Cinematographer-Visualiser-VFX Lead, Sapan Narula talks to Pandolin about his upcoming, gala cinematic venture, Kamasutra 3D, and tell us about his and India’s Cannes 2013 ambitions. A Pandolin Christmas Treat!
How is shooting 3D different from shooting 2D?
Shooting 3D involves the use of two separate lenses mounted on two separate cameras that record the same footage simultaneously. These cameras and lenses are synced perfectly and their convergences are matched to the T to avoid leaving eye strains during projection. Unfortunately, due to failures in matching convergences, these dreaded eye strains occur during the projection of most 3D films in India, spoiling their look for the audience, causing headaches.
A stereographer is a must on every 3D film set. Stereographers are trained professionals who sync the cameras and the lenses during a 3D shoot, and take care of convergence and issues of parallax. You do not need stereographers for 2D film shoots as they use only one camera and one lens at a time, and issues such as convergence, parallax, and syncing of more than one camera and lens are absent.
When you shoot 2D, you focus on your principal subject, rendering everything behind and in front out-of-focus to different degrees (shallow DOF). In a 3D shoot, on the other hand, you cannot have anything out-of-focus and blurry as each eye sees two things that need to converge. If footage from a 3D film has background or foreground blur, it would obfuscate vision and clutter all efforts at making sense of what’s projected. For this reason, 3D films are shot at narrower apertures, keeping everything sharp. This in turn means making careful use of much more light than what’s required for conducting a 2D film shoot.
3D technology seems to have caught on really fast in India. What do you have to say about this trend?
Yes, they are using different kinds of new technology to shoot 3D in India. It’s all happening with great pace too. Ram Gopal Verma recently shot a 3D film called Bhoot Returns on Sony TDR-10 handycams. Its quality turned out to be really good. I too recently worked on a 3D film called Saint Dracula 3D (a Hollywood project of Mr. Rupesh Paul). For achieving a 4k workflow for it, we used two RED Epic cameras on an automated 3D rig. My current project, Kamasutra 3D, is also being shot on an automated 3D rig with Red Epic cameras. Its teasers have been shot with a Canon C300 camera and Zeiss CP2 lenses. We also shot 40 percent of the film on Panasonic 3D cameras.
What was the biggest technological challenge that you faced during the filmmaking process of Kamasutra 3D?
The foremost technological challenge that we faced was about matching the footage from the RED Epic and Panasonic 3D cameras. As these cameras had separate kinds of workflow and separate resolutions, it was quite tough to match the output from them. Moreover, the footage from RED Epic cameras had lots of frame-drop issues. We also had to convert some close-up shots which we had shot in 2D on the RED Epic cameras to 3D. The footage from Panasonic 3D cameras, on the other hand, had some vertical alignment issues. It, therefore, was quite challenging matching the two.
What are the key elements to Kamasutra 3D?
Kamasutra 3D is a period film based in 14th century India. It’s got a quaint cinematic texture as it mixes a Lord of the Rings feel with a beautiful, character-oriented, erotica narrative. The characters that the film deals with have Mughal and Rajput identities. It’s a Rupesh Paul Productions film.
How is your iteration of Kamasutra different from Mira Nair’s?
The older film by Mira Nair was initially called “Mira and Tara.” Only after post-shoot suggestions was its name changed to Kamasutra. Nair’s film, therefore, became Kamasutra in a contrived way. Neither was it conceived as Kamasutra, nor did it have subject-matter that directly attested to what the text Kamasutra stood for. Kamasutra 3D, on the other hand, bases itself in the era in which the book was written. It depicts how politics, romance, and civil society flourished in that historical period and space. It merges a beautiful, dramatic, love-triangle story with trenchant depictions of this historical environment, and imaginatively shows the unfolding of events in the lives of its characters as the great text, Kamasutra, is written. It doesn’t follow the classical text in the strictest sense, but creates an enchanting, sensuous story around the tutorials to good sex that the text has to offer.
Could you talk about the look and feel of the film?
The film is going to have an extremely fine art feel to it. It would have very subtle expressions of sensuality; nothing jarring or exaggerated. It would predominantly use warm lights. There will be an emphasis on showing sex beautifully. In keeping with different sensibilities of Indian audiences and audiences in the West, the film would have two versions.
What kind of light set-ups would you be using for Kamasutra 3D?
The light set-ups would depend on how we’d go about the film. It is difficult to specify things clearly at the moment. But there will be lots of outdoor shoots, for sure. We would also travel abroad and shoot at exotic Indonesian baths, Universal Studios, L.A. We’d also shoot extensively in India.
How much and what kind of VFX content would the film have? Who is going to take care of it?
The film is going to have a good amount of VFX content. As of now, we are researching extensively on what to include in its VFX pages and what to exclude. We are definitely going to shoot some stuff on Croma (or what is commonly called ‘green screen’). Croma is used when you want to show a scene, for example, in the temples in Khajuraho. As you can’t shoot in those temples, you simulate Khajuraho and whatever action has to unfold there using Croma.
My team would take care of the VFX. We are going to engage different VFX providers at different locations.
Who’s playing the lead in the film? Do you have any other interesting actors in the film?
Sherlyn Chopra is playing the lead in the film. Apart from her, we have Kavita Radheshyam too. Both these actors would be essaying bold roles that the film requires. The film is going to challenge them a lot, and I think that at the end they are going to come out trumps.
How has it been working with the director, Mr. Rupesh Paul?
We sit together and converse regularly about how we want the film to be. We have decided on engaging the services of stereographer, Julian Crivelli for the film. He was the stereographer for Saint Dracula 3D too. He’s going to be with us for the duration of the entire film.
This is my fourth project with Mr. Paul. We share a nice rapport and our wavelengths meet. It’s easy for him to explain things to me. He tells me about the look he desires and I give him the required visuals. I also generally take care of the post-production for Mr. Paul’s films. That way I play a pivotal role in deciding the entire visual sense of his films. Such a process, in which the DOP also plays the colourist and the DI professional, makes much more sense to me. Otherwise, generally when the DOP takes off after the shoot, the footage, in my opinion, becomes an orphan.
What other filmmaking projects are you a part of currently?
I have started working on another really niche and exciting film called WTF. This film too has Mr. Rupesh Paul at the helm as the director. It is a collage of 10 on-the-road stories-stories that merge into a compelling climax at the end. WTF is about how certain on-the-road situations evoke the ‘what the fuck!’ feeling in our generation, taking the ones who experience them completely in their sway. Each story has different actors and a different protagonist. We’ve already shot our first story with Ashish Vidyarthi in the lead. We’re planning to shoot another one in the coming week. We plan to shoot a story every week and be done with the production in about 12 weeks. WTF and Kamasutra 3D were both announced in Cannes 2012, and are officially targeting Cannes 2013. I’ve also started writing a Marathi film that I’ll be directing. Its production will begin in April 2013.
What techniques and equipment are you using for WTF?
We are using lots of new technology. We are shooting on DSLRs and GoPros. Most of the scenes are being shot on C300. The high-speed shoots are happening on Sony FS700 and VIS-Cam. In short, we are not restraining ourselves in any way to a particular type of camera or another. We are also making use of a whole variety of rigs and car-mounts for these cameras we are using.
How are you so in-sync with the post-productions processes of the day?
I’ve worked on 8 feature films as a colourist. I’ve also worked as a VFX supervisor for a long time. These two long-standing experiences have helped me be in tune with the crafts of post-production.
Do you have a studio of your own?
I am about to come up with a studio. I haven’t named it yet. Earlier, I had partnered in a studio called Epic. I quit it a few weeks back.
What would you like to say to all those cinematographers and students of film who are going crazy about 3D filmmaking at the moment?
It is very important to understand that 3D cinematography cannot be used indiscriminately for all kinds of films and subjects. It suits only certain kinds of content. Used injudiciously, 3D could distract the audience more than it could attract them, and take the most elementary beauty away from the film. When cinematographers and directors overlay a film with 3D, they get stuck. A 3D scene needs to look completely realistic. It needs to make the audience feel as if they are a part of the moment of action. Only scenes that require this feel merit 3D treatment in a film. If a 3D cinematographer cannot produce this feeling of immersion in action in an audience, his or her endeavour at 3D filming is a failure.
India is still not ready for 3D because the projection equipment in most Indian theatres is not up to the mark. I think we’d get to the required capability for good 3D transmission and projection the day every home in India has a 3D TV for 3D television content. As 3D technology intensifies realism and makes audiences connect faster with their entertainment content, it is the future of television. When that happens, TV channels would need to make sure that there isn’t an overdose of 3D, and that it is used sparingly and subtly to emphasise and enhance their content to the optimum.
Were you associated with RGV’s Department too?
Yes, I was, but only in its initial stages.
We heard that you do underwater photography too. Is that a serious and a professional interest of yours or is it more of a passion and a hobby?
It’s more of a passion. I don’t really do commercial underwater photography. It is more for my own understanding of the underwater world.
Could you please talk about your journey from a compositor to a cinematographer and a full-fledged visualiser?
I have never gone to a film or photography school. I’m just a Std. 12th pass out and have been running around for the past 12 years in the field. My interest in filmmaking drove me into the industry. I was in animation for a very long time. As I was really good with Photoshop, I joined Jadooworks in Bangalore as a compositor. I followed it up with a series on Disney called Higglytown Heroes. Then, I joined a company called Anirights and worked as a VFX supervisor on a 3D animated series called Little Krishna. Anirights was then taken over by Reliance and called BIG Animation. Little Krishna was released under the aegis of BIG Animation. I was 21 then and was one of the youngest VFX supervisor in the industry. I eventually joined Pixion, where I supervised a film called Mahayoddha Rama that eventually got shelved. I also worked with MEL/MAAC as an associate director. After all this, I got into FX School as a teacher and set up its photography, visual-effects, and cinematography departments. I worked with FX for 3 years. When FX started working with Ram Gopal Verma, my students and I shot and did post-production for 8 of his feature films. I made separate units of my students, training them to shoot with DSLRs so that they could shoot RGV’s films. All the films that RGV’s been doing for the last one and a half years are also being shot entirely by my students at FX. After my stint with FX School, I partnered with Epic Studios, where we shot, did VFX, and were the compositors for the first 3D Kannada feature film, Kattari Veera Sura Sundarangi. Then films such as Rakta Rakshasha, St. Dracula 3D, etc. followed. I’ve also done lots of TVCs, promos, music videos in the capacities of a cinematographer and a post-production guy.
Could you please mention the highlights of your association with RGV?
1) Telugu film, Dongala Mutha. We shot all of it in four and a half days. We did the post-production for it in about 15 to 20 days. The entire feature film was finished for release in 28 days flat. It had a budget of 6,50, 000 rupees, was released in more than 400 theatres, and had some of the biggest film-stars of the Telugu film industry in Ravi Teja, Charmi Kaur, Prakash Raj, and Laxmi Manchu.
2) Bezawada Rowdy 2. Ramu produced it. I was the film’s DOP. It was an exciting film.
3) Not a Love Story. We shot the film on almost every camera we could find: 5D, 7D, 60D, Panasonic Lumix GH2, and even iPhone4. We used very natural, practical lights for it. It was an eye-opener in terms of cinematographic possibilities in modern Indian filmmaking.
4) Stalker. It is yet to be released. I worked as its DOP and also directed one of the songs in the film. As Ramu really liked my work, he gave me this opportunity.
5) Department. Only for a bit, though.
6) 26/11. I did the initial look-and-feel-tests for the film. I explored the locations where the incident happened and shot the film completely guerrilla style.