‘I felt I was in a factory’

Art Director Sabu Cyril gives an insight into the production design of ‘Baahubali’

July 17, 2015 07:43 pm | Updated 07:46 pm IST - HYDERABAD:

The photograph shows some of the weapons and armour designed for Baahubali

The photograph shows some of the weapons and armour designed for Baahubali

Sabu Cyril and his team had a scientific approach to design weapons for Baahubali . The swords had to be light yet strong as steel. “We used carbon fibre that’s used to manufacture helicopter blades,” says the production designer, enjoying the break before work resumes for the second part.

Three and a half years ago, the four-time National Award winner moved to Hyderabad to give shape to director Rajamouli’s vision. “He came to Bombay and narrated the story. I knew it was a period film with a fictitious kingdom. I understood the scale of the film he had envisioned when he showed me an image of a gigantic waterfall on Photoshop,” says Cyril.

The team shot at the 98-feet waterfalls in Chalakudy, Kerala. The rest is the work of production design and visual effects. “We recreated eight portions of steep rocks, 45 feet high, and water was continuously pumped and recycled from a tank while shooting scenes where Prabhas is climbing the rocks. All this has been enhanced using computer generated graphics (CGI). This is the first time I’ve been so impressed with CGI,” says Syril.

Sabu Cyril isn’t new to large-scale films. He thought he’d done his best for Priyadarshan’s Kaalapani (1995). He says years later he outdid himself for Farah Khan’s Om Shanti Om (2007), followed by Shankar’s Endhiran (2010). There are a host of other biggies to his credit. Then came Baahubali. Along with a 200-strong team, he dedicated himself to the film. A year of pre-production included six months of designing and creating set pieces, rocks and mystical water bodies that surround Mahishmati kingdom. “We were making something or the other until we finished shooting,” laughs Cyril.

Baahubali doesn’t specify a time period. This ensured creative freedom and at the same time, posed a test. “When you know you’re recreating, say, the Kalinga period, you know where to look for reference for architecture, clothing and weapons. Mahishmati is a powerful kingdom in a period before the use of gun powder,” he says.

The detailing on the palaces is just enough to hook attention, without getting intricate. “We used embossed pieces of brass and granite. The detailing is visible on the throne and the single stone carved chairs in the palace,” he says. Cyril took references from monolithic structures of Ajanta and Ellora and the temples of Mahabalipuram from the Pallava era. “The stone style is similar but we gave it an orange hue. We tried many variations before arriving at what we thought would be apt for the film,” he adds.

The real test of workmanship came while designing the arms. His team designed around 10,000 swords, helmets and armours required for the soldiers. “I felt I was in a factory,” says Cyril. The factory-like production had to fulfil certain criteria. “Rajamouli was sure of what he wanted and that helped us push ourselves further. The balance of the sword had to be right, the huge log that the Kalakeya tribe uses on Mahishmati warriors had to look heavy but shouldn’t be too heavy to handle for the actors,” he explains.

Rana’s statue and the rocks tossed and broken by Prabhas were all the work of the production department. “This must have been the first time an art department employed cranes. We were creating huge things,” says Cyril. Rajput, Greek and Roman references were influences that came in while designing head gear for Prabhas and Rana, with variations that signified their characters.

“Rana’s gear is spiky compared to that of Prabhas,” says Cyril.

The huge numbers that Baahubali is garnering is yet to sink in. Cyril has set his eyes on the concluding part. “About 50 per cent of the film has been shot. We have six months of work left,” he says.

Will he then need a breather from big films? “I’ll get bored taking up a project that anyone can do. I like challenges. I could have worked in six to eight films in the time I worked on Baahubali but this is a once-in-a-lifetime project. When I look back, I’ll be glad,” he signs off.

The missing credit

A few days ago, art director Manu Jagadh lashed out at the Baahubali team citing that his name was missing from the credits, while Sabu Cyril’s name was highlighted. Cyril explains, “Manu worked with the team for seven months. We had another art director Anil Jadhav as well in the team. Manu’s omission from the credits was an error. These things are taken care of by the director’s department and I am sure this will be rectified soon.”

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