Amit Gupta, Prime Focus
Shaxeb Shaikh | 05 November 2007
For years now, Indian animators and graphic designers have only been helping hands on visual effects shots for Hollywood movies. Franchises including ‘The Lord of the Rings’, ‘Spiderman’ and ‘Shrek’ have all had Indian professionals working on them, albeit in rather small ways. But even with all this experience, Indian companies have never been given the opportunity to handle all visual effects for a movie. Prime Focus, a leading VFX and post production company in India has shattered this barrier and produced visual effects for over 100 shots for ‘28 Weeks Later’. Released on May 11, 2007, the sequel to the cult hit ‘28 Days Later’ reached the top 5 of both the US and UK movie charts and has received rave reviews across the globe for its bloodcurdling plotline and visual effects. We hooked up with the affable Amit Gupta and spoke about ‘28 Weeks Later’ (Find the trailer on the CHIP-DVD) and the prospect of Indian companies executing visual effects in Hollywood movies.
Q. Finally, the Digital Intermediate (D.I.) process and the VFX of a Hollywood movie (‘28 Weeks Later’) have been handled entirely by an Indian firm, Prime Focus. Even though there have always been Indians involved on major projects, none have ever been given the opportunity to undertake a complete project. What took this development so long?
A. (Instantly) Perception business. Nobody in Hollywood thinks that we (Indians) are capable of handling a complete project. We have always been just a low cost solution for the foreign VFX market. So, we may do even a ‘Spiderman’ but we would still end up doing clean-up shots and are never offered the major shots which would have the hero, some other significant mug shots or the really good-looking sequences. We would be offered clean-up shots at dirt cheap rates compared to the prices of an American or British VFX company.
Q. Do you think this is the beginning of an exciting trend which will see more Indian VFX companies get complete start-to-end projects from the west?
A. As I mentioned earlier, it is a matter of perception and gaining the confidence of the client, no matter what it takes. From an Indian point of view, the international market is virgin and we have found a barrier and then the way around it. We took the route of taking over a British company but that’s not the only way to get entire projects. The other VFX firms here will have to find their own ways to achieve these ends. At the end of the day, it is a case of the chicken and the egg. You need to find yourself a big start-to-end project and then the offers and openings follow.
Q.28 Weeks Later: can you tell us about your pipeline, the workforce and technology used?
A. It consisted of basic file and data structure management, and an approval process with the client. Our data structure at all our facilities is standardized hence the file structure and naming, the software used, the colors across monitors in London and India, are all standardized. There is usually a huge requirement of 2D and 3D data on projects like ‘28 Weeks Later’, there needs to be an efficient film production pipeline to manage all the data and we have made our proprietary model. With respect to the shot approvals, we break it up into different parts instead of just sending the final edited shot and waiting for the client to send changes and then reworking them. So, we send layouts of the shot, then the edits, so on and so forth by which we maintain a tight progressive workflow.
Q. Considering the rate at which Prime Focus is growing, and this development of executing start-to-end visual effects for a mainstream Hollywood movie, do you think there are brighter days ahead for animation and graphics design students?
A. Absolutely. At this facility (Prime Focus, Goregaon), we had a strength of 40 people just around a year ago. This figure is now at a 160 and it is exponentially growing. We usually employ at the average rate of 2-3 employees per week. So it sure looks like an exciting time for animation and graphic students!