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The small screen's growing romance with VFX

Increasing use of visual effects in Indian TV shows.

NEW DELHI: Visual effects-laden shows have always captured audience interest on television, be it mythological serials like Ramayana or Jai Shree Krishna or the earliest superheroes shows like Shaktimaan. But the times they are a-changin'; the fleetfooted advance of digital technology and the rise of OTT platforms have set the expectations of television viewers much higher.

Industry heads from leading VFX studios came together for this year’s VFX and More (VFX) Summit organised by AnimationXpress to discuss how an increasing number of storytellers in the television space are adopting high quality visual effects to provide a visual treat to the audience.

The panelists included One Life Studios business head Summit Jaiswal, Contiloe Pictures and Films animation business CFO & head - VFX Nitin Dadoo, Dashami Creations producer Ninad Vaidya, and Flying Toads Entertainment CFO Hitesh Kumar. AnimationXpress founder, chairman & editor-in-chief Anil Wanwari moderated the session and sought industry views on how the studios are rising up to meet the viewers’ expectation.

“Most of the TV shows that we work on are historical dramas. We are required to recreate that era and those places to complement the storytelling,” revealed Vaidya. His studio is currently working on creating visual effects for Sony Entertainment Television latest period piece Punyashlok Ahilyabhai, which began airing in January 2021.

“For instance, for Punyashlok Ahilyabhai, we had to create the landscape with open spaces from Ahmednagar to which she belonged. Even for Mere Sai, we used VFX for creating the miracle sequences which would come very often,” he said.

However, given the timebound nature of daily serials, there is enormous stress for quicker delivery, due to which the teams do not get the time to storyboard everything, he remarked.

Along similar lines, Jaiswal pointed out that unlike movies, which have the advantage of more time and budget to work with, television operates under tighter budgets and deadlines.

“We take roughly five hundred to six hundred shots per episode for a TV show. Now if we have to deliver the content six days a week, then all we have is 12-16 hours to get the adequate effects ready. Unlike movies, where perhaps we can do with one shot a week. So, most of us are working under pressing deadlines which sometimes take a toll on the quality. We have over 80 artists who are working round the clock and a lot of times, we outsource some of the work to vendors,” he detailed.

Dadoo focused on the cost-profit aspect of the business, which has taken a turn for the better with the advent of VFX, making it a crucial component of storytelling on the smaller-screen. “It saves a lot of cost for producers, because they do not have to physically construct the big sets. All can be managed by VFX. But, the quality of those VFX is the differentiating factor. For digital, we require high-end software. So, the need now is to adapt to newer technology, do real-time tracking, but optimise resources at the same time,” he explained.

Contiloe Pictures was credited for bringing deity Ganesha alive on screen with its motion capture (facial capture) technology on the show Vighnaharta Ganesha on Sony Pictures Entertainment in 2017. With 800 episodes of the show under its belt, the company is now attempting to execute full body motion captures for its new shows, some of them on digital. “Most of our work is done in-house. We have a team of 150 artists in Mumbai and roughly 50 in Bhubhaneshwar,” he added.

While on one hand, more use of VFX has led the way for narrowing the quality gap between the small screen and the big screen, it has also raised the expectations of viewers, who seek a similar level of quality on TV. The arrival of OTT platforms and exposure to international content has set the bar even higher, said Wanvari and sought industry views on the same.

“Television has quick turnaround time. And then there are times when we have to redo shots, when some sequences do not work. But both TV and digital have to go hand-in-hand. We have a team of roughly 40 people who do the entire work, but we have to depend on freelancers also,” mentioned Kumar, whose studio produced VFX for the show Nazar which aired on Star Plus.

However, the pandemic has hit the industry hard and animation and visual effects studios have not gone unscathed either. The impact was mostly evident on the VFX budgets, which have gone down.

“These may be challenging times and budget remains a constraint. But, VFX has given writers and producers in the television industry the opportunity to tell stories in more creative ways. Hopefully, when economic recovery happens and budgets creep up again, more funds will be allotted for VFX by the channels so that the output can match that of the better produced originals on streaming services," expressed  Wanvari.

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