“Over the past three years, R&H India has contributed to the VFX of over twenty of our Hollywood feature films
Richard Hollander, President of the Feature Film division at Rhythm & Hues Studios, is renowned in the visual effects industry as a true pioneer with a strong grasp of both the highly technical and artistic aspects of the craft. Having served as a Senior Visual Effects Supervisor on high profile sequences like the acclaimed Sorting Hat in
“Harry Potter & The Sorceror’s Stone” and the spectacular engine room sequences in “Titanic”, Richard is often called on by producers of high end feature film projects to ally with them to realize their visions. In 1998, Richard was recognized for his contributions to the industry with a Scientific and Technical Achievement Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) for his work as one of the handful of artists/engineers that developed the Wavefront Advanced Visualizer software (later merged to form Alias|Wavefront).
After their ground breaking work on “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe”, R&H has been awarded several more high profile projects. Animation xpress recently learned that R&H has been awarded the bulk of the CG and Visual effects work on Fox’s upcoming “The Night at the Museum” starring Ben Stiller and Robin Williams. According to IMDB.com, the movie’s plot summary is: “A bumbling security guard at the Museum of Natural History accidentally lets loose an ancient curse that causes the animals and insects on display to come to life and wreak havoc.”
Animation ‘xpress Editor Anand Gurnani took the opportunity to talk to Richard about this new project as well as his thoughts on R&H India and the state of the Indian animation and VFX industry.
Can you tell us about Night at the Museum (NATM) and what R&H is doing for the movie?
I cannot reveal too many specifics about NATM yet, but I can tell you that R&H will be the principal visual effects contractor on the project and we will be creating hundreds of shots that will feature a large quantity of photo realistic creatures and animals. It is definitely a very challenging project and one that has our whole company excited and buzzing.
The film makers came to R&H because of R&H’s expertise in animation, specifically photo real animation. They had seen our recent work in Narnia and felt the photo realism was a key and necessary factor in making their film. For NATM, the challenge for us is to use our experience from Narnia and build on it to take the quality of work to a new level while executing the project in record time.
Who are the supervisors?
Fox Studios has hired Jim Rygiel (Academy Award winning Visual Effects Supervisor for The Lord of the Rings Trilogy) as the overall Visual Effects Supervisor and 2nd Unit Director. Working with Jim is Ellen Sommers as the production Visual Effects Producer. From Rhythm & Hues Side, Dan Deleeuw will be visual effects supervisor and Julie D’Antoni, the visual effects producer.
Can you tell us a little bit about your thoughts on R&H India as well as your impressions on the Indian CG & VFX scene? How has your experience been while working with Indian artists?
R&H first looked at working in India about five to six years ago. The fact that India has a large pool of educated individuals, a well established film industry, an English speaking work culture, and globally competitive cost structures made it a very interesting destination for us. We completed our research and found on the individual artist level, there was great raw talent and passion for the art of CG providing us with the confidence to take on the ambitious effort of creating a world class facility from scratch.
Prashant Buyyala took the lead on this endeavor from the R&H Los Angeles side, and we hired Saraswathi Balgam in Mumbai, to lead R&H India from the Indian perspective. The two of them have set up a wonderful facility that still adheres to the same core values of the parent company of executing high quality work while providing a wonderful and creative work environment that values the employees.
In terms of my experience working with the Indian artists, I can only speak of my experience with R&H India’s artists. Over the past three years, R&H India has contributed to the VFX of over 20 of our Hollywood feature films. We started initially with some simple tasks and have now grown the Indian team to be able to contribute to the full range of visual effects and computer graphics on our films. Each project has been a building block, and I have to say that I am very impressed by the hard work, talent and dedication of our team of artists in India and it has further encouraged us to grow our Mumbai facility and take on bigger challenges.
“The success we have seen so far really goes a long way in proving our theory about
the unrealized potential that we see within India”
Will R&H India be involved with Night at the Museum? If so, then in what ways?
R&H India has been involved with almost every single film production we have undertaken over the past few years and Night at the Museum will not be an exception. As I mentioned, over these same years we have focused quite a bit on training and growing our artists. We are currently at the point where we will use R&H India to fully execute visual effects shots for Garfield II (which is currently in progress) and Night at the Museum. More specifically, they will execute the modeling, animation, lighting, tracking and compositing for many of the major character shots in the films. It has been our goal to vertically integrate our facility in India, both artistically and technically so that they will be able to perform to Rhythm and Hues standards of quality.
What are the upcoming challenges and opportunities for R&H in the near future?
Growth is probably the biggest challenge. We have not yet grown R&H India to the appropriate size that will complement our Los Angeles office. Our challenge is to find enough of the right talent that we need in the Indian industry. We have been growing our own talent from within the Mumbai facility to facilitate this growth.
R&H India provides the whole R&H company the ability to do more work at internationally competitive prices and thus giving us the opportunity to be involved in some of the most creatively challenging projects out here. We see a growing trend in the market place where the shot counts are in the thousands, or, for that matter, full computer generated animated films. We feel that R&H India will increase our opportunity to do more such work so it will be a win-win situation for all our artists.
Is the quest for photo realism making visual effects more of a science than art?
Never. There will always be art. Night at the Museum is a perfect example. We need to create animals that look like they are really in the scene, walking on the ground within the lighting environment etc. This is the realism that we strive to produce using
very smart technology coupled with artistic humans who know how light works. How the animals act will be a mix of understanding how those animals really move and how they will be directed to tell the story.
This requires a tremendous amount of artistic energies. It is safe to say that at R&H we require our people, those who work on the shots, the TDs, to have artistic capabilities as well as a great technical command of the medium they are involved with. Not much different that a great oil painter. You have to know what to paint as well as how to use the oils.
Throughout your illustrious career so far, which of your many achievements do you cherish the most?
My achievement of having a job that utilizes state of the art technology fully coupled to an artistic endeavor. It can’t get much better than that.
Any other thoughts you would like to share with our readers in India?
Our involvement with India has been a success. With regard to the India facility, R&H has made no compromises in our requirement for the highest quality of work. Our India employees have risen to the challenge and proven this to be possible. Of course, it took us many years of careful nurturing and training of the talented Indian artists to get to this level, and as artists we always realize that there is so much more to learn and to grow… but the success we have seen so far really goes a long way in proving our theory about the unrealized potential that we see within India and we are working very hard every day to unlock that potential.