Creating King Khan’s Doppelgänger

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Red Chillies VFX’s Haresh Hingorani and Keitan Yadav reveal how a mélange of VFX, prosthetics and makeup transformed Shah Rukh Khan from a 50-year old superstar to his …


Red Chillies VFX’s Haresh Hingorani and Keitan Yadav reveal how a mélange of VFX, prosthetics and makeup transformed Shah Rukh Khan from a 50-year old superstar to his 25-year lookalike in Fan

By VINITA BHATIA

There is a scene in Fan where the protagonist Gaurav Chandna checks into Mumbai’s century-old Delite Hotel whilst reliving the life of his celluloid demigod, Aryan Khanna. He then tries to escape cops by jumping from the crumbling ledges of this ramshackle building.

Since shooting an action sequence from this old structure was out of the question, due to safety reasons, it was decided to digitally recreate the building, and this onus fell on Red Chillies VFX.

To be able to do this, the company’s technicians took almost 5,000 reference photographs of the bustling Charni Road as well as aerial shots from an octocopter to get a better idea of the area’s landscape and geographic contours. This would be replicated in the 3D models later created for the shoot using photogrammetry technique. Keitan Yadav, Red Chillies VFX’s COO and Harry Hingorani, the company’s chief creative officer also decided to build a 30×30 feet wall and install it with interchangeable windows, to create a different look from various camera angles.

Haresh Hingorani and
Keitan Yadav of Red Chillies VFX.

“We also played with lighting depending on which floor Chandna jumped from, or onto, in the sequence. Since the wall allowed us to shoot till eight floors with the interchangeable windows coming into play; the higher the floor, the more the light, and as he came to lower floors the lighting went dimmer. This kind of planning helped in saving time and reducing the overall production cost as well,” Hingorani, who was also Fan’s VFX supervisor, recalled.

If you think this was just one instance where close attention to detail was paid to VFX in Fan, you have another think coming. This film did not have the usual song-and-dance routine or romance associated with a Shah Rukh Khan (SRK) movie. Instead, it offered lot of action scenes and towering screen presence of SRK in twin roles, as Khanna and his alter ego, Chandna – and a better part of VFX was funnelled to create the perfect look for the latter.

CREATING THrilling MOMENTS
One of Fan’s on-the-edge moments is a dramatic SRK vs SRK chase in Croatia’s Dubrovnik city, which was interestingly
shot at Mumbai’s Film City. Again Red Chillies VFX’s team shot close to 5,000 to 6,000 photographs capturing Dubrovnik’s important areas from an aerial as well as ground level view to build 3D models that displayed its geography. These models were then textured and treated with the exact amount of light exposure, rendered out for final compositing stage and matched during the live shoot. The decision to shoot this rooftop chase and fight sequence in Film City proved to be cost effective as it shaved off nearly 20 days of the on-location schedule at Croatia.

Greg Cannom’s team applies prosthetics on Shah Rukh Khan’s face.

“Since the sequence required disturbing the rooftop bricks as well as involved some heavy-duty fight shots, it was decided to shoot it in controlled lighting environment and against the Chroma screen. But after seeing the movie, even seasoned VFX
professionals could not spot this,” Yadav proudly recalled. “There is some movement in almost every shot in this sequence and we could give that parallax effect using 3D photogrammetry. We also shot the Croatia plates in abundance to replace against the Chroma screens placed on the set in Film City.”

Similarly, when they shot the finale scene in Delhi, it posed its own set of difficulties since it was built around Diwali night with lot of lights and fireworks. “It was impossible to actually shoot in the night, as it was impractical to place so many mirchi (rice bulb) lights all over the location. So, we took moving and reference shots of the surrounding areas and shot the sequence during the day for night and created detailed 3D models, while the action scenes were shot, against Chroma screens and then composited it,” Yadav explained.

There is another particular episode in the movie, where Gaurav visits Aryan house by impersonating him and trashes his trophy room. Though it was just four minutes long, this scene was difficult to implement from a VFX perspective, and took nearly 12 months, with two people working on it exclusively. It involved Chroma screen shots, set extensions and background regeneration wherever SRK was in the frame and interacting with the props around him. SRK had to give a one-shot take with simultaneous camera tracking and face tracking, which was again technically challenging to execute.

FEW HEADS BETTER THAN ONE 
The initial talks on how to approach Fan from a technical perspective began during the making of Happy New Year, when director Maneesh Sharma and producer Aditya Chopra met Yadav and Hingorani. Most of the discussions centred on creating a right look for the 25-year old Chandna, but making him look distinctly different from the
50-year old superstar.

Talking about it, Sharma said, “We had to create a lookalike of a face that the audience have adored for over 20 years,
which was challenging. I told Yadav and Hingorani that in certain angles Chandna had to look like Khanna.” While discussing this with technicians, locally and internationally, Sharma got the feedback that making someone look older was easier, but making someone look younger was almost impossible. “Yadav and Hingorani finally gave me the confidence that it is possible, but it would involve lot of R&D,” he added.

Sharma signed up Greg Cannom, who won the Academy Award for makeup in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Mrs Doubtfire. He sent Cannom photos from Fauji, Dariya Dil, Deewana, etc, to give him an idea of the younger SRK. “Sharma wanted Chandna to look plump, but the original moulds I created were lumpy. So, while sitting in my office, looking at the heads of various actors I had crafted, I noticed Brad Pitt’s unusual jawline structure and I decided to give Pitt’s cheek’s to Chandna,”
Cannom revealed.

Initially, the team considered using prosthetics for SRK’s forehead and neck area along with his cheeks to make Chandna look chubby. But after seeing that the light reacted differently to the natural skin and prosthetics, it was decided to restrict the prosthetics only on the jawline.

SRK pitched in with his inputs as well. “Sharma wanted Chandna to have curly hair, while I was adamant that a fan would always copy his star’s hairstyle. After several tests, we finally got the right look for Chandna,” he mentioned.
Later, while discussing his look with Cannom, he said that Chandna should sport SRK’s trademark dimples as well, which the makeup expert agreed too. “I think Cannom hasn’t done something like what he did in Fan, where you use prosthetics to make someone look younger, especially given the humid Indian weather,” SRK commented.

GETTING THE RIGHT LOOK

To get the ideal younger look for Chandna, Sharma, Yadav and Hingorani decided to reduce SRK’s height, remove his Adam’s apple, make his shoulder narrower, reduce his neck muscles, fill out his eyebrows and more importantly, alter the shape of his nose to make it smaller. The last was the most difficult task for the VFX team, since it was necessary to ensure its shape, uniformity and size throughout the film.

Another decision that the Red Chillies VFX took was to avoid shooting against the Chroma screen as they wanted proper light exposure on the characters and not make Chandna look like a cut-out figurine against a background. “This meant that we had to
regenerate all the background areas where his original frame was overlapping on the people around him, since he is two and a half inches shorter than Khanna. Also there are various shots where he is moving through a crowd or interacting with people, thus shooting against the Chroma wasn’t feasible,” Haresh explained.

After every take by SRK, the team used to shoot a clean plate without him from the same angle, where the rest of the cast would do the same thing. And that is the shot that the VFX team would then use to recreate the background. “We had to extract him from the plate, including his hair strands. Wherever we could not, we even recreated his
hair strands in 3D,” Keitan stated.

Tech to the rescue
To ensure continuity of Chandna’s facial alterations, Red Chillies VFX tracked SRK’s face in 3D with match-move software and strategically placed markers on his face. Another 3D model with his reduced nose was created as a reference for the compositing team, which used body scanning software to scan 72 costumes used in the film. SRK’s body and head was initially scanned with camera rigs, which proved beneficial for the face rotomation process; especially for the nose, stubble and cheeks.

“We checked every costume for proportions to ensure continuity. Since Chandna’s stature is different, it was important for the concept teams to re-check all frames minutely,” Haresh recalled. They scanned SRK from head to toe as rotoscopy and background recreation was outsourced, which included outlined images wherever non-creative roto work was involved in the film.

Having pushed the creative envelope far, the crucial litmus test for this hard work hung on the audience’s response; and how they would accept Chandna’s look. When the promotional song Jabra Fan was released in February 2016, many thought that Gaurav Chandna was a duplicate actor, which was the ultimate compliment that Yadav, Hingorani, Sharma and even SRK could ask for. Suddenly a new star was born into stardom, or should we say fandom – even if this star was defined by VFX parameters.

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