When you think of traveling to Europe, you have grand thoughts of enjoying quiet afternoons sipping a latte at a street-side cafe table, strolling lush gardens, visiting museums, or having a plate of a thousand different types of cheeses – what you don’t expect is a whirlwind of Planes, Trains and Automobiles.
BOT founder and CEO Hitesh Shah and Senior Producer Frederick Lissau set out on BOT’s annual sojourn to Germany the first week in May with the goal of visiting BOT’s many Clients there – in addition to taking part in the yearly FMX Conference. FMX – www.fmx.de – brings together thousands of professionals from VFX, Animation, VR and Games from across the EU to Stuttgart, Germany.
“We knew it was going to be a challenge to see everyone, but we made it a point to see all of our Clients, no matter which city they were in,” affirmed Shah.
This inspired the team to do some sophisticated logistics planning to navigate to clients in Frankfurt, Munich, Hamburg, Berlin and Stuttgart.
“It was great having the chance to see everyone face to face and have some truly in-depth conversations. We made some really great human level connections that you simply can’t manage through calls, Skype sessions, emails and texts,” Lissau recalled about the trip. “The warm reception by our clients and the brief immersion into German culture more than made up for the absence of quiet street-side cafe moments.”
Leaping beyond the confines of a comic book panel can be a tricky task, especially when trying to establish a believable world that movie theatre audiences have never seen. The ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe took on this challenge with 2016’s Dr. Strange. Directed by Scott Derrickson, it’s not a story of just another city-saving reluctant hero in a cape (actually, in this story even the cape was a hero). Starring Benedict Cumberbatch as the titular hero, the film is nothing short of a hallucinatory head-trip.
Luma Pictures was responsible for some of the most difficult VFX shots in the film. Not surprisingly, Vince Cirelli of Luma Pictures was one of the nominees for Best Visual Effects in a Motion Picture at this year’s Academy Awards. Vince and his team at Luma leaned on BOT’s expertise and capacity to assist with some complicated and painstaking work to help Luma’s compositors seamlessly integrate CG elements into the live action plates.
BOTs were tasked with assisting on two of the most mind-bending parts of the film, totalling over 150 shots: the opening sequence starring Tilda Swinton (The Ancient One) and Mads Mikkelsen (Kaecilius), and the climactic battle between Benedict Cumberbatch (Doctor Strange) and an uncredited Benedict Cumberbatch playing an other-worldly villain (Dormammu). Over the course of 3 months, a team of over 30 BOTs was led by Srikanth S. on the rotoscopy and paint front and Govardhan A.B. on the matchmove front.
The most challenging of the BOTs’ tasks was the removal of complicated stunt rigs and wires. To help create a level of realism in the unreal world of the story, plates were shot with intricate camera moves along with changing lighting conditions. Using tools like Foundry’s Nuke, the team used a combination of procedural techniques, frame-by-frame manual painting, and a hybrid approach combining the two. The artists and the Supervisor relied on their experience to judge case by case, shot by shot, which approaches would be most efficient and effective.
Multiple deadlines and clashing deliveries were met with meticulous planning, scheduling, and collaborating. The team came through in true superhero spirit.
As 3D Supervisor Govardhan A.B. puts it, “The timeline towards the end was very tight. The minutest of details had to be worked on in an extremely short timespan, but the team’s support was phenomenal.”
BOT’s goal was to deliver exceptional work on time and budget. After successfully racing to the finish line, BOT VFX Executive Producer Hetal Jain gushed, “Working with Vince and his team at Luma is always an enriching experience for BOT; we’re glad to be associated with a film that’s an Oscar nominee.”
Exactly a week after I joined as a ‘Bot’, Deepak – the CalmBot’ – messaged me, regarding a guest speaker coming over at the office at 11 a.m. I thought to myself…
“Hmm… Guest speaker? Must be someone from the industry like an Art director or Creative person or maybe even an Actor (Robert Downing Jr.? Wink wink 😉
For the past week I have been trying to get in the groove of the work culture at BotVFX. Every day, I expect the monotony of familiarity to seep in, and every day I’m left a little more amazed. Here’s one of the reasons why.
At about 11 a.m. we get a brief about the speaker, Mr. Nipun Mehta – who is also Hitesh aka SuperBot’s friend. I quickly glance through his profile, and I’m instantly in awe of him. You’d be too if you found out that you were going to meet someone who’s received the Dalai Lama’s Unsung Hero of Compassion award. He’s also been on President Barack Obama’s council to reduce Poverty and Inequality. I’ll admit, I was a fanboy already. I head over to the conference room, where I instantly realize I’m not the only one who got the brief.
Dressed in plain clothes paired with ordinary ‘chappals’ was a young yet not so young gentleman sitting across the room.
Preconceived notions had me paint a mental picture of this guy dressed to the nines – tailor-made 3-piece suit, matching tie, Italian leather shoes, the complete jazz. Oh and of course, the American accent.
Cut to reality. I’m looking at this man, and am thrown fully off my train of thought. Introductions are made. Nipun takes a look at all the Hollywood movie posters hanging on the walls. He stops at Invictus and stares at it intently. He asks us if we did any work on this film (yes, we did). Nipun is impressed. He then goes on to talk about how the film, based on Nelson Mandela and François Pienaar, shows a nation brought together in times of intense racial tension by a sport. And how potentially vicious issues were easily resolved due to Mandela’s humility.
Nipun is reminded of his own personal experience – he was inspired by none other than Gandhiji to leave behind all his belongings in the USA and start a pilgrimage march in Gujarat. One anecdote led to another, and I just marveled at the way his words managed to strike the right chords, making the brain ponder on thoughts often looked over, giving a whole new perspective on things.
DANCING WITH THE STARS
When Nipun left all his comforts in Sillicon Valley, USA, he knew that his true calling was volunteering. But, if it really was as easy, we’d have made Florence Nightingales out of everyone.
Leaving everything actually meant EVERYTHING.
No cheat codes, no hacks, NOTHING.
He recalls one incident where he was offered dinner by an elderly lady. Her husband asked from where he had started. Nipun replied, “Ahmadabad”. The old man repeated “Oh, Memdavad”. Nipun corrected him “No, no! Ahmadabad, dada!”. The old man again said, “Haan, Memdavad” to which Nipun corrected him again. This correction-tennis went on for a few minutes. Convinced that the old man was hard of hearing, Nipun finally said, “Ahmadabad, dada, Ahmadabad! 127km from here, AHMADABAD!”. The old man softly said, “You have not truly left behind everything, because in your head you are still keeping track how much distance you have covered”. The depth of these words hit Nipun like a rock hurtling towards earth like the asteroid in Armageddon. What happened next was what we called “An Epiphany”. He realized that he was going to have to leave a lot more than just money and material comforts to really get a deeper understanding of life.
He then correlated this anecdote with Giving & Receiving vs Dancing.
Giving and Receiving are transactional acts. There is an exchange between 2 people. You give something only because you want to receive something.
Dancing on the other hand is not transactional and is best enjoyed when you don’t care who is looking, who is judging, without anyone keeping a minute to minute track of your steps, letting yourself loose – Basically, you do it for the pure love of it and nothing else.
CORPORATE ECOLOGY – GIVERS | MATCHERS | TAKERS
In a case study of an organization, employees were all placed at the same level and could work their way to the top. They were also grouped under 3 categories.
Givers – Generous people who place the needs of others above their own. The ones who only give and give and give – a fountain of generosity. Takers – Selfish people whose number one (and perhaps only) priority is their own self. Life is an all-you-can-eat buffet, and these folks are here for it. Matchers – Those who give as much as they take or vice versa. They know that you can only rightfully take stuff when you’ve given stuff in exchange in the first place.
At the start of the study, Takers were at the top, Matchers in the middle and Givers at the bottom. However towards the end of the study there were a quite a few Givers at the top and Takers at the bottom. The study proved that even Givers could make it to the top (defying the notion that Givers are the literal and figurative Losers). Similarly, a Taker could end up at the bottom. Matchers on the other hand saw that giving would transform into receiving more hence they would adapt themselves to be Givers.
Hence a total win-win for the organization.
BORN BANKRUPT, DIE RICH
When on topic of his pilgrimage, Nipun recalls the many days he spent hungry and thirsty. Earning needn’t necessarily mean asking for money.
Once, he asked an elderly person if he could assist the person in carrying his haystack back for nothing. The old man thought Nipun must be asking money to do the deed. However, Nipun clarified that there were no strings attached, and that he would really do it for free. The old mad, though bewildered, agreed.
When the old man and Nipun (holding the haystack on his head) came back to the village everyone wondered who was this new guy helping out this old man? The old man who was now having a 56-inch proud chest replied to all, “Someone was willing to help me without any reason – Godsent in the truest sense!”.
That day Nipun may not have earned anything monetary but he earned goodwill – forming a relationship with the old man. There’s no currency for that sort of stuff.
Nipun’s anecdote brings out the true meaning of life.
When we are born we are born with nothing. When we die, we die with nothing. But, it’s the period in-between that matters and determines what we leave behind.
It really is about the legacy you leave behind for generations to come, for strangers everywhere. You don’t have to reach the saintly level of Nelson Mandela. You can be a hero in your own little pond. The beauty is in taking the first step, and then repeating that over and over. Some people choose to do nothing, and are, thus, ultimately forgotten.
Don’t be one of those “some people”. There are already far too many of those.
There is this lazy, mistaken notion that you earn virtue just by signed a cheque to some NGO. If wishes were horses, am I right?
In simple mathematical terms: IF to be a Good person = Donate money
We know Time = Money
Replacing Money we can say a Good person is also one who Donates TIME
Once in a company there was a soft drink vending machine. One day an employee decided that he would treat the next person to a free can of Coke. He put up a note on the machine saying that ‘Enjoy your drink, its on me’. He did this everyday. Soon this became an office sensation. Everyone in office was curious who was this mystery Coke can gifter. When the mystery unraveled and the true perpetrator brought to question, he simply said that he just wanted to gift happiness… to anyone.
The joy of receiving a gift is surpassed only by the joy of giving, because the happiness is actually doubled once it serves its purpose.
Key and Peele – Can you be too nice at the office?
Vinoba Bhave was one such person who believed that ‘Helping Helps Helpers’. People adopted him as their son and gave 1/6th of their land to him. He in turn donated all the land received to the homeless, poor and landless. He helped more than 1000 villages by way of such help and countless lives were benefited solely because of him.
Nipun then went on to explain a corollary that read something to the effect of, “Only Hurt People Hurt Others”, which actually makes a lot of sense. Think about it. Nobody is born a villain. Nor does anybody intentionally want to hurt anyone. A pertinent question we should be asking ourselves is that should we restrict kindness only to selected people? No.
Take the 21 day kindness challenge and see an intrinsic difference! Everyday make it a priority to fulfill one random act of kindness. Kindness can be in any form. Take someone out, write a note to someone, bring a cupcake, teach a topic – Anything!
Key Take aways and 2017 goals
Give > Receive
Dance with humility
And so Nipun left us with a barn full of fodder for the mind. True to his word he made sure none of us left empty-handed as he ensured he ‘gave’ a powerful hug to every person in the room.
Chennai, the city where BOT has its production operation, has been hit by a cyclone on Monday with major repercussions for the city and BOT’s own operations. Cyclone Vardah, as it’s called, tore through the city with winds upwards of 120 kph and torrential rains that have downed many trees and tree limbs. So far the death count is at 10, along with many injuries throughout the city. We are fortunate in that none of our team and their families have been hurt in any way and have not sustained major personal property damage.
On Monday and much of Tuesday, many parts of the city sustained power loss, partial loss of mobile networks, and loss of internet resulting from the fallen trees and debris. However, as of Wednesday much of the power issues had been resolved, though some areas and buildings continue to have power issues. Major internet service providers say the cyclone has affected undersea digital cables, which has severely constrained the bandwidth accessible to the businesses in the city. They expect it to take a while to restore the expected service level.
As of Wednesday evening, BOT’s main production facility is restored with power. Our high bandwidth connection (100 Mbps) is also non-functional at this time; we only have a basic level of internet service to sustain email and low volume content. The artist and support team members are, for the most part, able to continue work, but our ability to upload deliveries and download new work is severely hampered. We are resorting to temporary solutions for delivery in extremely urgent situations.
We ask our clients to please bear with us as we work through a situation created by the forces of nature. We are trying our utmost to ensure your timelines are not adversely affected and your BOT producers will keep you posted on progress. We expect at this moment to be more or less back fully operational by this weekend.
The Undersea Cables / Region impacted because of Cyclone ‘Vardah’ Dec 2016 | Source: India Today
Presenting to you one of BOT VFX’s proudest moments ever – Our 1st special internship batch for the hearing and speech challenged has just been completed! Thanks to some amazing hard work put in by them coupled with the support from all the other BOTs – this batch has now hit the production floor. We are looking to spread this happiness even more & invite applications for the 2nd Internship for the hearing and speech challenged. Batch begins Jan/Feb 2017. Please spread and share the message and help us reach more such wonderful artists!
Contact our Talent Management Team for more info or send in CVs to firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s always challenging working on a space epic especially working on the franchise that launched modern fandom! BOT VFX took up the challenge and stepped into the final frontier supporting both Kelvin Optical and Atomic Fiction in creating visual effects for Paramount’s summer blockbuster Star Trek Beyond. Directed by Justin Lin, the film takes the Enterprise crew yet again into uncharted territories, engaging with new aliens, and of course getting mixed up with a new enemy. In this installment Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto and Karl Urban are joined by Idris Elba as the villainous Krall.
BOT was initially engaged to pinch hit for a handful of trailer shots right before Thanksgiving 2015. BOT VFX EP Hetal Jain says, “Being a lifelong fan, when asked to do some quick work for Beyond, we were stoked!” Those few shots grew exponentially, with the team expanding to 55 artists who worked for 2 months on the project. In total, the BOT’s collaboration on the project consisted of 37,181 frames, 346 shots over 12 sequences. Jain continues, “Bot is always seeking larger scale and more complex shows to work on, with Star Trek Beyond we got both.”
The most complex of the sequences BOTs worked on was the extension of the film’s featured villain Krall’s base on the Blue Planet. The mining quarry shot on location in Vancouver needed to look more remote, more uninhabited and more otherworldly. The tons of roto work by BOT to isolate the characters and set structures, including multitudes of muffins, orbs, petals, cabling and various other set pieces used by Krall’s army to harness the energy from the Blue Planet, helped to limit the CG needed. Instead of having to create a large CG set, only smaller portions of the quarry needed to be replaced, thus helping the on-set vision come to life.
Star Trek Beyond – Before
Star Trek Beyond – After
Additional sequences that BOT was integral in delivering were Krall’s introduction on the Enterprise, and the battle on the Enterprise that ensues. The physical set of the Enterprise, while extensive, had a ton of green screens, camera tracks and railings that needed to be removed. This proved to be especially challenging for BOT’s Paint team since the set was built with lots of reflective surfaces to showcase the new and pristine USS Enterprise design. BOT took care to do this while keeping the plate king.
For Beyond, Roto-Prep Supervisor Sankara Subramanian preferred using a blend of Silhouette and Nuke for managing lot of motion blur perfectly for tight roto. This workflow, especially for the handheld camera movements in the quarry sequences, created a lot of motion blur in non-linear movement. “For my 2D team, overall, the biggest pressure was in handling the large volume of shots with varied environments and nuanced requirements to deliver so quickly. Frequent turnover calls via cineSync and RV helped us to quickly resolve any queries that we’d stumble upon” says Subramanian.
BOT also contributed by supplying camera Matchmove using 3DEqualizer and Autodesk’s Maya. “Star Trek Beyond being an anamorphic show, the primary challenge was solving the plate distortion and lens squeeze,” says A. B. Govardhan, BOT Matchmove Supervisor. “In addition to using standard tools in 3DE, my artists are also quite versed in animating the Maya camera manually. We had several shots were the decision was made to track the camera by hand. This required a thorough understanding of the practical camera move and how it was accomplished on set.”
The BOT Dev team was integral in our success as they supported us to fully integrate our two pipelines and developed some proprietary tools for Maya as well as 3DEqualizer. A. B. Govardhan says, “It was great being part of the development of tools and working with our partners, modifying our workflow to better integrate with newer pipelines.”
A cup of coffee, a few BOTs, an incredible desire to be the change and here you have it.. BOT VFX’s latest and perhaps most incredible idea ever!
Over the years while BOTs have been actively associated with several social impact initiatives be it Flood relief work, making a difference to the lives to the less fortunate, providing clean drinking water at schools or more recently with the Beach cleaning initiative, there was always an underlying feeling that we needed to look at something more sustainable and permanent, something with which we can create a small revolution of sorts in bringing about a change.
And so it came, in the form of two of our most talented artists Nithya and Vijay, both of them hearing and speech challenged, yet one of BOTs biggest shining stars for the resilience with which they fought against many odds to today deliver some of the best work for the biggest Hollywood Movies across the world. With over 5 years of experience today both Nithya and Vijay have become the pillars of our Roto and Paint departments, and we thought why not use all their experience and expertise in the VFX field spread this joy of creating magic (VFX) to several others who are challenged like them. So was born what we believe is perhaps one of the most incredible ideas for us – the 1st ever ‘Build-a-BOT Internship Program’ exclusively for the hearing and speech challenged.
“Time and again we miss acknowledging that all this isn’t possible without the trust and support of our amazing clients and the faith, belief and patience of our Sups, Leads, Artists and Support teams – A big thank you to all those who make such incredible dreams possible!” remarks Sreyans, co-founder of BOT VFX
Starting up with a batch of over 7 such Individuals with training done by none other than Nithya and Vijay using sign languages, the Internship is already underway into its 4th week, and if one had to go by reviews, the bunch is doing amazingly well and likely to hit production in a few weeks time.
“When the Idea first came up, I just jumped in joy, because this would perhaps be the most fulfilling role for me ever, I can understand the pain one goes through to get settled in life, however, in its truest sense VFX has been the magic for mine and I just hoped that I could pass on the knowledge to several others who could make a career out here” says Nithya communicating with us by writing on a piece of paper. Vijay her colleague with similar challenges and himself a BOT veteran remarked through a thumbs up “There just cannot be anything better! If we can successfully carry this, this will really make a lot of people who have had challenges in hearing and speech really believe in themselves and their ability to be completely independent”
Deepak, co-founder of BOT VFX quips “Our collective dream is to have India’s first VFX team fully managed and run by the challenged and we are not very far from there” And, we couldn’t agree more, that truly “Magic has no language”- and this drive by the BOT team is sure to create another young generation of independent and amazingly creative artists for the industry!
The early morning chirping of birds, the light breeze, a small drizzle, a rainbow just appearing out of nowhere creating a wow and an exclamation of Joy! While these are things most of us have experienced as Children, it is hard to guess if the coming generation would ever get to experience the bliss of nature, if the current rate of pollution continues unabated. It’s a given that our kids and the coming generations would be deprived of enjoying the lap of mother nature as we did.
Deepak remarks that as the saying goes “Worrying is like rocking in a rocking chair, it gives you something to do but doesn’t get you anywhere”, the BOTs decided to give all the pessimism a miss and look forward towards doing our part to make a difference and as is very famously coined term by the great Mahatma Gandhi “BE THE CHANGE”.
On the 20th of June’2016 the BOTs joined hands with the Chennai Trekking Club which organised a massive Cleaning exercise across the length and breadth of the Chennai’s coastal area spreading from the Marina to Uthandi. A sizeable bunch of BOTs gave the early morning blues a big punch of enthusiasm and were up and ready at 6am, to do our bit to conserve Nature.
Allotted the picturesque Besant Nagar beach by the Organisers, incidentally also BOTs favourite venue to play Volleyball, the clean-up began sharp at 6am. From glass bottles to cans, from plastic packets to cleaning up the food waste from the night before, this was one humungous yet satisfying task. As we went about cleaning the wide open area – a range of emotions stuck each one of the BOTs;
Viswanathan, one of our roto lead quotes “This to me in an indirect reflection or mirror in some ways; As I cleaned, I realised how we commit several mistakes which we could easily avoid to better conserve our nature. The whole clean-up exercise was quite an eye opener and I am glad to have been a part of it”
Whereas Mahesh, Anand, Ganesh, Satish, Balaji and Prashanth who had co-ordinated the efforts from the BOTs side remarked that this activity filled all of us with a sense of pride, that every BOT was upto the task with a smile, a smile of happiness and joy that he or she could be a part of “BEING THE CHANGE” we want to see.
Just for the stat buffs, this amazing exercise organised by the Chennai Trekking Club (CTC) meant that more than 4500 volunteers from 140 organisations were part of the exercise and 38 tonnes of waste was collected from 20 kms of Beaches and the great part 56% of this was recycled. Thank you Balaji and the other CTC members for making BOTs a part of this Coastal Cleaning Drive!
Image Engine along with BOT VFX win this years Best VFX in a Motion Picture Award in the International Category for their work on CHAPPiE (2015) at the FICCI FRAMES BAF Awards 2016. Its a moment to rejoice for BOTs as this recognition is yet another testament to the numerous hearts we have won over the years, doing what we love the most – delivering great quality of work!
Chirag Shah, Sr. Production Manager at BOT VFX receiving the award on behalf of BOT VFX & Image Engine. Image Credits: Animation Xpress
BOT Enables Robot’s Digital Existence in Chappie
As if to extend the plot line of the film into the real world, BOT (a.k.a. BOT VFX) provided supporting work that enabled the digital existence of Chappie the robot in Neill Blomkamp’s fascinating Sci-Fi flik. In the film, Chappie, a robot equipped with newly developed AI programming, discovers his self-identity inspired by human traits. So the irony was never lost on the BOT team that a creative crew of humans drew their inspiration (and their name) from the precision and efficiency of robots.
BOT provided supporting visual effects services for Image Engine, the venerable visual effects house in Vancouver that has become Neill’s go-to place for VFX for nearly all of his films. BOT also provided supporting work for Neill’s other film, Elysium, released last year.
“We’ve had a long standing relationship with Image Engine so when Shawn Walsh, their EP, asked us if we can provide care and love on some particularly tough paint work in an aggressive timeline, we told him there was no way we could say no to such a worthy robotic cause” says Hitesh Shah, BOT’s humanoid leader.
Neill wanted to avoid using motion capture techniques to ensure authenticity to the acting and interaction with real characters, so all of the shots with Chappie were acted out by an actor in grey marker-suit, and then the actor’s motions were hand animated onto a digital Chappie. Of course this meant that for nearly 70 minutes of the film in which Chappie is in frame, the human stand-in actor had to be clean-plated out so that the digital version could cleanly take his place.
This is where BOT’s stellar paint team rose to the varied challenges of removing the actor completely from these shots. To make the stand-in human Chappie completely disappear in these plates so that Image Engine’s team can cleanly place the CG Chappie was a monumental feat. The more agonizing shots to get to look just right were the ones with close interactions between the human actors that were to stay on the plate and Chappie’s human stand-in. The delicate art of generating a believable background in areas with large dynamic motion and lighting changes was akin to creating a small constellation of animated matte-paintings for the shot in just such a way that no one even questioned that something else existed there before.
Artists who slaved over these cleanplate shots have a bitter-sweet feeling watching it in the movie. They were ecstatic to finally see it on the big screen, but sad that no one except the craftsmen would even know that something else was originally there in the plate shot on camera. But as any good VFX artist knows, the ultimate complement that an audience can pay to a digital paint artist’s work is to say they didn’t see anything.
Looking at BOT’s role in supporting the digital existence of robots in Chappie, perhaps the old adage that “truth is stranger than fiction” should be updated to “truth in support of fiction is stranger than fiction”.
About BAF Awards
The Best Animated Frames [BAF] Awards was started in 2004 by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry [FICCI] to recognize and honour students and professionals in the field of Animation. This first ever Animation Awards in India grew over the years to encompass awards not only in Animation, but also in the VFX and Gaming fields. The contest now receives top-notch entries from across the globe. In fact, the last BAF Awards held in March 2015 received 400 entries from across 12 countries. This was the 12th edition of BAF Awards which took place on March 30th, 2016 at Hotel Renaissance, Powai, Mumbai as a part of FICCI FRAMES 2016, a three day global convention covering the entire gamut of Media & Entertainment like Films, Broadcast (TV & Radio), Digital Entertainment, Animation, Gaming, Visual Effects, etc. with nearly 2000 Indian and 800 foreign delegates encompassing the entire universe of media and entertainment who attended the event.
When a visual effects facility is routinely pushing through work supporting thousands of shots a year for dozens of highly regarded clients, you’d think such a well-heeled organisation wouldn’t be so self-conscious about the inner workings of its production engine. But, that’s exactly what BOT VFX lavishes its focus on, despite its position as a leading provider of supporting services such as roto, paint and matchmove for visual effects facilities.
A few months back, BOT reached out to industry veteran Alexi Chapman — at the time, an independent consultant —seeking his help in assessing and recommending improvements for BOT’s 2D pipeline. Chapman has been “around the block a few times” when it comes to setting up and managing 2D departments. Over the years, he’s worked at numerous facilities in Vancouver, small and large, doing everything from working shots as a roto artist to leading a 2D department.
“I had worked with the BOT team for many years and always thought highly of the creative team that delivered solid work project-after-project and client-after-client as I moved to different facilities,” reflects Chapman. “So when they asked if I was able to come out to India to meet with the team and dive into how they did the work, I jumped at the opportunity. And it’d be an opportunity to visit India – something I always looked forward to.” In briefing Chapman before his visit to India, Hitesh Shah, BOT’s chief was quick to reveal what BOT considered to be key to their success – the three P’s: People, Pipeline and Process. “It’s important that you get an ‘inside’ look at who we are as a team, and understand how our pipeline works and how we go about things. Only then can you glean recommendations that will help us raise our game,” coached Shah.
Not one to shy away from adventure, Chapman landed in Chennai, ready to dive into work, and dive into Indian culture, both with equal vigor. “I was taken aback by the great warmth and excitement with which the team received me,” says Chapman of finally meeting the team members he’d only connected with in Skype sessions, conference calls, emails and chat sessions over the years. “When I walked into BOT’s office, it hit me that despite differences in language, culture and environment, artists are artists everywhere. I noticed that like artists in Vancouver, BOT artists adorned their cubicles with maquette, sketches, paintings and collectibles from their favorite movies. Talking to the team, it became abundantly clear that the stuff they do is more than just a job to them – they’re really into VFX, and they’re stoked by the same things artists I’ve worked with in Vancouver value. Once I understood this, it was easy to understand why BOT consistently delivered solid work.”
Chapman spent time talking to artists, leads, and supervisors in each of the roto and paint/prep departments through the better part of a week. “We conducted ‘a-day-in-the-life-of’ reviews for Alexi to help him understand both the pipeline and processes and to some extent approaches the individual artists take,” reflects Sreyans Bardia, BOT’s Head of Production. “These reviews proved to be extremely useful because Alexi was able to assemble some great insights that have helped our efficiency, reduced some technical issues, and reduce feedbacks from clients.” Many valuable insights were the result of Chapman’s intimate knowledge of how BOT’s clients actually used the work produced by BOT. For example, when client-side compositors find the need to open a Silhouette source file delivered by BOT in order to make some minor tweaks, it becomes awfully confusing when shapes fly in and out of frame. From years of experience, BOT artists have found this technique (of “disabling” shapes for a few frames by pulling them off-frame) to be highly efficient. However, it is also highly frustrating to client-side artists to quickly understand where they need to make the modifications and move on.
Chapman concedes that despite enormous variety of clients and projects, each with their own nuances and expectations, BOT is able to deliver to the individual requirements with relatively few feedbacks. Some clients only care about the alpha mattes for roto, others want the SFX Silhouette source files, and still others want the splines converted to The Foundry’s Nuke. Some projects require separated core mattes and blur mattes, others want blur baked into the same matte. For paint work, there are always the nuances of colorspace and grain particular to a show. Add to that, the projects on any given day can be in HD, 2K, 4K, 30fps, 24fps, 25fps, log, linear, varied film gates and so on. “It’s like the kitchen in a restaurant that serves dishes from 10 different kinds of cuisines from as many menus – the BOT kitchen has to be ready to deliver on anything every day,” Chapman says.
In between all of the deep-dive sessions, dailies reviews, and deep insight gathering at the office, Chapman also managed time to soak in South Indian cuisine, some sightseeing and a bit of exposure to South Indian culture. Chapman said, “I was already a fan of Indian food before this trip, but Sreyans, who’s a foodie himself, expanded my palate to a new level. He and the team were also gracious enough to take me around to see some sights I thoroughly enjoyed.” “Consider it India’s version of Southern Hospitality,” jests Bardia.