A Technical Peak into Delhi Safari with Anand Bhanushali, Technical Director

As Promised, CGTantra is back with its magnifying lens to give you a sneak-peak into the technical process that was involved during the making of the soon-to-be released 3D Stereo Feature, Delhi Safari. Releasing on 19th october, Anand Bhanushali, Technical Director of the movie and Krayon Pictures gives us a peep into what goes behind making such a high quality content and his experience of working on a movie which was technically and creatively challenging.

1. Well the question remains the same.. :) How has been your experience Working on Delhi Safari ?

Its been 5 years since we started working on Delhi Safari, though technically its 3.5 years that went into production of Delhi Safari. But yes, its been the most amazing journey so far. I really don't have words to describe the entire experience, its just overwhelming. Most importantly Delhi Safari was a vision, which few of us dared and challenged to go out and make. Working in production for 13 years and having worked on a lot of national and international projects before Delhi Safari came in, i wanted to be a part of a story, right from being involved in writing to designing characters and backgrounds, dubbing the actors to releasing the film. In short, the entire process of film making. And crayon pictures gave me that opportunity with Delhi Safari. Its been an immense learning and a fun experience.
2. Provided that an extensive research was done at pre-production stage for the various creative aspects of the movie.. What kind of preparations and research that you and your team had to do to ensure a streamlined production of the movie?
We started Delhi Safari with 8 artist including me and a small management team. So we had to build the entire studio, lay down the pipeline and parallely start pre-production, recruit a team, and train them. It was the most challenging task i had ever done, my approach was simple, i was very clear right from the start that the way pre production, characters, backgrounds were being designed with lot of detail and vast extensive sets, there had to be a pipeline which artist could very quickly adapt to and not worry about file management.
So we formed a small research and development team , basically MEL and Python programmers and we started brain storming, bouncing ideas, discussion about what was the most disliked part in our jobs earlier, and since we all came from various departments like fur, animation, lighting etc., atlas most of us knew what we didn't want in the workflow. We spent almost a year making a simple workflow for every department. Basically 'clean in and clean out' , it means whatever comes in the department needs to be a clean file and whatever goes out needs to be a clean file, so every department needs to optimize file and remove unwanted data.
Besides that, we made a list of all the candy stuff that Delhi Safari required like Fur, Foliage, Jungles, Water FX, Wet Fur, Sworm of bees, lots and lots of Cars, City etc.

While the pre production was happening, we coded our own Furshader for Renderman complaint renderer called 'AIR', wet fur shader & foliage workflow called the 'Umbrella' workflow, leaf shader, examples of smoke, waterfalls, trees, bee particles, crowd and showed it to our creative director as well as art director and we were ready to implement that into production on mass level.
3. Delhi Safari is about the journey of animals to stop deforestation and that means , a lot animal characters that would have to be carefully crafted. Incorporating so many animal characters in the movie would have sounded like a tough task to handle technically.. Did the technical know-how influence the creative decision making as well at the character design stage ?
I believe in one thing very strongly, technology has to wrap around the creatives and not vice-versa. So, at no point did we try to tell our creatives that all the amazing stuff they were creating on the paper could not be achieved in production. So we gave them a free hand, just go mad with what you can visualize and create and we will figure out how to get it in the movie :) Me and my team knowledge and experience of working on a lot of animation feature film definitely helped the creatives. We would explain them what would be very expensive, what would require tons of simulation time, etc and that was not to stop them or limit them in the creatives, but to make a smart production in the available time and budget.

For e.g.. all of the main characters have been designed with no or negligible fur on their palms and feet, otherwise we would have to simulate tons of fur where the characters walked or if they touched an object but our art team came up with amazing character sketches, very smartly hiding the fact that we had avoided the fur on palms and feet.
4. Can you elaborate on the much talked about PUPPETS the proprietary asset management solution of Krayons.. How did it serve as a boon in terms of Delhi Safari ?
PUPPET... i have to tell this... its funny because till sometime a lot of Krayon artists thought that this tool was to make them work like puppets. Basically it means - "Production Utilities and Project Pipeline Enhancement Tool". Yes i know its a long name, lot of times i goof up the entire name myself :) Thanks to one of our R&D Leads, 'Mr Sachin Shreshta' for his amazing contribution to the puppet pipeline and yes, the meaning of the name puppet - is given by him. Of-course the due credit goes to Krayons and the entire contribution of the R&D team for this amazing, efficient pipeline. As i said, puppet follows a very simple rule for all the different departments in an animation studio, 'Clean in & clean out' .
E.g - a modeler cannot send or publish his model ahead in the work flow to other departments like surfacing, rigging, CFX till it goes through a technical approval. PUPPET wont let him do it, till he cleans, names everything to the naming conventions, removes unnecessary mesh data, garbage nodes etc.. In-fact now Puppet even cleans and names the entire file by itself and does not bother the artist to correct it. Again very simple goal, an artist should invest all his time in creatives rather than, file and technical management. So yes, PUPPET , immensely helped us in making Delhi Safari production, smooth, efficient and most important of all, get rid of human errors.
It had become such an integral part of our pipeline that, at one point , we had some technical bug in PUPPET and animators refused to work without it. The entire production was stopped till we fixed it.
5. The Characters of Delhi Safari have generated rave reviews for their extensive detailing . What do you have to say on the same? Also how did you manage to create the Hair and Fur look that they have today?
Thank you so much for the appreciation. Right from the start every artist working on Delhi Safari , technical or creative , had one thing very clear and that is to create a benchmark in the way animation movies were being made in india, to take it to a level of quality which india had never seen. I think we have done a very good job to prove that. Having worked as a CFX lead for a couple of big animation features, that experience definitely helped in creating the fur that you see in Delhi Safari. We coded our own fur shader for Renderman compliant pipeline. It took us 5 months to do that after a lot of failed attempts, we went through tons of SIGGRAPH papers on fur shaders, lot of articles on the net. The technical team did an outstanding job , as the same shader with some coding and tweaking was used for the leaves as well , so all the jungle had the same shader on leaves.
We also developed the entire fur creation to simulation workflow from scratch. Worked on it , made it efficient and render friendly as fur can really bump up your render times per frame, and the data size can be in tera bytes if not looked into.
6. What kind of software and hardware requirements did you have to cater to, for a movie as great a scale as Delhi Safari ? And how does that affect the overall budget of the movie ?
Softwares and hardware are definitely important and form the core of the studio pipeline. You have to be extremely careful and have all the statistics, data , research ready before you choose any software and hardware as its going to be with you for quite sometime. If you do a mistake, then its a very expensive mistake, and can take the studio and the project down. Stability, flexibility and support form the basis of choosing softwares and hardware for a studio. We knew with the kind of quality, we are aiming with Delhi Safari, we would need robust hardware, definitely a huge Renderfarm of our own. Mr Parag Patil - our technology director , all the credit goes to him as he is the brains behind all the hardware in Krayon. Parag and me along with the IT and R&D team worked non stop for 4 months, sketching, workflow diagrams, network diagrams, configuration of workstations, to servers.. Everything.. We partnered with IBM and took their expertise and they did the set up of the entire backend infrastructure of our studio.
Softwares- as i said - For stability, flexibility and support, i think Autodesk Maya is the answer . Autodesk understands that studios need much more than the softwares. We need ears who we can give feedback to, who listens and tries to solve our everyday production problems, makes tools based on our feedback. Being worked on Autodesk Maya for more than a decade now, am really comfortable with it and so are the artist at Krayon. Most important thing- softwares are tools, its immaterial to what animation package you use, its up-to the artist how to exploit the tools.
7. Delhi Safari is scheduled for a worldwide release and that explains the moving being released in 3D Stereoscopic... How different it is to work on a 3D Stereoscopic Feature as everything looks more intensified than the normal.
Personally, i enjoy watching regular movies than 3d stereoscopy because, with the extra depth and dimension in stereo, your eyes and focus keeps shifting everywhere rather than the story. 3d stereoscopy has to be thought of right from the start in pre production, only then, can you use it wisely and enhance the storytelling, and make it look good.
If used too much can be rather distracting to the audience. Delhi Safari had a unique process and a challenge in making it 3d Stereoscopic, as the movie had been already rendered and finished. We took around 5.5 months in which, we ran through the entire movie to identify shots which would be important and had the potential, and reworked on the staging, back grounds, camera. The other important thing we did for stereo is automated the stereo camera rig, since the entire movie was already rendered once , we inserted a second camera for the right eye, animators worked on the depth and rendered the entire movie in true stereo, not conversion. Of-course there are certain shots, and a sequence where we had to do conversion as it was just not possible to render a second camera due to Matte's.
8. Delhi Safari carries with itself a quantum heap of expectations by the fraternity. Did that put pressure on your mind to achieve a Quality that is at par with the Features from the west. ? Tell us about the Technical pipeline enhancements that you had to make to achieve the look of a high quality content ?
When we started Delhi Safari, no one knew about Krayon and Delhi Safari. Right from the start we were very clear to set the highest benchmark for animation in india. So i don't think we actually thought about any expectations as far as the fraternity goes. In-fact i really had a lot of fun working on Delhi Safari. There were tons of challenges as everyday would be a �new day, different problem and solution towards that. So work was never boring and thanks to the amazing environment we have at krayon, everyone works as a team towards with only one goal, and that is 'Quality'. There were tons of technical enhancements we did , i think i have mentioned a lot in your earlier questions. Just to add a few, since we knew that we had vast sets, jungles and city to build. For the foliage we build a central library, and our creatives could build the set by using lego technique, where you rearrange the objects in a certain way , and you would have a new set, extend the set if the layouts required, etc. We also developed more than 300 scripts, for artist efficiency and increase their productivity by automating a lot of activities in the pipeline.
9. Rendering a whole bunch of characters and Backgrounds must have been a painstaking job ? How did you manage the whole process ?
Yes, it was one of the biggest challenges, more than 150000 frames, each frame having more than 80 passes average. So yes, a lot of data to render. Right from start we did certain tests on the initial sequences of Delhi Safari and locked down the maximum average time we could afford for rendering, which was set at 6 hr per frame. We then settled at 7 hr per frame as huge sets followed in the coming sequences. We also fixed a tolerance for maximum number of passes, type of passes, fur data.

The pipeline was designed and tweaked continuously till a point, that somewhere 5 sequences down the line, we actually didn't do any re-rendering. Once what was rendered never came back to rendering, unless we had to redo the animation or a technical problem, like jitter error or flicker etc. All the changes from directors could be done in compositing , as we had already assumed we would have those changes and kept our passes very flexible.
10. Any last minute stomach pangs that you would want express...
Just too excited, overwhelmed as the release approaches on 19th october. And yes, its releasing in lot of countries... so am very very satisfied with what the team has done and nervous for the release :)
And thats not all... We will be getting you some exclusive excerpts as Nishith Takia, Founder - Krayon Pictures and Co-Producer , Delhi safari expresses his journey of being a part of this movie and his expression on the same... So keep yourself updated in this section.