2012’s Tamil action thriller Maattrran directed by KV Anand and produced by AGSEntertainmenthas recently won Special Jury Award for it’s VFX at the FICCI BAF awards.
Being India’s first film to use performance capture technology, Maattrraan was shot over a period of 2 years with a major portion of the film was shot in the Balkan region in countries like Croatia, Serbia, Albania, Macedonia and especially a large chunk in Latvia. 2000 VFX shots were produced by 8 Indian companies with over 400 artists working at different periods of time.
Now, all the work invested by KV Anand and his team has paid off. The film had also recently been awarded the EME award for the Best VFX in an Indian feature film category. Visual Effects Supervisor Srinivas Mohan received the award at the ceremony held at the India Habitat Centre, Delhi.
Maattrraan is a story of two brothers who are conjoined since birth but are completely different in their ideologies.
V.Srinivas Mohan, Visual Effects Supervisor said,” We are extremely thrilled to have been recognized by the jury by renowned associations like FICCI and Infocom-Assocham. This is the second time I have been awarded by FICCI, earlier I had received the honor for Robot (Endhiran). The key thing I like about both these awards is the recognition they provide to student projects. Also, the quality of these projects is quite professional, which is a result of the technology and tools that are available to the students today.”
“Attending these awards is a wonderful experience, it’s an opportunity to meet and interact with the people and friends in the industry. Also, the good thing about these awards is that the jury is the people within the industry, so, it feels honored to be recognized and appreciated by your peers. Such recognition offers us great encouragement to exceed expectations and to create new benchmarks.”
Commenting on his upcoming projects he added,” I am currently working on a Tamil film which is being directed by Shankar.
It stars Vikram in the lead also there is a Telugu movie directed by S S Rajamouli in the pipeline.”
Earlier, Animationxpress.com Ishpreet Chandock got the opportunity to interact with the 3 times National Award Winner V.Srinivas Mohan on the VFX of Maattrraan.
Here are the excerpts of the conversation.…
Tell us about the VFX work done by you in the movie?
In “Maattrraan” Suriya plays the character of conjoined twins, because of which there is an interaction between the characters in each and every frame. So we decided to go with Body double with head replacement option with two methods. For faster head and body movements, mainly in action and dance sequences, we have used Digital Surya. We scanned 22 facial expressions of Surya in Lightstage, LA. Thanks again to Paul Debevec for helping with the scanning. We have used “Image Metrics” team for facial animation, because of budget constrain, we have used them mainly for wider shots. For close-up shots we redesigned a rig using those 22 scanned shapes. Initially we created morph targets manually based on the scanned expressions, but we could not get a 100% match. Later on Hao Li from LA helped us to create accurate morph targets by warping the rigged mesh with the 22 scanned expressions. To capture Surya’s facial performance, we created a simple head rig with a helmet, LED strips, CCD cam and iphone4s. It served our purpose well. Thanks again to Jupiter Jazz team for Skin Shader and Autodesk Maya is our main software.
Overall for 2000 VFX shots we used 8 Indian companies with 400 artists in a period of 2 years time.
When did you start working on the film? What was the brief up given to you by the director for the film?
I had started working on the film since the end of 2010. To begin with, I was quite surprised as this concept has never been portrayed in movies. There have been a lot of movies made with conjoined twins but those movies have always shown two different artists playing the roles, this was the first time, a single artist has played the role of conjoined twins. Also, the director wanted me to project this as real as possible. He did not want the audience to know that there is some kind of VFX used in the sequences.
Tell us a bit more about the script-to-screen production model on Maattrraan?
As I was involved with the production team since the script was being written, it was possible for us to incorporate changes in the script at a very early stage, the director consulted me on every stage of the script to see whether the particular sequence was possible to execute or not. So the script to screen production wasn’t a very big challenge as we had done our homework during the pre- production and pre-viz of the movie. This not only helped us to save time but also helped to avoid retakes and loss of money. This made the whole production work a hell lot easier.
Could you give us some concrete examples of how creative choices made in pre-production helped to make the film overall and/or the VFX better?
Making any necessary changes during the pre- production always helps the movie, for instance, we removed all those sequences in the script which were difficult to be shot, also the costumes of both the characters Vimalan and Akhilan were decided prematurely in according to the kind of shot as certain designs and textures makes it difficult while working on a 3D. Also we did a pre-viz which gave us an idea on how to go about shooting every sequence which made the overall film better and also helped us in the road forward.
How would you characterize the look of the conjoined brothers?
This is the first time a single artist has played the role of conjoined twins. Maattrraan is about two people, who are physically conjoined but completely differ in their ideologies. So it was very necessary to have a different look of each of the brothers. Also unlike in Endhiran, which had 6-8 shots interaction between both the characters played by Rajnikanth; Chithi and Dr. Vaseekaran but in this film, all most every shot is an interaction shot, be has so it was something which was really new to us. Also, the director wanted to shoot the movie in real locations as far as possible without any restrictions in terms of camera work and performance, so it was necessary for us to do our home work perfectly before the movie started rolling
What’s your favorite sequence in the movie?
It is very difficult to pick one as I have worked hard on each sequence of the film but the few highlights would be the fight or I should say quarrel between the two brothers, it was difficult and a very good learning for us, because as they were fighting, the physical posture and hand movements were changing so it was really important for us to make it look real and not a computer gimmick. Also, the climax sequence was equally important, the sequence involved rats. For this, we shot with a real rat for close ups but all the other shots required CG rats to be created, so all in all these two sequences are special to me.
What was the greatest creative challenge and how did you overcome it?
The biggest challenge was to make sure that the body movements and facial expressions of each character are being projected perfect. One more important task was that Surya has to match his Body Double’s head and body movements with proper timing. For that we recorded body double’s video while saying 1,2,3,4…. as audio bg track, so Surya could observe and remember his Body Double’s head and body movements by using numbers as reference. Because of Surya’s excellent performing talent, we were able to pull this off without looking for another option. In some situations he has to remember more that 40 tasks! And lighting wise Dop Soundar has done excellent job in matching both lighting conditions manually, in some situations we have moved lights instead of artist waking. Interestingly in this project we have used almost all type of cameras like Film Arri 435, Arri 3, Digital Cannon 5D, 7D, iphone, Kinect sensor and small CCD camera.
Also, the other main challenge was to match the Body Double’s camera perspective with Surya’s camera perspective while shooting his head separately in green screen. In order to solve the perspective issues, we decided to capture few extra angles of Surya’s head, so we can match perspective later during in post production. For that we used 3 main cameras and 2 supporting cameras. We shot Surya as 1st twin while a Body Double played the 2nd twin. Later, Surya acted as the 2nd twin in a green screen floor using the 5 camera setup. We used 3D mesh of Surya head, tracked and animated it to match his green screen live head, then projected all 5 camera textures onto that 3d head. The aim was to get Surya’s head (shot in green screen as 2nd Twin) into a 3D environment with live textures, so we can match the Body double’s perspective. The 5 camera projection looks simple but it took lot of our R&D time. One of our main tasks in 5 camera setup was to exactly match 5 cameras position in the 3D environment with the live cameras position. If these cameras are not matched properly, the projection method won’t work at all. To achieve this we used X-box Kinect sensor (like a 3D scanner) to capture camera placements on location. It worked well for indoor shooting, but failed in the bright light outdoor green screen setup. The other important task was to track and match the 3D head with Surya’s live head. We visited L.A to scan the lead actor’s expressions using Lightstage. While we were there, Paul Debevec and his team at ICT lab saw our test work and gave us tools to simplify this entire process. It was like image based modeling that creates mesh and cameras based on 5 cameras image data, it helped us tremendously. Thanks to Paul and his team for their help. We have used Nuke to do 3D projection and final comp.
Apart from these methods, we have used simple head replacement and sometimes full body replacement methods in regular 2D comp too.
Were there any VFX shots that got cut from the final film?
No, not really, as I have said earlier, being involved right since the script was being written really made things a lot easier which reduced changes and cuts.
Maattrraan is also became the first Indian film to use performance capture technology. Tell us more about it?
We haven’t used the performance capture technology completely. We had created a face rig as the facial expressions was all that we required while the other body movements were being performed with the help of a body double . We just had to use performance capture technology for the face unlike Avatar which has used performance capture technology for the complete body movements. But still it was a great and new experience for the team and we hope to use it more in the future. Rajini sir current project “Kochadaiyaan” is using full performance capture technology.
The performance capture technology also has some limitations, only a few systems allow real time viewing of the data to decide if the take needs to be redone. How did you tackle it?
As we have only worked on the use performance capture technology for the head and facial expressions, real time viewing of the data wasn’t required. It is only relevant when capture technology is being used for the entire body to match with environment, but as we had avoided that, we never had any difficulty shooting.
How much creative control did you have during the pre production of the film?
I had complete creative control during the pre production of the film. Not only was I involved in every aspect but my suggestions and changes were always welcomed by the director. As a VFX supervisor I had all the freedom to take decisions which were for the betterment of the film.