Career Profile: VFX
Issue: April-May-June 2023

Career Profile: VFX

FutureWorks VFX supervisor Kannan T discusses his career, recent projects, and advice for the next generation.

My name is Kannan, and I’m a VFX supervisor at FutureWorks. I’ve been in the industry for nearly 30 years, working across various projects from stop-motion animation to big Bollywood blockbusters. I also oversee our entire VFX pipeline, helping guide new talent to succeed in their roles. Recently, I worked on Netflix’s Hindi-language sports drama film Jaadugar, which was shot during the COVID pandemic, creating real technical challenges for the whole production. I’m here to share this experience, including how we overcame various issues, and also to give advice to anyone starting out in this industry. 

Origin story

As a kid, I was always fascinated by the vibrant colors and patterns of traditional Indian paintings. It all started when I first visited a fine arts exhibition organized by M.F Husain — one of the finest cubist painters in India. I was awestruck after seeing an artist recreate one of Husain's paintings on a computer. It inspired me to step into a whole new realm of digital arts. There were lots of industry people at the event, and I met the owner of a post-production studio in Mumbai who gave me my first chance working as a graphic designer for commercials and the advertising Industry. 

I went on to work for Plus Channel, one of the first private broadcasting partner companies in India, as a graphic animator. There, I learned all about post-production, which enabled me to move into VFX and train as an Autodesk Flame artist. I had a lot of space to experiment and really find my way around the technology, producing mockups, so I knew exactly what everything did and how it worked. It’s because of the technical understanding I gained that I was able to land the job I have at FutureWorks in 2018, and I’ve been here ever since.  

Featuring at FutureWorks

At FutureWorks, my role is essentially ensuring that all shots are created on time and up to standard, which sometimes requires wearing a lot of hats. One moment you’ll be producing concept art and mockups to show a client, the next you’ll be sitting with other artists guiding them through Maya, Flame, Nuke, and After Effects. We have a core of experienced artists with a thorough knowledge of the industry, and it’s our job to impart that to those we mentor, so they can go on to produce their best work. Each new project presents itself with new challenges. The director or producer will come to us with an idea about what they want, but it's my job to translate this into the practical ways of working with VFX. That can be straightforward, but at other times — to misquote a famous VFX-heavy dinosaur franchise — life gets in the way… 

Creating VFX for Netflix’s Jaadugar

On Netflix production Jaadugar, I worked with co-VFX supervisor Vinay Singh, studying the film’s storyboards and animatics to ensure that the VFX shots matched the creative vision. Jaadugar — the story of a small-town magician who has to lead his local football team to victory in order to marry the love of his life — was particularly challenging for us as we had to deal with the usual schedule and budget constraints, along with complications brought by the pandemic.

Restrictions meant that only 50 vaccinated people could be on set at any one time. That’s quite an issue when the climax of your film involves a huge football match with a bustling crowd of thousands. What’s more, production was put on hold for six months, so when we picked up filming the actual crowds again, the lighting conditions were completely different. We had to get really creative.

For the crowd multiplication scenes, the solution that the co-supervisor, director Sameer Saxena, and myself devised was to use 2D VFX techniques to turn 50 actors into 200. The film didn’t have the sort of budget to stretch to a full CG crowd, so this was both affordable and innovative. We did some tests to see whether the shot plates would have the required amount of energy if we combined them with clever camera angles. In the VFX business, careful planning and preparation are everything. It’s what turns a good shot into a great shot. 

Putting the crowd scenes together

We attended a two-day crowd shoot, noting all the camera data for shot and lighting conditions, while the director got the extras to perform a variety of match-day reactions. If we used the same crowd plates for the whole stadium, the effect would be ruined because you’d see it was the same people repeating over and over again. We then scanned the stadium so we could reproduce it on the computer, compositing the crowd as 2D digital cards and making over 200 layers from the green screen shoot. If the camera’s perspective shifted, we knew it from our data collection, including how the lighting would change, and we could match this with all the plates. 

Finally, I worked with Vinay on the VFX floor, ensuring the crowd layers matched the actual crowd available while shooting — in terms of scale, lighting, action, and other details. Collaborating on Jaadugar with Vinay enabled us to be more efficient and productive so that we could deliver the final product on time and on budget, resulting in high-quality VFX that was praised by critics and audiences alike.

My main takeaway from our problem-solving on Jaadugar is this: always be prepared to adapt. We had to think outside the box and merge old-school 2D compositing with 3D VFX techniques. If you know the industry, and you know your craft, you can think on your feet and overcome any obstacle. 

Advice for the next generation

My advice for any aspiring VFX artist is to learn as much as possible about the tools and techniques you’ll need for the job. There are so many resources available — for me, it was books and training manuals, but now with the internet, there’s limitless knowledge just at the click of a mouse. Put in the time and you’ll reap the rewards. Keep your eyes on updates and new technologies as well. All the recent developments in Unreal Engine are seriously exciting. Virtual production is taking the industry by storm, enabling real-time visualizations that are becoming preferable to old-school methods like blue and green screen. 

Our job as VFX artists is not just to make big flashy explosions or dynamic laser shots. If Jaadugar can teach you anything, it’s that invisible VFX really matter. Overlooking even minor details can distract the audience from what's important — the story being told. We’re here to avoid that and ensure that the story is conveyed just as the director intended.

Click here to learn more about Futureworks' work on Jaadugar. 

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[Images courtesy of Netflix]