Bahubali had us stunned with its spectacular display of grandeur, magnanimity, magnificence and might. The mastermind behind these breathtaking visual effects, Srinivas Mohan had us stunned even more with his humble and down to earth character. A 3-time National Award Winner, Srinivas Mohan makes one look up with admiration and respect. His work speaks volumes about the man himself. Incorporating new technologies in each of his films, Srinivas Mohan has carved a niche in the industry. Ever ready to spend time with the youth, especially students, he sits down to have a leisurely chat on life, Bahubali, Superstar Rajnikanth and more.
How did it all begin? How did you get interested in visual effects?
I was a share accounting software programmer during the beginning of my career. One of my competitors had designed his program in such a way that it had some animations. It had me amazed and as a competitor I wanted to try out the same thing. So I found out about the software they had used and learnt it in a week. I started working with it and found it to be very interesting. But gradually I forgot about it. A client had seen my logo and they wanted some animations for a program of theirs as ministers were coming to view it. I gladly agreed. I am from Vijayawada. Also most of my friends are in the video industry. They requested my help for the marriage videos they were doing. Slowly I started working on this in parallel. At one point of time my friend Balakrishna noticed my talent and he proposed we start an ad agency in Hyderabad. I was reluctant as I knew nothing about that industry but I wanted to learn. I told him about a course in Chennai which I wanted to join. I shifted to Chennai for the course. While I was here, I used to go to my friends’ video studio and implement everything I learnt there. They were awestruck. Indian Artists Computer Graphics invited me to be a part of their team after they saw my work. I started doing small advertisements for them. We did some work for PC Sreeram sir as well.
A 3-time National Award Winner, Srinivas Mohan makes one look up with admiration and respect. His work speaks volumes about the man himself.
Ad Agencies didn’t have much of VFX/Animations?
There wasn’t much of Visual Effects or Animations involved in ad agencies. But a lot of new techniques come out in advertisements.
What were the advertisements you worked in?
We did ads for Nippo and Modfurn. My project was for GE Electricals. I had designed their animated logo.
How did you feel when you got your first break in films?
Before I got my first break in BOYS, we did a lot of titles for movies. AM Ratnam used to dub Tamil movies into Telugu movies. He gave me my first project which was the title for the movie Arunachalam in Telugu. Later when AM Ratnam was doing BOYS with Shankar sir, he recommended my name to Shankar sir. He gave me an opportunity and from there it began.
How was it work with Shankar sir and Rajamouli sir?
Of course it was wonderful! They are great creators with great ambitions. Their vision is so clear and big. And they can be executed only with the help of VFX. If not, the magnanimity is lost. They understand technology and VFX very well. They are experienced with VFX as well, making it very comfortable to work with them as they understand the ideas we are trying to convey.
How different is Shankar sir from Rajamouli sir?
From the creator’s point of view they are alike. They have similar visions and opulent dreams. They handle VFX similarly.
Which do you prefer?
Both are poles apart. Each one has their own style of working and it’s a nice environment to work in.
Do you have any plans of directing?
Not anytime soon. We need to serve the VFX Industry. There is a big need for Visual Effects in film industry at present. We need to provide support to the VFX industry.
Do you have any story in mind?
It may come to me when I am much older. At present we need to serve the creators.
How did you manage the work in Endhiran?
It was the first time the audience was viewing such a scene in cinema. Except for the climax, the remaining scenes were shot live and then combined with visual effects. But the climax was entirely digital.
How was it to work with Superstar Rajnikanth?
Amazing! He was very professional. They are always on time. He respects each and everyone on the set from the light boy to the director equally. He never behaves like a Superstar. He is always a close friend.
We always look out for new technologies and try to incorporate it in films. That is the biggest challenge we face. We can’t afford to fail with big stars. We have to ensure that the technology is a success when incorporated.
How challenging was it to do body casting for Endhiran?
It was one of the biggest challenges we faced. With every new film, we start adopting new technologies. During Endhiran it required body casting and scanning of Rajni sir although it was digital. We even used the Light Stage.
How was it to work in Bahubali?
Bahubali was made entirely in digital. And now we have a lot of support in terms of tools and technology. It is more user-friendly. There wasn’t much technical support during the time of Endhiran. I had to depend on my team abroad. I went to the University of Southern California, Los Angeles where they have an R&D Graphics Research Lab. They have a very good technology called the Light Stage.
What were the expenses incurred for the Visual Effects in Bahubali?
20% of the overall budget was allocated for the Visual Effects in Bahubali.
And the remuneration was mostly spent for Manpower?
More than hardware, artists’ power is more prominent. And we needed artists of high quality. Hence the expenses incurred.
Please tell a few words about the Visual Effects scenario in today’s colleges.
The Light Stage is yet to come in our Universities. When I visited NASCCOM a few days back, I had suggested a few details. The education system needs to dwell in-depth and provide quality education. Only then can we provide eminent output. We need more people from artistic background because at present, we have many people with technical backgrounds. We have sufficient people to do Bahubali-2. But if another project bigger than that arises, then we lack talent. It needs to come from government institutions. Private institutions do offer training but it is only for outsourcing jobs. We need real artistic talent. Art background is more important than operating knowledge.
What were the difficulties you face as a Visual Effects Supervisor?
In Bahubali we have adopted an entirely new technology. We always look out for new technologies and try to incorporate it in films. That is the biggest challenge we face. We can’t afford to fail with big stars. We have to ensure that the technology is a success when incorporated. Fear grips me every time I try something new.
How did you come up with the idea of applying skin grafting technique for Rajni sir in Sivaji?
Shankar sir wanted to show Rajni sir in European skin. He asked if it was feasible before going into composition. We couldn’t do it using make-up because his face would become bulky and you wouldn’t get the translucent feel of skin. His face will become patchy. We did a simple test and I had confidence that we could pull it off. Shankar sir reaffirmed if it was possible and then sat down for composing the song with Rahman sir. On location after Rajni finished his shot, a European girl replicated Rajni sir’s actions in the exact lighting. We then grafted the skin of the girl onto Rajni sir. A big challenge was that each and every expression of Rajni cannot be afforded to miss. Or else he might end up looking like the girl. Although we faced several hurdles and it was a big challenge, I got lots of recognition for this work.
Each and every movie you work on has some new idea and technology being incorporated. Whose idea is it?
Most of the ideas are the directors. We will support him but 99% of the ideas are from the director. We will make it more realistic and present it to the audience. A director has many grand ideas and we make the audience believe in the vision and the Visual Effects.
Have you ever said a NO to any idea given by a director?
Most of the time, no. It happens very rarely. The main reason behind it might be because of the budget constraints, and not because of the possibilities.
The audience should not feel the presence of Visual Effects. It shouldn’t disturb the flow of the movie. We need to make the audience believe in the visual effects and for that we need to make it work.
How did you feel when you won the National Award?
That was a big recognition and acknowledgement I had got for my work. The first time, I had no clue we would win it. It was an extraordinary experience. The second time was also wonderful. The third time we had a hunch we would win it for Endhiran.
What do you think is the most important aspect for Visual Effects to work?
Believability. The audience should not feel the presence of Visual Effects. It shouldn’t disturb the flow of the movie. We need to make the audience believe in the visual effects and for that we need to make it work. If anyone sees its falsity, then we have gone wrong somewhere. We either overdid it or underplayed it. While watching Bahubali, I felt certain scenes to have overpowering visual effects but the story demands it. We have tried to make it as natural as possible. We have employed Visual Effects in several scenes but you tend to notice it only in the climax. It needs to blend with the storyline. It shouldn’t stand out.
What are you currently working on?
I mostly do Shankar sir’s films and now Rajamouli sir’s films. I mostly won’t be having time to do other films. I am currently concentrating on Shankar sir’s new movie and I am also providing support for Bahubali-2 which is almost complete.
A few words to the younger generation.
Don’t worry about tools, operating system and its functionality. You need to be artistic. Art forms the basis. If you are learning from scratch, then try to master Arts. If any basic thing you create is wrong, then the audience will also be able to tell it’s wrong. The audience knows what is right. So you need to learn what is right first. You need to observe the surrounding. You need to observe nature and your surroundings. You need to observe each and everything and note the tiniest of details. You also need to have a good knowledge about Physics. We are trying to create an exact replica so you need to know the lighting and physics behind it. Hence we need to get it right for the audience to not see through it. Either you can be a still photographer or an artist. These people have excellent observatory skills and have an eye for detail. We must always try to learn some form of art.
The Guindy Times thanks Srinivas Mohan for spending his valuable time with us and patiently answering all our queries.
Photography: Hari Haran