NVIDIA Spices up Visual Effects Creation with Hardware, Software and
Renowned for a rich culture dating back thousands of years, India is building
a new cultural legacy-the movie business. Popularly known as Bollywood, the
Indian film industry annually releases 1,000 films, approximately 10 times what
Hollywood produces each year.
Despite this prolific output, the film business in this movie-obsessed
society of more than a billion people is just getting geared up. For years,
moviegoers have flocked to Bollywood's traditional song-and-dance fare, which
was once described by NPR reporter Holly Kernan as "three to four hours long,
chock full of songs, and never sticking to just one genre."
While no one foresees those kinds of films going away, the business is
certainly expanding creatively as well as financially. Indian filmmakers are
increasingly using digital filmmaking technologies for visual effects, animation
and post-production. The rise of multiplexes is allowing a wider variety of
films to be distributed. Meanwhile, Bollywood is investing in Hollywood-and vice
"What's happened is, the Bollywood folks are starting to take notice of
what's going on worldwide, and they're saying we want to get involved in this,"
says Laura Dohrmann, NVIDIA's Digital Film Group Marketing Director, who heads
up the company's Digital Bollywood Initiative. Based in Mumbai, Dohrmann's role
is to help local studios develop the digital filmmaking community with training,
expertise and educational initiatives. She also evangelizes technologies such as
NVIDIA's Quadro®® GPU accelerator cards, which have a huge following in
Bollywood. Because of her regular interaction with most of India's major
production houses, Dohrmann has a unique perspective on the evolution of
Among the milestones she cites is last year's release of "Krrish," the first
major superhero movie to be produced in Bollywood, complete with splashy visual
effects. Two other recent films, "Om Shanti Om" and "Chak De India," featured
visual effects by Red Chilies, a production company founded by the prominent
actor Shahrukh Khan. At the same time, the growing business is attracting
international players. Sony, DreamWorks and Disney have forged relationships
with Indian production houses, and mainstays from the Hollywood production
company such as Rhythm & Hues are opening dedicated facilities in India.
"Rhythm & Hues is here in both Mumbai and Hyderabad," Dohrmann says.
"They won the Oscar this year for Visual FX on "The Golden Compass". So now,
everybody wants to work with Rhythm & Hues, because they know they do good
"The way Rhythm & Hues chose to address the Indian market is unique,
because it's not an outsourcing or offshore model," says Prashant Buyyala,
managing director of Rhythm & Hues India. "Essentially, the artists and
support staff are like employees of the Los Angeles office in another
"We kind of moved the building halfway around the world," Buyyala says. "We
don't have any separate Indian projects, or Asian projects, or separate tasks
that are done in India. It's all one common pool of resources. We have the same
network, the same software, the same projects, the same tasks and
Most of Rhythm & Hues' projects are for Hollywood feature films or
television commercials. When a project comes in, if a producer needs 30
animators, they are drawn from a geographically agnostic pool. "It could happen
to be that 10 of the animators are in India, and 20 happen to be in LA," Buyyala
says. "The same shot actually can go back and forth between all the facilities.
For a single shot, the animation might be done in LA, the lighting might be done
in Mumbai, and the final effects might be done in Hyderabad. So, it's completely
transparent, even in a single shot."
Other Hollywood production companies and studios are using modified offshore
models that illustrate the truly global nature of the film industry. DreamWorks,
for instance, has struck a strategic partnership for Indian production that
might best be described with a flow chart. The DreamWorks Animation Unit in
Bangalore is a dedicated unit of Paprikaas, which is majority-owned by Thomson.
Thomson invested in Paprikaas to build up its Technicolor Content Services
division. Altogether, Technicolor has four divisions operating out of Paprikaas,
which in addition to the DreamWorks Animation Unit, include Paprikaas Animation,
Paprikaas Interactive-Video Games and Paprikaas Visual Effects for Moving
Picture Company, London.
Paprikaas Animation, as a separate Technicolor division, maintains its own
offices in Los Angeles and Bangalore, in a more "traditional" offshore
production model. VP of Business Development Sanjee Gupta represents Paprikaas
Animation in Los Angeles, meeting with clients to discuss using the Paprikaas
Animation production staff in Bangalore.
The same way that most Hollywood deals are done, most of Gupta's business
comes via relationships and word of mouth. "Given the nature of production, it
relies heavily on freelance artists and producers." Gupta says. "They tend to
move from project to project as the production schedules ebb and flow. Quite a
few of those people have now dispersed onto other projects and our name has just
proliferated through the marketplace."
The increasing influence of Bollywood is evident in another trend, a kind of
reverse offshore production model. One high-profile example is the purchase of
Post Logic Studios, a prominent post house with offices in New York and Los
Angeles. By Prime Focus Group, an Indian post production powerhouse. Another
sign of the times is that the first Indian production at Hollywood's Universal
Studios is being shot, "Kambakkht Ishq" ("Incredible Love")-with Sylvester
Stallone in a starring role.
Although India has many talented digital artists, the rapid expansion of the
industry demands ever-increasing numbers to keep up with demand. Consequently,
one of the most important ongoing initiatives is training and supporting
artists. "There's a lack of training, and such a tremendous desire for it," says
NVIDIA's Dohrmann. "The challenge is the animation and effects industry in India
is fairly young. Many artists and animators working in Los Angeles have 20 or
more years experience. We don't have people who have been in the industry with
that much experience, unless they are transplants to India."
There's a shared commitment to training and educating among all the key
companies in the Indian film industry, including competitive companies. Dohrmann
works with companies such as Big Animation (India's second largest studio),
Rhythm & Hues, DreamWorks, Autodesk, and local companies to advance the
cause. "We're really all trying to be involved in it together," she says.
Dohrmann spends a lot of time arranging for product training sessions, such
as a recent mental ray event that was filled to bursting. "There is such a
demand for this, I've been I've been juggling balls all week trying to placate
people," she says. "I've got people begging to get into the class."
Other events are more oriented towards community building, such as Women in
Animation, which NVIDIA has supported through its Women in Technology group.
"We've done two really great events," Dohrmann says. "We had probably 2,000
people show up for the two events combined. They were great and really well
received. We also do CG Meet-Ups, which are monthly meetings where people come
together to talk about modeling, texturing or rendering, or production
There's also a concerted effort to establish educational curriculum
standards. "We want to help establish core competencies in digital production,
including what the exit competencies need to be from a training program, what
the entrance competencies need to be, and how much emphasis needs to be placed
on art," continues Dohrmann. "Anyone can learn software, but being an artist
isn't something you can learn. You either have the inherent skills, or or you
don't. There is no gray area."
To put the flurry of activity and investment surrounding Bollywood in
perspective, a report issued by the consulting firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers last
year projected that annual revenues for the Indian film business would reach
$4.5 billion by 2010-up from about $2 billion in 2006.
The view from ground level in Mumbai bears that out. "If you look at London,
Paris, Los Angeles, San Francisco, over the next three years, I don't expect to
see more than five studios opening in any of those cities any time soon," says
Dohrmann. "But over the next three years, I expect to see a minimum of five
studios opening in India. There's just so much interest in the possibilities
India holds, along with people who who want to get involved in this up and
coming market sector.