Hollywood VFX Expert Phaneendra Gullapalli at AISFM

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AISFM had a Master Class with Mr. Phaneendra Gullapalli, a Hollywood VFX expert, and a member of the team that won an Oscar for the Hollywood film The Curious Case of Benjamin Button for visual effects. Phaneendra  has also worked on visual effects for movies like 2012, Mummy-III, Transformers-II, Tron: Legacy, Star Trek: Into Darkness, Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief and many more. Students enjoyed the interactive and engaging session with the expert greatly.

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Speaking about his journey from Vijayawada to Hollywood, he recounted how he fell in love with animation & visual effects early on in his life. He kept pursuing his passion inspite of being rejected four times for internships at famous Hollywood studios. The secret to his sustenance and success? He says “One third of your life is spent at your workplace and I didn’t want to pursue something that I was not happy with. I wanted to pursue my passion, so I took up animation. Some people give up after a setback. I didn’t because there is a thin line between winning and losing.”

What level of artistic instincts and capabilities, and how much technical skills should a person have, asked a student to which he said that “it is good to have both backgrounds if possible; artists and technologists together is a good combination.”

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Speaking about the process of visual effects in a typical film, he gave a walkthrough of his role of expertise in the process of filmmaking. He demonstrated how with Halon virtual camera, wherein you shoot your film before you shoot your film live. This method was used on projects like Bahubali, where by this previsualizataion, lot of production cost can be saved as the director can pre-emptively make changes to his visualization, rather than trying out his ideas on expensive sets.

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‘When do you come into the picture?’ was another question posed. “VFX and post production are collaborators right from Stage 1 and on a daily basis,” he said and cited an example of Bahubali, “We would shoot 10 to 12 shots for the scene and Director Rajamouli would pick one for the final scene.”

Talking about the role of a VFX supervisor, he said that he ensures that each scene is shot as per the requirement. “In Mummy III, the green screen was blue instead of green, so it is the supervisor’s job to ensure such things don’t happen.”

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Phaneendra also shared tips and tricks used in the industry and said that to tackle the challenges of lighting conditions, a chrome ball can be used and software like Nuke, Maya or Houdini. Talking about the work culture in Hollywood, he said “the culture is a lot different in Hollywood and there is no hierarchy per se but it is more about the role/job description of each individual on the team.”

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What happens towards the end of a shoot, how does an editor receive the scenes? To this, he said that actors have reference points and so do the VFX artists. “For example in the movie The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, we wanted to show an old man’s body and Brad Pitt’s face, so we shot two different portions of the same scene and Brad’s face was superimposed on it.” He went on to add that directing actors is also a fundamental requirement for VFX artists and said “In Mummy III, there is a scene where the demon is holding a sword, to make it more powerful, we made the hand holding the sword shake, which was the improvisation of the VFX artist.”

Sharing his thoughts on the current entertainment industry in India, which is growing at a rapid pace, he said, “These are certainly exciting times as the industry is evolving with new platforms for storytellers like Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality. Example: Mr Rajamouli embraced virtual reality on his last feature film Bahubali2 and you can check it out here http://baahubali.com/vr/

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Content vs Technology, your take on the right balance required to succeed?  To this, he said, “Working on various tent-pole Hollywood feature films I have learnt that story is paramount. Every Hollywood director that I worked with used technology as a tool to create visual experiences that stand out which I believe is striking the right balance.”

What is your favorite movie in terms of animation/VFX and in the ones that he has worked? For this, he shared, “I’ve spend almost two years of my life working on Tron Legacy which is no doubt my favorite feature film till date that I worked on.”

Sharing his thoughts about AISFM and its facilities, Phaneendra said, “I’m impressed with AISFM’s facilities during my tour and believe AISFM is second to none. AISFM is in good hands with Mr. Bala Raj steering the ship with his phenomenal Hollywood industry & academic experience. I hope students will leverage the AISFM’s facilities, resources and personnel.”

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His advice to aspiring professionals in this field, “Focusing on foundations and fundamentals will enable students to adapt to the ever evolving industry and help them be at the forefront at any given time. For example: Virtual Production never existed prior to feature films like Avatar and today it’s pretty much the standard and integral part of film-making process.”

Closing the master class, Phaneendra gave some words of advice, “Job opportunities in other areas like virtual reality and augmented reality are now there to connect to the consumers. If you are up to speed with these latest technologies, then you have more chances. There are lot of applications in diverse areas – like Apple X has IR tech etc. The gaming industry is also garnering a lot of interest, and training in these areas is a good idea.” He further added, “Networking and working hard is very important and of course there is no stopping to your learning curve.”

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