International visual effects wiz Charles Darby has been in the industry for 14 years and has worked on more than 47 films. One of the pioneers of digital matte paintings, Charles is currently the CEO and Creative Director of EyeQube Studios in Mumbai, which is an Eros International company working on a number of projects including the much awaited Aladdin and Veer.
Darby's work includes Academy and BAFTA award-winning work on films such as Titanic, The Matrix, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, The Fifth Element, Minority Report and Drona. In an interview, Darby speaks about the visual effects in Sujoy Ghosh's Aladdin, his views on the Indian film industry, future projects and more...
Tell us about your visual effects (vfx) work for Aladdin?
We have over 1,500 vfx shots and that includes, quite easily, the most complex vfx ever produced in India.
What kind of shots does the film have?
It's a gamut of work actually. It's everything from 3D city shots, 2D shots, character animation and high-end compositing. It's everything you can imagine a large FX driven film to have.
Is there any other studio working on Aladdin?
I have designed all the shots in the film and EyeQube has created all the CG elements used throughout the movie. We have commissioned one other company to help composite our elements for one sequence. We supervise the work and make sure our quality standards are met.
Is a sequel in the pipeline?
I think Eros has already green lit a sequel. I am sure the performance of the first Aladdin is going to be the most important thing. But, Eros is so happy with Aladdin so far, that they are already having the second one written.
How do you see vfx integrating in Bollywood films?
We don't deal with many clients but only large shows. If a show comes to us, they kind of adhere to the manner in which we work. So, if we are involved in pre-production, then it's the kind of show we would be involved with. Not every show, here in Bollywood is run like that but those who want really western quality high-end vfx, and the ones that don't mind planning, are the ones that we are going for.
With Aladdin we have been very fortunate because the director, Sujoy Ghosh has given us a lot of leeway to do our job, and that makes a huge difference.
Did you also work on the pre-production and pre-visualization?
Yes. Even before EyeQube had an office, I had been on Aladdin for almost two years.
How much of vfx work has been completed?
I can't give you a percentage. Essentially, I don't say something is final until it looks really good.
EyeQube was also involved in outsourcing work with other projects.
We produced 300 shots for Drona. We have already started with pre production for vfx shots for Anil Sharma's Veer.
Aladdin is slated to be the biggest vfx film since Drona and Love Story 2050 in 2008. How are you making sure that the quality of visual effects meets international standards?
Every day is a fight. It's very difficult to get western style quality here because very few companies care enough or have enough time and desire to make that kind of work. Ultimately, no one really cares how many shots are there in the film. All they care about is how it's done at the end.
The other thing they care about is the story. If it doesn't have a good story, it doesn't matter. It's quite like saying that this film has great sound but awful story. Part of what we do is to make a good story look bigger and better.
Is the story more important that the visual effects?
The story is always more important. But if you take a good story and give it great vfx, it will be a very memorable piece of filmmaking. But you can't put great vfx on a mediocre story and make it work. A mediocre story is always a mediocre story.
Tell us about any challenging shot in Aladdin.
We have a completely 3D computer generated (CG) city and landscape with over 3,000 houses, all modeled and textured. (It's been) very difficult. When you have full CG, there is nothing real, there is nothing to support it on the screen. We have a lot of shots of the city and some of the most complex shots any fx house anywhere in the world would attempt. And no one in India would ever attempt that kind of look. So far, that's the most complicated shot.
What is there for the audience in Aladdin?
It's a good story, it's entertaining. So even if you take out the vfx, it's still a fun film. If you put the vfx in, it's a really big film. And that's the key. In some films if you take out all the fancy digital intermediate (DI), all the music and vfx, you are left with very little. And I think a lot of producers are realizing that the story is actually important. There is no point in having visual effects for just visual effects' sake; they need to be there to support the story.
With Aladdin, we had to support the story and make the film possible because there are certain sequences in the film which would be nearly impossible to do. So vfx allows you to tell a certain story, they're the kind of shots which were very difficult to have shot.
How many people are working on the vfx as of now?
I have 200 staff of which 180 people working on just Aladdin, which is different because EyeQube is not doing adverts here or TV there. We are doing pre production on Veer and rest of the company is on Aladdin, 24 hours a day. So, it's a much more focused and planned process.
99% of people in my company are Indian artists, but what is different is the culture we have created in the company. We make sure that the artists really understand the look and the feel of the shot, and nothing gets finalized without me liking it personally.
Has the recession affected EyeQube?
No one in the world is recession proof. My number one job is quality and as long as I keep my quality extremely high, then my competition - domestic or international - has a problem. If you do mediocre work, you are always bidding against someone else. There's always someone who will bid lower that you and a producer who will pay less. But, if your quality is high, people will pay for that. And they will pay internationally, if they want to send work to India.
India is not known or respected for outsourcing good quality vfx work but if they see Aladdin and if they appreciate it, I can get good budgets from these guys and they can save money. So in a recession, that's a pretty good deal. Therefore I only aim at quality.
What is your understanding of the Indian industry?
As long as Indian producers and directors focus on the story, it will be good. With Aladdin, I really want India to be respected for its work. I don't want people in the West to think that India cannot produce good vfx. And I want my artistes to like what they did.
On future projects
We will work on anything which I like the sound of. If the work is interesting, the budget is OK and we have time to do it, we will do it. We have remained fairly quiet in the past few months and want our work to speak for itself.