VAM Summit & Awards: Going behind the scenes of some of most challenging effects created by Digital Domain

VAM Awards ceremony packed a visual extravaganza with a host of presentations and breakdowns. One of the visually-alluring sessions of the event was one by Digital Domain that has the legacy of providing visual effects to some of the most iconic movies ranging from the X-Men franchise to Benjamin Button to Avengers and more.

Graced by Digital Domain 3.0 VFX producer Praveen Kilaru and VFX producer Suresh Guttula, the session dived into some of the most challenging shots and the techniques that were deployed to create the imagery in the projects they’ve delivered over the years.

While Digital Domain has made massive waves in the west, it’s Indian outpost called Digital Domain 3.0 has been just as impressive in its creative mettle. Evident from the show-reel that packed not just the iconic shots and imagery in the Hollywood majors, the presentation gave a window into the effects created over the course of their journey.

While Digital Domain has been around for a very long time, Kilaru shared, it is relatively new in India. Despite the short amount of time Digital Domain has been in India, the Indian artists have gone on to work on some of the most big-ticket Hollywood majors like Marvel and X-Men.

Speaking about how closely Indian artists work with the global team, Kilaru, “Including, the Thanos character that you see, we are definitely involved in a lot of the work that is done out there. The Indian team has worked very closely with the L.A team. We have worked very much directly on some shows whether it is the international shows.”

While Indian artists have worked on Hollywood movies, Digital Domain 3.0 has also been involved in some of the VFX-heavy work in India. He shared, “We are doing the Indian content as well. So we are very much a part of feature films or commercials in the Asian markets as well.” He showcased some of the work that has done in the very limited time that Digital Domain has been in India.

Having put a decent team in a short span of three years, the studio has been involved with many complex projects with challenging shots. He informed, “To be able to do short production on this level was definitely a huge challenge for us and we are glad that we had a very good talent pool and the leadership to drive that.”

Explaining the effects created for the domestic project Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy (Telugu movie), Guttula shared, “It was quite a challenging show for us and it had around 450 shots that we had to deliver right from asset development to the final comp stages. It had various difficulties in terms of effects and animation.”

Right from digi-double of a newborn baby to complete replacement to extensions to pyro effects to crowd multiplication to destruction, Digital Domain 3.0 took only four months to deliver it all for the mammoth project.

The session starts at 1:30:00

Speaking about the one fight scene that involved sword fighting and gore, Guttula shared, “There is one shot that I would really like to talk about. One shot which was the most challenging as far as that show goes. This scene was shot on a high FPS. We received about seven thousand frames and we went over multiple iterations of it with the client in the edit going back and forth.”

Further explaining how they tried to fulfill the client’s vision with a variety of iteration created for the single shot, he continued, “We represented our version to the client. Finally we could bring this down to about 700 frames. The complication in this shot is adding all the layers that you see because it was shot against chroma. So we had to add in all the other elements around the characters, the set, the smoke, embers and a lot of effects. It was a crazy and challenging shot for us, not just the work part but also trying to convince the client of what is possible and what is not.”

Having to deliver a total of 450 shots is no mean feat. Artists had to work round the clock to ensure that effects were made to the utmost perfection. He explained, “We had about four months to deliver 450 shots. It took a little over four months. It was quite a challenge. At that time, the pipeline was not integrated completely. So we were using Maya, Houdini and compositing tools.”

Shedding light on the team size and what they had to build over the course of the timeframe stipulated for them, he shared, “We had a crew of around 70 to 80 artist assigned to build the assets from scratch. The timelines were indeed challenging due to the creative changes as well. They wanted to do some creative changes on the fly because of the shot being such a lengthy one. Any last-minute changes which were happening from the creative side would really throw us off so we had to re-do a lot of things over and over again so it was kind of time-consuming and we obviously had a deadline to meet so we had all my artists at that time put in those long hours. It is definitely one of those shows that stretched us to the limit especially in the final stretch.”

Digital Domain 3.0 has been instrumental in cascading some of the X-factor that the global team based in North America is known for down to the artists in India who are progressively honing their craft under the auspices of the stalwarts.