Vinita Bhatia takes a closer look at how RedChillies VFX digitally crafted the 80s look for Raees
When the first look for Raees was revealed in early 2016, Shah Rukh Khan (SRK), who plays the protagonist Raees Alam, sported a golden taweez (locket). SRK’s fans loved this look so much that the movie’s makers decided to retain the taweez as a part of his attire throughout the film although several shots had already been filmed without him wearing it. After all, they knew that they could always fall back on visual effects for these digital manipulations. In fact, in a particular action sequence, around 50 VFX shots were integrated just to show SRK with the CG-created locket around his neck.
But not all changes were done at the last minute. The team at RedChillies VFX started work on Raees a year ago when principal photography commenced. So, by the time they received the edited content, they had almost six months to work on the project in post-production.
“After breaking down the script, there were four major action sequences that required VFX work, while the rest was mostly clean-up work. That gave us time to execute 1,500 VFX shots with around 400 artists working on the project; the VFX work nearly accounted for 80 minutes of the film’s runtime,” said Haresh Hingorani, RedChillies VFX’s chief creative officer and VFX supervisor.
A REALISTIC APPROACH
Right from the outset, RedChillies VFX’s primary objective was to ensure that the CG shots seamlessly blended with the realistic environment of the movie. For those who have not watched the movie yet, Raaes is set in the late 1970s to late 1980s and shows how Raees Alam sells alcohol unlawfully in Gujarat, where prohibition laws are in effect. So, all the footage had to be converted to look like it belonged to that era. “We always had to keep in mind the things that we felt could not be converted or removed to match the shot with that period,” Hingorani said.
What helped during the VFX execution was the hands-on approach adopted by the film’s director, Rahul Dholakia. He kept sharing his inputs to make the graphics look better, while insisting they have a realistic approach. Yadav recalled one shot wherein they had to place actors riding a motorbike on a popular bridge in Gujarat that is now defunct. “We did everything to make it look real and also added water flowing under the bridge.
Dholakia, however, made us remove the water and replace it with a dry river bed instead. He said that there was no water in the river during that particular era,” he reminisced. Once the replacement was done, the shot looked better than its previous version.
This kind of attention to detail is expected from Dholakia, who had earlier directed the award-winning Parzania. He, along with his co-writers, Harit Mehta and Ashish Vashi, had researched for Raees for almost four years.
To recreate Gujarat as it existed from the 1970s to the 1990s, they travelled to Surat, Vadodara, Bhuj, and other parts of Gujarat, seeking out Muslim influences that still existed in old cities and used them as reference points to design the sets, costumes, and makeup. They passed this information to the RedChillies team, so they could incorporate the look in VFX later on.
SETTING UP EFFECTIVE WORKFLOWS
Many sequences were not shot in Gujarat due to logistical challenges and were shot in Film City in Mumbai or other studios instead. RedChillies had to ensure that these were shot against Chroma or similar backdrop, then matched with the references shared by Dholakia and the production designers and made to look like a Gujarat locale.
“The location team on the project did a great job in finding out sites that looked almost like Gujarat in the 80s. Production designers also did a brilliant job in designing the sets. Our VFX team’s job was to extend those sets or at times add a realistic touch to it. It was a tedious task to find out the tiniest objects, including AC split units, mobile network towers, and high-rise buildings, and remove them from the frame or replace them with a convincing structure according to the period. We went for a minimalist approach towards VFX and, therefore, most of the work was done using plates and very little CG work,” explained Keitan Yadav, chief operating officer and VFX producer of RedChillies VFX.
The film was spread across two big shooting schedules. The first schedule had a huge set building, which covered most of the Fatehpura City shown in the film. This involved minimalistic set extensions or beautification work. In the second schedule, there was no possibility of such a huge set to be built all over again. Here, the VFX team was consulted as to how to build a small set and later extend it in CG to maintain the scale of Fatehpura city throughout the film.
The VFX team set up a complete CG pipeline, which was in equal parts background prep and compositing work involved in the shots. Signboard cleanups, set extensions, fire enhancements, and smoke enhancements had to be integrated into various scenes and the technical and production teams had to work in sync to ensure that this was done parallelly so that the delivery schedules were maintained.
For instance, some team members were dedicated to ensure consistency of SRK’s look throughout Raees since his character transforms from seven to 45 years of age with distinctive looks at each stage. For his younger look, his hairstyle covers the forehead and he sports a thinner beard. As the character progresses in the movie, his clothes and eyewear keep changing to better support his evolved look.
Additionally, his kohl-rimmed eyes and thicker beard establish a menacing look. While the stylist had looked at every element carefully, the RedChillies VFX team had to remove the subtle blemishes in post since everything is now magnified in 4K content on the screen.
Talking about the most challenging VFX sequence in the film, Hingorani stated it was the one wherein SRK meets Atul Kulkarni (who plays Jairaj Seth in the movie) on Raees’ terrace on the day of Uttarayan festival. During this festival, everyone in Gujarat is out flying kites and the whole sky is dotted with colourful kites. “As this scene had to be shot on that particular day, it could not be done with the actors at any actual location as it would lead to a stampede. So, the scene was shot in Mumbai’s Filmcity with a minimum set of terraces and green screens. The terraces were then extended using references of a popular Gujarat city and several kites were added in the sky to achieve the festival’s feel,” Hingorani added. Yadav said that immense care was taken in set extensions in terms of matching the lighting, focus, and the exposure. One dedicated team worked on this particular sequence for over a month to make it look beautiful yet realistic. When he saw the final shot, the movie’s cinematographer, K U Mohanan, was amazed at the transformation.
What the film’s makers admired about the visual effects that went into Raees was not what was in but what was left out. While it is easy to cram lot of computer imagery into a movie, it is tougher to do it aesthetically so that the VFX is barely discernible and is woven gently into the movie. Yadav and Hingorani are delighted to have achieved this with Raees. It remains to be seen how the audience reacts to the movie.