The first step is always to know the film or the series we are working on. To read the scripts, watch offlines, listen to the music, speak to the creatives of the show - all of this helps build the world in our heads - the visual and audio themes. Once we feel we are well versed with the world, we're ready to start ideation.
When We Look at Sacred Games and the Importance of Mandalas (and related symbols), is This Process of Conceptualisation Any Different?
A still from the Sacred Games opening sequence.
Our process is always the same for all projects, because it's important to understand what the creators want to say with their work. We don't really like to pick favourites while we're working because you never know how well it will be received by an audience later.
The mandala was actually a very integral part of the story, which was evident in the script itself. The individual episode titles were already coined by Varun (Grover) and his team and we felt that they were really well conceived in summation of the episodes. We also wanted the episode titles to get the attention they deserved.
Coincidentally, we had just returned from a trip to Leh where we saw a lot of gorgeous Tibetan mandalas and were fascinated by the art form. We knew that the story of Sacred Games was actually several stories within stories that were revealed over the duration of the season, and mandalas use the same storytelling technique. We wanted to depict the same concept in our design as well.
That's why we decided to make individual mandalas for each episode with a central symbol that represented the title - and each of the symbols from every episode would feature in the main SG logo mandala. This gave us the opportunity to create sixteen unique designs - eight for each season of the show.
Tell Us About Your Involvement in the Opening Sequence of Made in Heaven?
A still from the Made in Heaven opening sequence.
The Made in Heaven title sequence was entirely Excel's baby. The concept was to create a mood montage of wedding films to show the diversity of emotions and cultures within Indian weddings. When we were brought on board, The Wedding Filmer (owned by Vishal Punjabi) had already made an offline edit of some of the best moments they had captured. Our brief was to just give the sequence an aesthetic treatment by giving different looks to all the footage so they look like different events and to design and animate the titles as well as the logo.
So with the typeface, we decided to go with the kind of romanticised style and colour which you see in wedding films. But of course, we knew that because of the nature of the show, they would want something classy and simple. In an ideal scenario, we would have collaborated with Vishal and his team on the edit as well, but due to scheduling conflicts, it was handled by the creative teams separately.
Usually, post our first round of creative ideation, we come up with the script and visual themes and mood boards for the sequence - this is where we begin art directing it and "casting" the kind of artists we would like to work with on the specific sequence. This becomes a tedious process, which is why Yashoda (Parthasarthy) and I are very active on social media, constantly watching work that is being produced and interfacing with artists we can collaborate with.
When Working on a Project, What is the Role of the Artist You are Collaborating With?
The role of the artist is usually to bring in their visual style and flavour to the sequence. We make sure it's always the concept that dictates the art form, and hence the artist. Of course, once we get an artist on board, they are always given a free hand to ideate with us and become as much a part of the process as they wish.
In the case of Solo, a Tamil-Malayalam bi-lingual film by Bejoy Nambiar, a main-on-end title sequence we designed. Since we knew the film was about four different avatars of Shiva linked to the four elements of nature, we pitched the idea of creating a sequence that looked like a painting, but dynamically moved like it was all in 3D. Bejoy fell in love with it.
Once he gave us a go-ahead, we began talking to several artists before we finalised illustrator Vijaykumar Arumugam, colourist Roshan Kurichiyanil and 3D generalist Varun Ramanna as our core members for collaboration.
We came up with the symbols that represented each element with Vijay, post which he completed his outlines. They were then inked and coloured by Roshan and passed on to Varun who then created 3D models based on the illustrations. He projected the artwork onto the 3D models as textures and provided them to us. This gave us the ability to attempt dynamic camera movements around the models, while they still looked entirely hand illustrated. We then created the background for each environment in the same 3D space, along with several camera movements in various magnifications.
In the case of Smoke, the artists were fluid effects Specialist Goldwin Fonseca and cinematographer Harshvir Oberai. The concept for the sequence was to create a trippy and colourful sequence with puffs of smoke in which you saw the faces of the central protagonists of the show. For this, we decided that the best way to execute the smoke would be to shoot it in slow motion.
We spent a lot of time researching the best colour combinations of acrylic paints in water and shot them at 1000fps on a Phantom 4K to give us the kind of variants that would have taken an eternity to simulate and render in 3D. Once we finished the shoot, the huge task of compositing the protagonists faces took several trials, but the producers, Hamari Film Company and Eros Now, were very happy with the end results.
Gustaakh Was Quite a Refreshing and Unique Video. What Role Do You Think VFX Will Come to Play in the Indian Visual Space in the Near Future?
A still from Gustaakh.
Thank you! We're pretty kicked about how Gustaakh turned out as well.
We feel that VFX has come a very long way in the Indian visual space. It's not only the big spectacle films like Bahubali, Padmavat and 2.0 that have flexed VFX muscles, but we're now also seeing Indian writers confidently using VFX as an integral part of storytelling. For example, the rabbit in the beginning of Andhadhun, or the demon Hastar in Tumbbad would never have been penned if we didn't have a solid VFX industry. Indie, dystopian science fiction shows like Leila wouldn't have been possible until the world was built in visual effects. So it's pretty evident that VFX is already emerging as a big part of the Indian cinematic experience and will continue to grow. But under the hood, what's interesting is that a lot of the big ticket Hollywood films have also been in production in India.
Some of the biggest VFX studios like MPC, DNEG, Digital Doman, Method Studios, Legend and Framestore have tie ups with some of the biggest VFX studios in India as well as their own branches in Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Pune.
So, Indian VFX artists have worked on some of the biggest Hollywood projects like the DC and Marvel universe movies, the Fast and Furious series, etc. If you look at the end credits of any of the recent Hollywood blockbuster films, you'll find a lot of Indian names. This has exponentially increased in the past five years.
This will make a big difference in the quality of visual effects in our movies because we now have thousands of super skilled Indian artists who are working with Hollywood supervisors and learning the tricks of the trade from them. Sooner or later, that will start showing in our cinema as well.
The reason for the exponential increase has of course been the democratisation of VFX training by the internet. Earlier, the only way to learn visual effects was to join a studio and learn on the job. Now, there are thousands of free and paid tutorials online and several certified institutes that provide training. Technological advancement also has a part to play here - you can pretty much pull off VFX for an entire feature film on a personal computer these days. And with the advancement of motion tracking and augmented reality, you're even able to do realtime VFX on your phone. We have kids taking selfies on Instagram with puppy ears and snouts that track on their faces realtime - that's probably a hint of the future of where VFX is heading.