After Studios: Not just a post production house

“We’re not just a post production studio but also a state of mind… where river of creativity combines with zeal and skills on the plains of technology”. With such a motto, one can only expect to witness something out of the ordinary; well AnimationXpress.com’s Sidharth Iyer ventured into the world of After Studios and truth be told, it lives up to its motto (literally). Speaking to AnimationXpress.com, After Studios’ Gerry Gonsalves – who is the studio manager – throws light on how VFX happened for the studio, their repertoire of work, collaborating with a certain Ashutosh Gowariker, hurdles faced by the industry and much more over a hot cuppa. Excerpts:- How did the idea of getting into VFX come about with After Studios? It was always a plan; there is no point in doing only one aspect of post production and leave out the others. We wanted to be a one stop shop of post production, thus we looked at all our options and basically ended up doing all kind of work. VFX looked like the next logical step and we have taken that leap. It’s been going well as of now, we have also handled large foreign contracts, which has enabled us to really expand (literally as well) as we have acquired the latest in technology equipments and also taken the floor upstairs. We have nearly 150 seats up there, with creativity just oozing out of our talented bunch of artists. …And how long has After Studios been functioning? What is the kind of work that you have been involved in? It was established three years ago, but the VFX work is barely six months old…. I mean we had the VFX department, but it catered to local commercials and a few film makers. Now we have completely gotten into the mix and from approximately 32 artists doing VFX then (clubbing CG and VFX together), we would like to do a lot more Indian feature films but need to market a little more aggressively for getting noticed. Nowadays, with every commercial film director dreaming to direct a feature film, it only makes sense to help them in the transition process as a studio. We have recently worked on films like Dishkiyaoon, Sooper Se Ooper, Spanish Masala, Pakauu, Love Ka Hangover and Rise of the Zombie to name a few and in all we have worked on approximately 25 movies. You are currently working with renowned director Ashutosh Gowariker on a big project called ‘Mount Everest’, how did the collaboration happen? Ashutosh has worked with our business development director Shyam Salgoankar aka Sally. In fact, everyone in this market knows Sally very well, right from R Balki to Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, all of them have worked with him at some stage of their lives as an editor and he is one of the most fabulous visualisers I know, having great concepts. So it was only right for Ashutosh to think of Sally when he had something as huge as Everest to pursue and present it a very picturesque manner. With a good 30 years in the industry as an editor and a VFX supervisor he has done it all, including an award at Cannes for best edited commercial. Where do you feel the VFX industry stands at this point in time? If you’re looking at foreign market they will definitely send out the backend work, which their artists feel is not worth the time and their production studios would rather not spend their money there, and save a huge sum by outsourcing it to Indian studios. And once most of the work is complete, they will just hire a small team to correct the portions which look out of place, rather than hire a whole team of 50 to 60 people to actually do the job. It’s just numbers that work for them and for us. It’s still a decent amount of money compared to what the Indian producers give and that’s the sad part about it. The budgets of Hollywood films and the budgets of Indian films in today’s day and age are not too far apart; it’s just that here the star takes away the large chunk, but abroad, a decent amount of the budget is kept for post-production as well as other important aspects of film-making. What are your thoughts about Indian artists? The artists out here are really talented but only a select few are passionate and driven to achieve excellence. Unfortunately the Indian mentality pushes all of us to run behind money rather than chasing our passion. Simply putting it, if you have the passion you will move ahead and if you don’t you are going to stay where you are. Any thoughts on manipulation of prices by big production houses, and how it in turn sabotages the growth of the industry… Unfortunately producers misuse pricing of projects to suit themselves; they will shop around for rates from various studios and then go back to the first studio saying, “hey you know what they are offering me?” and this maddening cycle keeps on going till the production house is getting their work done in half the budget kept aside for post-production. And even the studios are not bothered about this crazy business, as most of the studios here don’t run as a business model, but an ego model. So the studio will be like: “Hey! I have got this project never mind if I lost money on it but I got this project; so now 10 other producers  will come to me and say do my project for me,” this kind of mentality may sometimes work and sometimes it backfires, but that is clearly how some studios approach their projects. What are the major hurdles faced by VFX studios when working on a project? Time is the most crucial factor for any project that we take up. It has a major influence on the output, overseas huge schedules are laid down in advance for the work and everything is extremely well planned. Here the planning is never completely in place, not enough care is taken at the shoot stage and then VFX is used to correct the shots. The complaint always is, “we don’t have the budget for this”… They always say that the budget is very low for post production but want a great job done. If you need to get the work done in ‘X’ amount of time, then you can’t have quality and budget on your side. Out of the three – quality, time and budget, you can only get any combination of two. Either given quality and enough time then the budget can be managed. If quality and budget is there then one can make the time but if you don’t have time and budget, you cannot get the quality. Budgets too come into play but if you agreed to a cost then you have to honour it; the problem is people don’t visualise enough, or are unable to communicate to the artist so until they see an image they don’t know what they want, they can’t communicate visually and that’s because they haven’t really visualised the shots; all they have is a vague idea and they will say, “Okay I want to do these VFX shots”. How would you rate the work environment at After Studios? I think it’s not too bad, I have to say yes at times we are slave drivers no question about it when there are deadlines to be met. But most often, I think we give enough time for people to figure out stuff for themselves and they have got their equipment and opportunities. We are not going to crucify people for watching videos online as it’s their way of relaxation and if they feel they will get motivated by doing so, then so be it. Do you believe that India can deliver a film like Gravity in the near future? With ease and comfort we can do it. You give us the time, you give us the money that they had and we can do it. We are not less than anybody else, we are only more. We just shoot ourselves in the foot by cutting out cost the whole time. The problem out here is people are happy with mediocre things because out here as far as most producers are concerned it is the bottom line that counts and not the resultant quality. In terms of technology too, I would say for the most part we have more than what some people have equipped with abroad, we are ahead of them because we also have numbers on our side in terms of workforce. Where do you see After Studios in the next five years? I definitely see us doing some great work in India. I would also like to say that we would have our presence in all major cities out here. Apart from concentrating on Indian work, we would also like to have a Hollywood presence, where people out there would directly approach us and say: “You are best at what you do, and we want to work with you!”