Sucheta Dalal :“India is on par with the West in a few VFX categories”
Sucheta Dalal

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“India is on par with the West in a few VFX categories”  

May 10, 2010

Vamsi Ayyagari, senior executive producer, Eyeqube, a VFX studio owned by Eros International speaks to Moneylife’s Pallabika Ganguly about the challenges and future of the VFX industry

Pallabika Ganguly (ML): Visual effects, or VFX, as a concept has always been associated with big budget Hollywood movies. Do you think this perception has changed over time, particularly in the Indian context?


Vamsi Ayyagari (VA): India is less than a $500 million industry which includes animation, VFX and advertising films. Many industry experts expected that this industry is going to be $5 billion by 2008; however this is actually not. Hollywood is more than $200 million. But in India, as the industry is evolving and if we are able to put the process and skill sets in place, we can bring down the cost of production in India by one-fourth compared to Hollywood.


Now, most directors in India want to use visual effects because it helps directors to include unique and innovative shots that otherwise cannot be included due to safety reasons. We are going to see many VFX movies coming to India. The best example we can see is how Avatar and 2012 have worked in India, especially in the south (Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu). The movies have been the biggest block-busters.


In case of some segments like wire removal, rotoscopy, tracking, basic animation and animation for a television series and flash animation, Indian companies are on par with the West. But if you are talking about Avatar and 2012, we are still miles away. It is not just about using technology or the buttons of the software, it is the artistic sense and technical knowledge that are missing. These are basically the major issues as far as skill sets are considered in the industry.


ML: How big is the visual effects industry in India versus the Hollywood industry?

VA: There is a trend in the industry that everyone wants to make a stereoscopic 3D movie like Avatar simply forgetting the fact that it took four years to make the movie. If we consider the technology, that is the camera rigs that went behind it, then we might probably take ten years to make the movie.


The major difference between Hollywood and Bollywood movies is pre-production. Pre-production in Hollywood is very strong. Pre-production is all about the development of concept arts, use of pre-visualisation, etc. When I speak of pre-production, I mean the development of concept and use of pre-visualisation. Most visuals, which are VFX intense, need pre-visualisation. A director gets a clear picture of his shot, if he undergoes a pre-visualisation process. It is easy for him to direct a shot after getting the first hand experience of the shot through pre-visualisation.


The other issue is the big budget that a Hollywood movie has. They can spend $200 million-$250 million when the need arises to create an outstanding visual effects movie. It is difficult to produce such a high budget movie in India.


We have been able to bridge the gaps in our studios by flying in a lot of Hollywood experts to train our people. Our creative director, Charles Darby, has also helped to train our people as he has been in the industry for two decades as a VFX supervisor.


ML: Why is pre-production a challenge in India?

VA: Hollywood can produce intrinsic VFX sense because it has 20 years of hard-core practical knowledge in this field. It uses visual effects in far more intensive digital products like television and advertisements. Animation channels run very successfully in the US compared to India. VFX has production ranging from a budget of $4 million to more than $200 million.


Hollywood has got the chance to evolve and grow to the level where they know how to use VFX. In India, it is at a very nascent stage and there is a perception that it is very expensive, but it is not so. Rather you can save money, if you know how to use VFX in your movies. There is even a wrong notion that India cannot produce high-end effects movies. Effects used in the movies, like Krrish, Aladdin, Veer and Madrasa have set a benchmark in the Bollywood industry.  For the last three years we have seen quality work being produced in India.


A movie can be shot better if the effects specialist gets involved in the pre-production level with the director. They together can create a vision that complements story telling. As long as scripts are written for story telling and not for visual effects, it will be more successful.


ML: Do you think visual effects of international quality are happening in India? Can you give some examples?

VA: In terms of high-end shows, we shall probably take two-three years more to catch up with the West.


ML: By how much does the cost rise while using VFX in Bollywood movies, as a percentage of production cost? Are the Indian directors ready to bear the cost?

VA: This is again a misconception that the budget of the movie increases if you use VFX. The new kind of story telling, which is possible, would not have been possible without the use of VFX. There are different kinds of billing that goes on in the industry. These range from Rs2,000 per second to Rs25,000 per second and few people bill it according to man-labour and man-days.


Today, the directors are ready to explore a new style of story telling. A lot of directors are using VFX like Karthik Calling Karthik, Wake Up Sid, Kurbaan, Kaminey and Magadheera.


ML: How many projects do you have in the pipeline during the current financial year?

VA: We have five projects in the pipeline, which will be initiated by next month. The projects are a mix of Hollywood and Bollywood feature films. We are looking at many Hollywood productions—currently we have two on the platter. We are also working on a few advertisements. We, as a studio have been able to create quality and execute the creative vision, which most directors have in mind.


ML: What are the challenges that you are facing in India and how do you see the industry growing?

VA: We need to develop artistic skills and not just technical skills. The challenge is to create our content to understand the nuances for story telling from the VFX perspective.


ML: Do you feel there is enough high-quality manpower is this sector?

VA: Not yet. I think it will still take time. Evolution in this sector is taking place slowly.


-- Sucheta Dalal