Artistic stylisation is at its best in Kochadaiiyaan – Karthik Kotamraju
“Visual effects is a creative field so you need to come with a passion in order to succeed,” says VFX artist Karthik Kotamraju. This ingenious mind has been instrumental in rendering VFX for several blockbuster titles including Raavanan, Ra One, Chennai Express, Thalaivaa, Dhoom 3 and many more.
He has also been associated with the eagerly awaited 3D animated period drama, Kochadaiiyaan, the first film in India to use motion capture technology. In a chat with Pandolin, Karthik tells us about VFX technology, his filmography, the future of the field and much more.
What are the essential elements to bear in mind from a VFX perspective when you start working on film?
We have to keep many things in mind like texturing/shading,binding/rigging, animating, lightning, rendering and so on. But most importantly you have to design a concept, the drawings and a story board are the most important things we need before getting started.
You have been associated with the upcoming film, Kochadaiiyaan, which is being touted as a revolution of sorts for VFX and animation in India. How was the experience working on this project? Also tell us about motion capture technology used in this film and how it influences the role of VFX?
Kochadaiiyaan is a film that is made from the heart. It is a dream project for many of us. Kochadaiiyaan has been made using MOCAP tech (motion capture technology) which is an animation technique in which the animator takes last shot live actions frame by frame and applies it to the animated film. It is an old technology but is new to India. I cant say that it influences VFX in a particular way but takes animation more closes to reality. Artistic stylisation is at its best in Kochadaiiyaan.
Were there any challenges faced while working with MOCAP technology?
Firstly, for MOCAP you need not only software but pretty expensive hardware too. We did face a few technical problems, like many animators were not inclined towards this in the beginning. Also initially it turned out to be hard to identify when an artist makes any mistake. But as days passed we overcame all the difficulties. The time frame did get extended a bit because we were adapting to new technology.
Can you tell us about the softwares and programs you largely work on?
Many softwares are used during VFX production. These include Autodesk softwares like Maya, Softimage XSI, MotionBuilder and many more. For image compositing we use Eyeon Fusion and the Foundry Nuke compositor. While for motion tracking and background replacement we use PFTrack.
In recent times you have been associated with two big hindi films – Dhoom 3 and Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela. How much per cent of VFX has been used in these films and for what kind of sequences?
With Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela, more than VFX, I would talk about Ken Metzker, who is a senior colorist with Reliance MediaWorks. He is the person responsible for the beautiful textures, excellent color grading and a beautifull color adaption which made the film look so colourful and vibrant. Coming to Dhoom 3, there are over 1200 VFX shots in the film which include the auto sequence in the beginning, the bike sequence and few other shots. I was lucky to be part of the VCL (Visual Computing Labs) team of the film.
You work on Hindi as well as South Indian films. Is there a difference in the way VFX is approached in these films?
For an artist there is not much difference between approaching a South Indian film or a Hindi film. When it comes to technical output it all depends on the director and the vision.
As a VFX coordinator, what kind of technical challenges do you encounter and how do you overcome them? Can you share a few examples.
We don’t call them challenges but there are several technical difficulties we encounter. We have a lot of troubleshoot and debug shot problems. It is important to understand the language of the CG supervisor and the VFX supervisor. We also need to monitor the overall compositing department and much more.
Do you feel that the culture for VFX in India is evolving? What is the future of VFX in our country in terms with the kind of facilities available to VFX artists?
The VFX revolution started a few years back in India but actually paused not only here but across the world as the VFX industry was in a crisis situation. Oscar award-winning studios went bankrupt and many unusual things happened. In India there are several talented artists but they are not getting the value and recognition they deserve for their work. But the VFX industry does have a very good future here as these artists are available at a much cheaper price offering so many big studios are trying to start their market in the country.
What advice do you have for beginners in the field?
It is a creative field so you need to come with a passion in order to succeed.
Lastly, what are the other projects you are working on? How has the experience of working on Hollywood titles been?
I have three big projects which are Hollywood films including The Judge starring Robert Downey Jr., Transformers: Age of Extinction and X- Men: Days of Future Past. I’ve worked on Hollywood films in the past as well but I would not want to credit them to myself. But now I was offered a very good position in the team, I am happy to be working on some of Hollywood’s biggest flicks.