I have had a good fortune to have been working on Drona since the last six months. During the pre-production and shooting stages, I was presented with numerous stimulating challenges in the making of this film while now in the all important post- production phase of the film, things are as exciting as the pre-production stage.
It was an exciting shoot as we invented practical solutions for complex shots - how to do a motion control track underwater (without using waterproofed motion control), shooting a stunning action sequence on a running train - and even getting our hero (played by the Abhishek Bachchan) to jump off the roof of a moving train to a horseback.
After we had the excellently shot film material, we decided that Drona deserved a pristine and sharp overall look, especially with its acquired status as one of India's most important films of the year.
Hence, we decided to investigate the possibilities of doing the Digital Intermediate (DI) in 4k in several facilities that trumpeted 4k workflows in Mumbai. We had seen some recent Indian blockbusters go the 2k route in 1:2.35 cinemascope format but weren't happy with the overall soft image that is derived at that resolution - in fact, centre extraction of a 2k scanned image is really down to the equivalent of less than a thousand lines of resolution and I personally think that this is inadequate for wide format films on the big screen.
I explained to all and sundry about the potential facilities that we wanted and warned that we would have to accommodate editorial changes and last minute VFX versions into the two and a quarter hour film in the final stages of grading, although this has become practically the norm with most films today - all the same, I wanted to be sure that our requirements would be taken care of..
We were shown various opportunities, systems, colourists and theoretical workflows by quite a number of facilities - all of them highly motivated and stimulated to work on one of the most-awaited projects of the year here in India.
To be straight, these techniques may be eminently useful for getting more out of less and indeed I have used them effectively myself in the past, but together with Goldie Behl and Sameer Arya the director of photography, we had already decided that we wanted nothing but the best for Drona and that we weren't going to accept any compromises on the film's quality and that actually meant that we needed to do the entire process in full-- blown 4 k; this accurately matches the original camera negative when well calibrated and fine tuned, and makes the DI process more exciting as there is no quality compromise for using all of those wonderful and creative colour grading tools that DI has become so renowned for.
Shooting and VFX facilities
The principal cinematography was done at Prague, Namibia, Mumbai and Rajasthan. For visual effects I had taken stock of many facilities, seen their showreels, got to know the set ups.
I asked them for estimates for numerous VFX shots. Finally we settled for Mumbai's most-preferred facilities like EyeQube Studios, Future Works, Prana and to larger extent at Tata Elxsi.
Future Works repertoire
The actual workflow set up in Future Works with the help of the highly experienced Steve Shaw, is based on Spirit 4k for scanning, Pablo iQ for editing and grading, and Arrilaser for film recording. The VFX are sent to the various aforementioned facilities and are directly available on-line in Future Works itself, after which the finished effects go back into the facility's 4k Pablo with 8 hours of 4k memory. After the grade and edit in 4k, film recording to inter-negative was done on the facility's 4k Arrilaser.
For Drona we contracted Steve Shaw to assist with the DI. Steve is no stranger to me, having set up CinecittÀ Digital with him in 2001, so I am happy that he can contribute his creative and technical flair to this project as well. He will be co-ordinating with Future Works' own talented DI grading team. There's nothing like experience for getting the job done well.
Kind of work done
We had already tested ways of making the metallic components of our hero's costume more brilliant, for example; and even more exciting is the knowledge that we will make extensive use of the effects toolset of Pablo during the DI online and grade. We will be able to add in and see in context, camera-shake on the fast-action sequences, thus generally saving the effect count considerably by using the power of the system to do many of these so-called "optical" effects, as they are generally known. In short Drona is pushing the bench mark ever higher in the fast-growing Indian Film Industry, and I'm proud to be part of the team actively pushing the quality envelope.