Computer generated effects aren’t just for futuristic movies and superhero films anymore. They’re everywhere. Switch on your TV and a CG effect is probably hidden in one of the movie scenes or advertisements you’re watching. Visual effects (VFX) is not meant to be noticeable, and that takes some serious talent and hard work. During the course of your special FX career, you’ll work with lots of raw footage to transform it into a work of art. All you’ll need is knowledge of relevant software, an artistic bent of mind, some engineering skills and a basic understanding of physics, which will help avoid glaring mistakes like a well-built Arnold in ‘Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines’ lightly bouncing off the street like he weighed next to nothing. So, if you’re ready to enter this field, let’s look at what you can expect.

When the official trailer for India’s most expensive movie ‘Baahubali’ was released on YouTube, it garnered more than 60 lakh views and 35,000 likes thanks to the two-minute long clip featuring lush landscapes of mountains and waterfalls, temples, and palaces battlefields – all made possible by 17 VFX studios with 600 artists. Surprisingly, the VFX studios hired for this job were based out of Hyderabad, home to Tollywood. Proving we’re finally moving away from being just a post-production visual effects sweatshop for Hollywood movies like ‘Life of Pi’ and ‘The Golden Compass’ to actually making our own content like special FX studios, Zentrix, Lighthouse Animation Studios, Prime Focus and Studio Eeksaurus are doing today.

“India is currently well positioned in the global VFX industry”, says Danny Wilson, Creative Supervisor at Lighthouse Animation Studios. He continues, “This is due to the latest technology and equipment now easily accessible at affordable rates in the country, making it easy to start a company or project”. Due to this and the amount of visual effects these projects call for, VFX studios are popping up everywhere.

VFX effects in Mahadev were quite elaborate for being just a TV serial

The sheer number of studios in India now along with the increased collaborations among them has made this industry an undeniable breeding ground for aspiring VFX artists. Suresh Eriyat – Founder and Creative Director, Eeksaurus says, “VFX has the potential to create huge employment opportunities, however, that is subject to collaboration and close co-operation between the VFX entities of India. If they stand alone and compete against each other, the industry’s growth will be stunted. In Bahubali, I’m told that 17 VFX companies worked together. Such collaboration is a welcome trend for the industry as a whole.”

TV networks, production houses and ad makers are sitting up and taking notice of this development – both abroad as well as locally – and teaming up with special effects companies in India to reap the additional benefit of cost cutting. Danny suggests yet another advantage of this collaboration: “More people can get involved at the independent level as well to get more creativity so it doesn’t get bogged down to the big studios only, in turn encouraging a bit more out-of-the-box thinking, making it an exciting time to be in the VFX industry.”
Behind the scenes of The Martian

industry standard software
Adobe After Effect
The Foundry Nuke X
Bojou / Syntheye
Blackmagic Fusion
Autodesk Maya
Apple Final Cut Pro
While industry standard software is being developed daily and different studios work with different packages based on what the project in hand calls for, the skills you learn in one package will be transferrable to another. For example, you could learn and actually use 3D with Blender (for free) and then be able to pick up another package like Maya pretty quickly. Also, while there’s no standard set of apps used across studios, the workflows are very similar.

“No VFX artists were harmed in the making of this film” should ideally appear at the end of film or television credits. We don’t mean to scare you, but there are some challenges working in VFX. This industry is only for the strong-willed hard workers who persevere under tough conditions such as long hours and lack of projects. E. Suresh of Eeksaurus advises you to expect a 10-hour day during the normal in-flow of work and around 15 hours a day during peak work season. “Work, when it comes, would seem like a never-ending story. This coupled with multiple changes from clients keeps every professional on their toes.” If you love what you do, however, time flies. Also, remember, you’ll be surrounded by talented artists, innovators and veterans from the industry alongside whom you’ll be working, so you can expect to learn more than just the basics (read: things you won’t learn in a training institute ordinarily).

Another necessity for a successful career in special FX is the right kind of employee. If a company hasn’t done its due diligence, it may suffer or end up shutting down and you’ll be left with nowhere to go. Look at Rhythm and Hues that was forced to shut down after its thumping success at the Oscars for Life of Pi. Danny states, “You don’t want to work with a company that gets too big too fast. There are VFX studios that have a strong start but they don’t have the longevity to continue, to be able to foresee the next thing that happens (‘Now this is happening, so the next thing has to be this’ kind of thought process). So if a studio is letting go of employees or not paying their employees, it’s because the work isn’t there. The work is out there. You have to get your people to get the work into your studio. The key to a successful VFX studio is to have a strong clientele, a strong marketing backbone. The more VFX studios bring in international clientele, the better the exposure for these artists to grow and flourish and become something more.” Suresh Eriyat advocates working with studios that collaborate with each other (like the studios involved in the post production of Baahubali did), rather than ones that try to outdo each other and try to create their own VFX empire. So you have a level of security knowing you have growth in the future.

As a fresher, you can expect to earn around Rs.15,000-20,000 and once you gain adequate experience, anything from a lakh to a couple of lakhs and more is yours for the asking. And if you can’t decide whether to take on freelance projects or a full-time job, remember that freelancers are often paid more since they work on contract-based jobs, however, the amount of pay they rake in is undoubtedly based on their level of talent and experience. There’s a caveat though. As a freelancer in the VFX industry, as with any field, there’s no stability

Some Job Roles in the VFX Industry…
Accessory Designer
Production Designer
Render Wrangler
Rigging Artist
Environment Builder
Roto Artist
Lighting Artist Texture
Matchmove Artist
VFX Director
Matte Painter
VFX Supervisor
Modeling Artist
VFX Team Lead
Production Assistant
Weapon Designer