In an interview meeting with the founder of The FX Factory, Ramesh Meer, AnimationXpress learned the journey of this pioneer and an influencer who has worked for 53 years in the visual effects industry. His work portfolio is not limited to local VFX projects, but he has also bagged a large number of international projects. Apart from working for motion pictures, he has offered his expertise to television and commercials as well. Some huge names he has worked with from the film industry are Manmohan Desai (Amar Akbar Anthony), Mohan Sehgal, Kamal Amrohi (Razia Sultan), Subhash Ghai (Pardes), Rakesh Roshan (Kaho Naa Pyar Hai), Sanjay Leela Bhansali (Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam), H.S. Rawail (Laila Majnu), Dr. Chandraprakash Diwedi (Pinjar), Bharat Dhabholkar (God Only Knows), and many more. Additionally, he has performed special effects for Abbra-Ka-Dabbra, Chaahat Ek Nasha, Madhoshi, Deewangi, Yeh Mohabbat Hai, Deham, Aashiq, Jai Hind, Mrityudaata, Ab ke Baras, Surya, Tera Mera Saath Rahen, Luv Kush, Dharamveer, Chacha Bhatija, Parvarish, Naseeb, Santan, Super Man, Kasam Khoon Ki, Agent Vinod, Ek Hi Rasta, Don, Hatyara, Karam Yogi, and many more.
His work for serials and commercials include Om Namah Shivay (208 Episodes), Shree Ganesh (104 Episodes), Jap Tap Vrat (52 Episodes), Ruby Duby Hub Dub, Lumba, X-Zone, Zee Horror Show, Nagin, Rishta, Sunahrey Wark, Adalat, Indradhanush, Crowning Glory, ICY Cough Drops, Fresca Soap, Sunlight, Old Spice, Amul Cheese, Godrej Refrigerators, TATA Steel, and hundreds more.
During the meeting, he was a true gentleman who politely and enthusiastically answered all the questions which were bestowed upon him. His experiences are too many to be covered in one article, but we, at AnimationXpress, have put the efforts to cover as much as it is humanly possible for us. Some questions which we chose to present are listed below:
How did it all begin for you?
“Once I was walking across the Oxford Street in London, and I spotted some animated things being played on a screen in a computer screen. Curious, I went in to find it was an Amiga 500, the very first piece of technology to work animation on and I bought it. Thereafter, I started executing my imaginations on it, like a bird flying, the sun disappearing from the horizon, and etc.
As the years passed by, there was advancement in the technology and I soon brought newer versions of it such as Amiga 1000 and Amiga 200. Simultaneously, I employed more people in my animation studio.
There was no Maya back then. It came much later, but I was the first buyer of Maya 1.0 in this country, and Autodesk wasn’t the owner then. It ran only on Silicon Graphic machines and I had to buy that too to run Maya on it. And I delivered my first VFX scene on it.”
What was the VFX scene?
“It was a movie called Mrityudaata, my first huge project, starring Amitabh Bachchan. So there was a bridge connecting Princess Street on to the Marine Drive. The plot required a truck driver to ram the truck against the bridge and come crashing down on an Ambassador car. I took 35mm shots of the bridge before recreating a portion of that bridge on Maya. Then I computerised the crash, including the recreation of the whole Ambassador car on my computer!”
You’ve also worked on the crash scene in Hrithik Roshan’s debut movie Kaho Na Pyaar Hai?
“Yes, there’s this tragic scene where Hrithik’s character is chased across a highway and his bike is knocked off it and into the river, drowning him in the process. So while shooting it under water, there were bubbles coming out (while he is expected to be dead) and since his head also hits a rock, they need to show him bleeding. The scene was shot in normal 35 since they couldn’t procure a cinemascope. We removed the bubbles here on Maya as well as with Photoshop, whilst also adding colours to show he’s actually bleeding underwater.”
Your memorable moment as a VFX creator?
“There are many beautiful memories, as I’ve been in the industry for over five decades now. But if I were to recollect, one day while screening of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, RM Rao—a very famous cinematographer and ad director back in the day, came up to me during the interval and said there are no special effects in the movie! And that was the biggest compliment I’ve received.
The whole purpose of VFX is to bring about certain scenes that can’t be shot on camera and if a viewer can’t identify it’s engineered through special effects, then it means you’ve succeeded.
I did the VFX for the song sequence where our lead pair is gazing up at the stars and they suddenly spot one of them falling across the sky. That was shot on green screen with effects done by me, as well as the kite sequence where all the kites that you spot in the sky are nothing but VFX. They weren’t real kites.”
How far have you seen the industry grow since you started 50 years back?
“There was a time when I was the sole person in the VFX industry and now there are more than I care to count. And in terms of technology, when I had started there were no computers. Even for a simple masking shot, a normal cameraman would deny doing it. In those days, making of a movie used to be time-bound and everything was expensive, the actors like Jitendra or Rajkumar were the highest paid and the budget of the movie wasn’t hefty, even so, I used to be the highest paying VFX expert. Today, the Indian VFX experts are not receiving what their worth is. But, as a visual effects technician, I was confident of what I was doing, and so I am now and will continue to do so.
Earlier, there was chroma key shots and blue screen which delayed the work up to a month, whereas now we have neurosoftware and computers.”
Any experience you will never forget?
“I used to make a video magazine, popularly known as Starbuzz, for Stardust. I even financed it and produced it. In association with the editor of Stardust magazine and Showtime, we created 8-10 editions of the video. In one of the editions, there was an interview by Salim Khan where he mentions about the adoption of his little girl, Arpita. These were some South-Indians who left a little child at the parapet wall of his building. Early morning, after noticing a child from his balcony, he rescued the child and called the police. Soon enough, he officially adopted the child. That was one of the rare interviews of Khan and the closest to my heart. I still have the cassette of it with me.”
What are the issues that today’s VFX industry is facing?
“There are no issues as such. Only thing is people want to do a lot of good things, but at a very little budget. People come with great ideas, but they don’t have the required money. And special effects have no end to it. See any Hollywood film with any damn concept; any damn imagination is executed today. Moreover, the Indian market is much cheaper compared to the international market. One of the reasons has been that the labour is cheap.
I have done many projects for International companies on a nondisclosure agreement and earned a higher wage per day. But, the changing fact is that there remains no difference between the technology in India and the US. Take the example of Bahubali, it is no less in comparison to the quality of International movies. But, if you have money to spend, you can make another Bahubali.”
In a conference in Chennai, Scott Ross, the visual effects supervisor for Titanic, was one of the speakers. He came first to speak and I went last. During his speech, he mentioned that one of the shots in the movie cost them millions of dollars. When I spoke, I told him ‘Pardon me. If you want to do Titanic again or anybody else in India, give me the cost of that one shot and I will do the entire film.’ Everyone attending the conference agreed to it with a standing ovation. Now you can imagine the difference in the cost behind VFX in India and the US.”
Why do we see more of VFX from South Indian movies?
“They spend more money. In Bollywood, those with good money and willingness spend it. Small producers will not indulge in spending much; there even the smallest one spends behind VFX. Fighting scenes, blasting scenes, car-flying scenes, jumping scenes, etc; thus you will see many South Indian movies are dubbed in Hindi. With passing time and new talents entering Bollywood, we should get to see more and more people investing in visual effects in future. Making a movie with VFX will soon become a trend in India, not just in South India.”
Are you working on a serial right now?
“I have stopped taking serials. There was a time I used to work on tight deadlines with Dhiraj Kumar’s serials such as Om Namah Shivay, Jai Shree Ganesh, and more. Not anymore because there is zero timely income. Producers tend to pay after six months of every project, plus the competition brings the cost of the project down. Even the International movies, there are no profits considering the number of iterations that take place. I prefer to work on regional movies such as Bhojpuri and create video series more than engaging in Hindi serials and International movies.
I am coming up with a horror thriller, and here you will see a lot of VFX shots.”
What’s next on your plate?
“I have nearing completed a horror film called Mahapratishod, titled Revenge of the Headless in English. It means the great revenge. It’s a story about honour killing; a boy from a royal family of Rajasthan marrying a girl from backward class that his family doesn’t approve. She is subsequently killed by decapacitation of her head. However, she returns as a spirit to haunt the family and exact revenge by killing them.
Within a month or so we should get done with it. And the effects are 3D.”
How important is VFX to the film/entertainment industry?
“VFX is everywhere and in everything. Even the smallest scene of jumping requires the wire to be removed, applying blood, moving objects, crowd manipulation and anything and everything. One can shoot a scene in Paris while sitting in Mumbai. A filmmaker cannot run away from VFX to stick to the budget, it has become a must for all language films. Thus, it will always stay, but the methodology may change. Now we are doing on computers, maybe tomorrow we do on some other platform. VFX is here to live.”
The promo of Meer’s upcoming film is released in 2D and exclusively available for our readers.
This interview was conducted jointly by Shibani Shah and Sachin Bhat.