘It was no joke to do 3500 VFX shots for Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy’

One of the VFX shots for Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy

One of the VFX shots for Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy   | Photo Credit: By arrangement

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R C Kamalakannan, the VFX supervisor of some of 2019’s ambitious films, on what went into creating the make-believe worlds of ‘Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy’ and ‘Saaho’

It’s been a year of big budget films aiming to be pan-Indian and capture the collective attention of film lovers, the way the Baahubali series did. Saaho and Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy from Telugu, Pailwaan from Kannada, and the soon-to-release Mamangam from Malayalam are all steps in that direction.

R C Kamalakannan has had an exciting and challenging time supervising the visual effects of three of these films, with the exception of Pailwaan.

Having completed back-to-back projects that traversed diverse genres and time periods, he says, “Saaho is an action adventure, Sye Raa is a biopic narrated in a contemporary style, Mamangam is a story of a Malabar warrior clan. All three are unique and all of them have superstars, which means right from the script till the final colour grading, they will keep a close watch on happenings.” What is common to these projects, he reveals, “the producers fixed impossible deadlines. Collectively it involved more than 7500 VFX shots to be completed within 84 days. It was a learning experience.”

R C Kamalakannan

R C Kamalakannan   | Photo Credit: By arrangement

Chennai-bred Kamalakannan began as a stringer to Doordarshan, and then worked on ad films directed by cinematographers P C Sreeram and Rajiv Menon. A number of big budget Tamil and Telugu films followed. With most of these films, the stakes were high and he found himself having to pull off near-impossible tasks.

High-voltage action

Shraddha Kapoor and Prabhas in Saaho

Shraddha Kapoor and Prabhas in Saaho   | Photo Credit: By arrangement

Saaho was shot on multiple sets and many of these had digital extensions to make them appear larger than life. “From Mumbai’s Bandra-Worli Sea Link to Pink Lake (Spencer Lake) in Australia, Leshan Giant Buddha statue to Heaven’s Gate (Tianmen Mountain) in China… real locales had to be created or set-extended using CGI (computer-generated imagery),” explains Kamalakannan. Around 27 studios worldwide worked on the post production.

Filmography
  • Some of the films for which Kamalakannan has worked on the VFX:
  • Telugu: Director Rajamouli’s films — Sye (2004), Yamadonga (2007), Magadheera (2009), Maryada Ramanna (2010), Eega (2012), and Baahubali 2 (2017); and a few other films.
  • Tamil: Kadhalar Dhinam (1999; Premikula Roju in Telugu); 7aum Arivu (2011; Seventh Sense in Telugu); Kaththi (2014)

The action sequences choreographed by Kenny Bates were talking points. Kamalakannan calls Bates a thorough professional and observed how he brought his own crew for the stunt rigs. Without divulging what was real and what was enhanced through visual effects, he states, “Some of the shots viewers thought as CGI are live action sequences and vice-versa. I joked to the producer that what was supposed to be CGI they were shooting and what was supposed to be shot, they were asking for CGI.” The stunt portions apart, he says the Pink Lake song sequence with CGI flamingos was a challenging one to pull off.

3500 VFX shots

Soon after the release of Sye Raa, the VFX supervisor remarked that it’s unlikely that a south Indian film will have more than 3500 VFX shots any time soon. Sye Raa has that distinction and the VFX team, cinematographer Rathnavelu and production designer Rajeevan Nambiar came in for appreciation.

Kamalakannan credits the talented crew and elaborates, “It’s no joke to do 3500 VFX shots. I had good assistants. The director (Surender Reddy) appointed an assistant director exclusively to coordinate with the VFX team, and it made a world of difference in the work flow.”

Sye Raa involved a gamut of techniques. Three-dimensional scans of Chiranjeevi were taken to record his facial expressions as digital data, at the beginning of the schedule. “The film also had digital extensions, crowd FX (digital effects), liquid sim shots, full CGI shots and the entire VFX works,” says Kamalakannan.

Chiranjeevi in Sye Raa

Chiranjeevi in Sye Raa   | Photo Credit: By arrangement

What helped was that he was working simultaneously on Saaho. He had already been in touch with emerging global studios and could use their services for both films. The effort paid off: “I felt happy when in an interview, director Trivikram Srinivas mentioned that the VFX shots have blended beautifully,” he says.

A particular area of challenge was making the sequences involving animals as real as possible. “The challenge with using 3D digital characters, like that of animals, is that the audience can point out when it’s real and when it isn’t,” he points out. When he was working on Eega, he worked with a small Houdini studio in Moscow to do character animation outputs. He collaborated with them again in Baahubali 2, but only for digital effects. For Sye Raa, he liaised with the same studio for the Ongole bull episode. “They did it beautifully,” he says.

Without disclosing the name, he reveals that a studio that handled the much-appreciated pre-intermission coronation episode in Baahubali 2 was roped in for a few segments of Sye Raa, “This team was also working on Saaho and had only a month to deliver the Sye Raa shots. They did a fabulous job too. So, there was contribution from different studios that made Sye Raa as realistic as possible in the given time.”

Next, Kamalakannan is working on the Prabhas-starrer Jaan directed by K K Radhakrishna.

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Printable version | Jan 28, 2020 11:10:07 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/vfx-supervisor-r-c-kamalakannan-on-what-went-into-creating-the-make-believe-worlds-of-sye-raa-narasimha-reddy-and-saaho/article30026275.ece

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