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Prime Focus: Interview With Merzin Tavaria

Prime Focus: Interview With Merzin Tavaria

Acclaimed Visual Effects (VFX) house Double Negative, part of India-listed Prime Focus had been honored with the Academy Award for ‘Best Visual Effects’ for Ex Machina. This is the second Oscar in as many years for Double Negative, and its third in the last six years; the company has previously taken home the prestigious award for Christopher Nolan’s Inception in 2011 and for its groundbreaking work on Interstellar last year.

We recently got the chance to have a chat with Merzin Tavaria, Co-Founder and Chief Creative Director at Prime Focus, and got some really interesting insights about the VFX industry in India.

Gaming Central: We understand that Double Negative provides international VFX services as part of the Prime Focus group. How do you feel about the fact that Double Negative has won the Oscar two years in a row?

Merzin Tavaria: It feels great! We have some extremely talented people in our group – not just in VFX, but across all our services – and the recognition that Double Negative has received from the Academy for its VFX work on ‘Ex Machina’, and before that on ‘Interstellar’ and ‘Inception’, is the highest honour that we can hope for.

GC: What’s next for Prime Focus and Double Negative?

MT: This is a very exciting time for Prime Focus and Double Negative. With these two giants of the industry coming together, furthering our mark on the global VFX landscape, our focus is to continue providing and constantly improving our high-end services to the topmost clients in the world. On the Prime Focus side in India, we delivered VFX for some of last year’s biggest films, including ‘Bajrangi Bhaijaan’, ‘Kick’, ‘Bang Bang’ and ‘Happy New Year’, and we’re currently working on ‘Rocky Handsome’, ‘Dishoom’, ‘Baaghi: A Rebel for Love’ and many others. On the international side we’ve recently delivered ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’, ‘Spectre’, ‘The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2’ and ‘Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation’.

GC: Can you give us any insights into the VFX industry? The challenges faced, etc.

MT: From both an Indian standpoint and globally the challenges are similar. The good news is that awareness of visual effects and exactly what is involved in producing the imagery that we create is becoming more and more clear. VFX is an important part of the filmmaking process and sometimes we’re even providing the hero talent – in the case of CG characters, for example. Ensuring that this importance is recognised and that enough value is placed on the VFX process is the challenge. I think that the VFX industry still has some way to go in being recognised as an important contributor and partner in the filmmaking process.

GC: How is VFX for movies different from VFX for Video Games?

MT: VFX for gaming is limited by the processing power of the gaming console or machine. The hardware is getting much better and much faster, and the new generation of consoles are revolutionising the quality of the graphics that are shown, but still, since it is a real-time rendering process, the quality is limited by the technology – which is not so much the case for VFX in movies. Film VFX sequences are getting more and more realistic, and more complicated, and the benchmarks are much higher – and so the quality expectations are much higher.

Another difference is in the way the content is consumed. With larger cinema screens and IMAX, where every pixel is going to be projected at a very high resolution and quality, the audience expectation is far higher. On movies we can throw everything we have at a sequence to ensure it stands up at that resolution. VFX needs for gaming are different – developers and artists have to be very economical and very efficient in terms of the processing power that the models and the textures will require.

GC: What is the prominent trend in VFX in India? What does the future look like?

MT: From an Indian industry standpoint there is more and more utilisation of VFX in movies – it is definitely growing. Filmmakers are increasingly using VFX as a story-telling tool rather than just to fix things in the background. We are partnering with a lot more directors before the production – at the script stage – which helps us to really contribute to the movie rather than just be a service provider. Futuristically we hope that this increases, along with the awareness of the capabilities and the potential of VFX.

Internationally we work on many of the hugely popular superhero movies, and they often feature that kind of ‘in-your-face’ VFX that has not been adopted as much in India. I feel there is certainly potential for filmmakers in India to explore and exploit this genre more. There have been a few films – like the ‘Krrish’ series and ‘Ra.One’ – but they are not as prevalent here in India as they are in the West.

GC: How has Prime Focus helped in shaping the VFX industry in India?

MT: From the time that we started we have always supported and promoted the use of VFX and raised awareness with filmmakers about the art of VFX, and we have always ensured that we are not bounded by the value of the budget for a movie, but pushed beyond that to produce the best possible work. It is good for us that the filmmakers have depended on us to provide solutions rather than just to provide a service.

GC: Can you tell us a bit about yourself, and how Prime Focus came to be, and now is one of the leading VFX studios in the world?

MT: Prime Focus was a classic garage start-up. We started nearly twenty years ago – four of us in a garage with a single edit machine – and from there, under the leadership of our founder Namit Malhotra, we have grown to become over 6,000 people working across 16 cities on four continents. We believed that the emergence of digital technology provided a unique opportunity to help evolve the film business in India as well as pursue our own creative ambitions… we were right, and through our hard-work and determination we were able to also bring this onto the international stage.

GC: What are your thoughts on Virtual Reality, and how it will shape the future of the industry?

MT: I think VR is set to change the whole gaming and VFX landscape – the way people consume entertainment is about to change. Stereo 3D did it at one point, and VR will be the next big thing.

GC: Prime Focus being one the leading VFX studios in the world, what advice would you give to students and young creators looking to join the industry?

MT: This is a fun, entertaining and exciting industry, but it’s also a serious industry that needs to be given its due importance. Perhaps most importantly, if you want to get into VFX you need passion. Passion for what you do and passion for what you create. Without passion, you cannot work in this industry.

Gaming Central: Thanks Mr. Tavaria for sharing your thoughts. I’m sure our audience, industry experts and aspiring VFX artists will take away quite a lot from this. 

For more news, reviews and interviews, keep checking back at Gaming Central.

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