PhilmCGI has risen as one of the most prolific post production studios over the last few years with a range of OTT premium originals to their credit. Having worked on OTT specials like Sacred Games, Ghost Stories, AK vs AK, the studio that excels in both animation and VFX services has indeed created a solid portfolio. We had a candid conversation with PhilmCGI managing director and VFX supervisor of the recent AK vs AK and Mismatched Arpan Gaglani spoke at length about the behind-the-scenes VFX magic that he poured into these Netflix premium originals.
Here are some excerpts
We have seen PhilmCGI working with Anurag Kashyap projects many a time. Would it be right to say that PhilmCGI has consistently been his preferred choice for VFX work?
Looks like that as of now..hope it stays that way!!
AK VS AK was an extraordinary piece of content. We haven’t seen content like this in the past. Definitely, some invisible effects must have been created to enhance the imagery. Could you talk about some of the effects you had to create?
As you mentioned, its an extraordinary project and we are glad to have worked on it. Challenge with such films are that the VFX has to look invisible and no room for errors. When we were discussing the script, Vikram wanted lots of shots to be long single takes. As you might have seen long chases all over Mumbai – running, walking through crowd, car chase, fight between Anurag and Anil..all these with a fast handheld camera movement. Achieving these single takes, we had to do a lot of planning and testing before hand to get it right. We had to play out all the sequences with the stunt team and identify such stitch points. It was exhaustive as we did it multiple times to get the action right. Challenge here was that in every frame, there would be crowd on the road, vehicles passing, and we also had to climb the foot-over bridge, run and catch the local train and then get out on the next station – run again – car crash – all in a single take.
We had to be so careful in choosing angles as Swapnil Sonawane was the DOP running with the camera most of the time. We had to be sure not to spot him in any reflection or see his shadow anywhere on screen. Apart from stitching, we had to replace most of the iPad screens in which they are seeing live hostage drama and themselves inside the iPad screen. It was tricky to achieve that simultaneously. So we had live relay of a chroma screen once we dialed in the number!…(hope you got this??) Few other VFX were like fixing eye look-ats, computer screens, filmfare award scene, changing car dashboards to keep the time consistent and a few cleanups.
Tell us about a challenging sequence that you had a hard time creating VFX for.
We prepared a lot so we did not face much challenges as VFX shots in execution was fairly straightforward. But to point out a tricky scene was when Anil Kapoor is looking at the CCTV footage where he was scrolling through the footage, going back and forth and also clicking the photograph of the suspect. We wanted the whole scene to be one take and we identified the monitor screen as our stitching point!…Since we did not have any original CCTV footage nor the suspect photograph, we had to shoot this entirely on chroma screens. This shot took a bit of time to complete as there were many layers involved. Luckily we managed to pull that off!
Was the VFX work done on remote pipelines?
Yes. This was complete remote. I would say that was more challenging as we were not ready with WFH pipeline at that time. Thanks to our Tech and IT team who really made it possible to execute during complete lockdown.
What sort of effects did you have to create for a romantic drama like Mismatched?
Mismatched is more Motion graphic heavy rather than VFX heavy. Since this was Netflix’s first Teenage romcom, they wanted the graphics to be young, cool and relatable to their audience. This series had lots of chatting between friends and also we had to create all the Apps and their designs they were pitching in the college. We had to design them as per the characters personality. Our maximum time was spent in creating these. We resorted to pop-up chats rather than seeing chats on Mobile as we could then concentrate on actors expressions and performance. We had to create our own designs and replacements of WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook chats and gifs. We did few shots of crowd multiplication, skin enhancements, car chroma, Zeenat’s (Vidya Malavade) LSD tripping effect.
We also integrated the chats between the characters, so they look a part of the scene and not just pop ups, throughout the episodes. Mostly romantic movies don’t contain overt VFX that one can recognise.
Tell us about some of the chroma screen shots and background replacements you had to create for this series.
All car scenes are shot against Chroma. We also shot Celina’s (Muskkaan Jaferi) introduction where she is riding the bike on Chroma. We didn‘t have to do replacements of backgrounds as most of the shots were real. Although we did few cleanups and replaced hoardings and names.
How did the restrictions on shooting impact the VFX part of the project?
Luckily we finished shooting for AK vs AK and Mismatched just before lockdown! But currently it is a pain to shoot in these circumstances. Shooting dates are constantly getting reshuffled. There is no set plan in which you can rely on. Anything can change any moment and everyone has to be ready to adapt it. I am just blown away by how direction teams are managing this. It’s like a constant battle!! Hats off to them and the entire unit to work under such conditions! We also have to keep ourselves tested every few days as a Covid negative certificate is compulsory before entering the premises.
Do VFX supervisors get to be involved at the scripting stage in current times?
Depends. Few projects! We get involved early on and a few projects land at our doorsteps just before shooting starts. In an ideal scenario, its important that VFX supervisors get involved early on if its a VFX-heavy film. They can definitely guide the writers if they are going overboard in their descriptions.
Has the quantum of VFX work increased in the post covid world?
VFX work has definitely increased and there are more factors than just Covid. Firstly, its the OTT platforms which has given room to the writers and directors to break free and write new and exciting content. Also, now I feel, they are more confident with the VFX industry achieving what they are envisioning in their scripts. I am just happy to see more diverse Indian content getting written and every project has some VFX involved in it. I am already seeing so many projects in pipeline which are massively VFX heavy!!.. Great and exciting times ahead!
Is the VFX business recovering from the economic slump it experienced during covid lockdown?
I think we are just about recovering. I don’t know about others. But now the new Covid wave has started and is pushing us back again. Hopefully we will fight it and keep the boat floating!!