Prime Focus has recently provided 593 VFX shots for Vishal Bharadwaj’s latest political satire feature film ‘Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola’. The film features Pankaj Kapur, Imran Khan and Anushka Sharma while Arya Babbar and Shabana Azmi played supporting roles.
Talking about the project, Co-Founder and Chief Creative Director, Merzin Tavaria said “The visual effects delivered by the team for the movie ‘Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola’ are remarkable. Our main aim was to aid the storytelling with VFX and we successfully achieved this by surpassing very interesting challenges involving character animation, CG sequences, complex multi layer compositing, set extensions and intricate clean-ups. It was a truly a great accomplishment for Prime Focus and we are happy to have partnered with director Vishal Bharadwaj and Fox Star Studios.”
Under the guidance of VFX supervisor Govardhan Vigraham, a team of 30 talented artists worked round the clock for four months to help achieve director Vishal Bharadwaj’s vision.
VFX Supervisor Govardhan Vigraham said, “The movie ‘Matru Ki Bijlee ka Mandola’ marks my third consecutive movie with director Vishal Bharadwaj. I have worked very closely with the director from the initial stages to enable him understand the scope of VFX required for the movie. Prior to shooting, we did extensive amounts of preparation work like detailed storyboards for some of the key sequences, studying plenty of reference material and scouting locations.
Further, Govardhan talks more about the key sequences in film, below are details of some of the challenging shots executed by the VFX team for the movie:
The Pink Buffalo:
One of the main highlights in the movie was the Pink Buffalo. The lead character Harry Mandola (Pankaj Kapur) frequently hallucinates and sees a pink buffalo. The buffalo is either lying on his bed or walking up to Harry constantly chewing and even stuns him with a smile. As per the brief provided by the director Vishal Bharadwaj the pink buffalo needed to look very tender and relatively clean.
While shooting, one basic challenge was to position the buffalo exactly where it was intended. For instance, in one scene we needed the buffalo to lie on Harry’s bed, whereas in a party scene we needed the buffalo to walk between people. Another scene saw the buffalo in a bedroom, through transparent curtains. The next challenge was to show the buffalo constantly chewing and breaking into a smile at specific moments.
Firstly, the buffalo was shot as a separate layer since it was impossible to include him in the actual shots. Since the buffalo required to portray specific movements, we computer generated the buffalo’s head. Then the challenge was to make the computer generated buffalo absolutely photo-real in terms of texture, muscle movement and fur, and then add in a very realistic character animation.
The Cessna flight and crash:
One of the long sequences in the movie was when Harry takes Matru (Imran Khan) on an adventurous night flight aboard a two person aircraft called a Cessna where both doors were removed. Shooting this sequence posed many practical challenges, and VFX played the most crucial and problem solving role.
The live shots of the actors in the Cessna were shot as separate layers on a black screen, with a small green screen behind the plane’s doors. “We preferred to shoot this way rather than having an entirely green screen set-up to avoid troublesome green spills. Further to give a sense of floatation, the camera was either hand-held or on crane. This was a much preferred approach instead of rigging the camera to the plane which would have given us shots that looked rather static and boring. Later on in post, these layers were composited over an environment of night sky with stars and clouds and the ground terrain with a few dim lights. The whole environment was entirely made as Digital Matte painted layers.
Furthermore for the taxiing shots, since the actors did not have any pilot experience, we had the plane pulled by a towing vehicle for which the propeller had to be removed. Later on in post, we added the CG propeller. Additionally, since the airport did not allow us to fly through the night, the Cessna take-off shots were done in CG. Besides that, various aerobatics were also executed as entirely CG sequences. Towards the end of the sequence, the plane’s propeller needed to ignite resulting in a fire allowing the burning plane to finally smash through a billboard and crash into the wheat field. The majority of shots in this section were carried out through extensive CG – the plane, the hoarding, the crash, etc. A highly detailed and accurate Cessna was built as a CG model, along with fire and smoke dynamics. We also built a highly detailed CG billboard with lights.
Bijlee’s introductory sequence:
In the introductory sequence of Bijlee (Anushka Sharma) VFX was subtly used to achieve the required look and feel. As per the script, Bijlee emerges from the middle of a large pond surrounded by black and dirty buffalos with a tennis ball in her hand and throws it to a group of kids. The challenge was to get the buffalos in an interesting formation in the pond and maintain that formation. This was not going to be an easy task to shoot. So we decided to shoot the actor separately without any of the buffalos. The buffalos were later shot as separate layers, in bunches, matching the lenses and angles with the actor’s layers. In post, we then composited the layers and positioned the buffalos exactly where we wanted them to be.
The Beehive sequence:
In this sequence, Matru is addressing a large crowd when suddenly he sees Badal (Arya Babbar). On seeing him, he flings a stone at the beehive and the bees instantly tear away and scatter all around, making the villagers including Badal running helter- skelter. For the beehive sequence, we placed a dummy hive as a reference for dimensions along with a fairly real looking dummy bee for the look and feel. Later on in post, a highly detailed swarm of bees were built in CG and animated using a combination of dynamics and key frame. The biggest challenge was of course to make them look absolutely real. For achieving this, getting the essential elements like textures, lighting and animation absolutely perfect was crucial.
In this sequence, Harry is in conversation with Chaudridevi (Shabana Azmi) standing on top of a hillock overlooking a vast harvested wheat fields. The challenge here was that during the shoot we had tall, standing crops since harvesting had not yet begun, but the scene required harvested crops. Therefore, we had to create a large area of harvested crops in post. Another challenge was the sequence ranged from sunny to overcast, with rain in a few shots. The entire sequence was shot hand-held, and some shots had major track and pan. It was a challenging job to replace the entire terrain with matte painted layers. For practical reasons, the actors were not shot on green screen so that also meant complex roto work. All in all, the scope of VFX involved for the movie ‘Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola’ was enormous including multi-layer compositing, CG, character animation and clean-ups.
“Matru Ki Bijlee ka Mandola’ was one of the most well-planned projects that I’ve ever worked on and Vishal, as always, has again demonstrated his clarity of thought, direction, and expectations.” he concludes