THE MARK ROBERTS MOTION CONTROL BLOG

Motion Magic for Paheli – Courtesy of Asia Image Magazine

Motion Magic for Paheli – Courtesy of Asia Image Magazine

Paheli, the latest Indian blockbuster by acclaimed director Amol Palekar and producer-actor Shah Rukh Khan, shows how motion control can solve the most difficult of visual effects shots.

Romance, drama, betrayal. The dilemma of lovers, a symphony emotions, an encounter with the supernatural. A mix of magical ingredients create the lassi that is Paheli, the latest Indian blockbuster by acclaimed director Amol Palekar, known for his flair for the comical in films such as Golmaal, Choti Si Baat, Baaton Baaton Main, and Rajnigandha.

Produced by Shah Rukh Khan, whose company Red Chillies Entertainment produced the film, and who is also lead actor, Paheli tells of a husband whose vault in his heart only has room for money, the lovely girl who seems destined to spend her matrimony in solitude when her husband leaves on a five-year business trip on their marriage night, and the love struck ghost who decides to assume the form of her husband in order to be with her. The ghost tells her the truth on their first night together, and she accepts him.

All is well until the husband comes back five years later on news of her pregnancy and is greeted by the sight of his likeness living with his wife and family. That both husband and ghost is played by Shah Rukh Khan does not surprise, but when key scenes such as the moment of revelation at the husband’s return called for both characters to appear side-by-side, Vishal Punjabi, visual effects producer, had to perform some magic of his own. The answer came in the form of a Milo motion control rig from Prime Focus, Mumbai, but not before Punjabi had to contend with skeptical bosses and uncooperative forces of nature.

The MILO on Location

“When I started my first visual effects breakdown from script to storyboard, I knew we needed the Milo rig to achieve what I wanted, but both director Amol Palekar and Shah Rukh Khan were very skeptical and were under the impression that it would take 16 hours to set up and would not be very reliable,” he revealed. “It took me more than 10 meetings and 62 hours of convincing before I could get them to agree,” recalls Punjabi. The indefatigable Punjabi managed to convince both director and producer that the set up would be much less onerous, and that the Milo was necessary as the film required multiple replications of the same character and also interaction between these characters.

Green light given, motion control operators Damian Davison and Jay Mallet were contacted and swiftly put on the job. “The reason for using the Milo was to enable the star of the film – Shah Rukh Khan – to act and react with himself, so careful planning as to the order of shooting was essential. The camera moves themselves had to be quite straightforward, as any acrobatics would not cut with the rest of the film,” shares Davison. “The priority for me was to see the Milo and check out its condition. Unfortunately the production company had heard some stories about motion control and was very nervous about committing themselves to using it at all,” he continues. “However the Milo was in very good condition, all the various settings, target tracking, and carts were fine, so we plotted a simple three-point camera move – target tracking around a water bottle – in about 10 minutes. This speed in plotting the move convinced the production company that the Milo was what they needed for the shoot. Also I was able to familiarise myself with the new version 4 software,” continues Davison. “The reason for our presence on the Paheli set was not that the Indian crew was incapable of the shots required but there seemed to be concerns about limited time allotted for the motion control,” confirms Mallet. He adds, “We were there to put his mind at rest and also show that moco was a fast and cost effective means of shooting. This was achieved on the first day of filming after we had completed four shots at the end of the first day.”

The Milo ascertained to be of good condition, Davison and crew set out to do a location scout in Rajasthan, which turned out to be off limits. “The only access was by camel and the sand dunes were so soft and unstable I didn’t want to see a Milo sinking into the sand or rolling down the side of a dune. Eventually a much better desert location was built on top of a helipad at Film City, which is Mumbai’s main film studio and also has a back lot the size of Essex,” quips Davison.The creation of a white-hot desert in sweltering Mumbai required over four hundred trucks of sand, loads of wood and fibre, and over 100 men before a helipad was transformed into a realistic desertscape, recalls Punjabi.

“I tried to keep the first schedule as simple as possible just so the crew could get used to shooting with the Milo and it went off smoothly. We had live compositors on shoot who would show the director the shots within minutes of taking and that made him more confident,” says Punjabi. “In order to see the shots together and to check interaction I had requested that a full mix and overlay package should be on set, and that this package should also be able to trigger the rig from a time coded source,” adds Mallet. “This was not able tobe supplied in time so the decision was made to bring a Shake compositing workstation on to the set, so we could create rough comps in order to check the shots after shooting,” he explains.

This move proved to be a winner in gaining the confidence of director Paleka. “Honestly I was a bit skeptical of using the Milo but Shah Rukh left no stone unturned in his production of my film Paheli. Vishal Punjabi, the visual effects producer of the film hunted down some of the finest Milo operators in the world for the shoot and managed to set up a compositing team on location to show me the shots, minutes after taking, which was something I have never seen before.

“When scripting, I always thought of how we would show the two characters together and on our very first visual effects sitting, my problem was solved,” enthuses Paleka. Much of the visual effects magic that happened on the set was enabled by the Milo motion control rig. Built in West Sussex, England, the rig comprises of 11 axis of controllable movement. Management of the Milo can be accessed via any laptop computer running the control programme called Flair, which allows users to store axis points for all axes in the main user screen and also calculate smooth moves between points.

 

Some of the Technical Crew including the MILO Operators

“The Milo can control a selection of cameras but in general the main cameras used are the Mitchell s35, or the Arri 435 Advanced,” says Mallet. “During Paheli, shooting took place on an Arri 435 advanced. We were able to control the functions of the camera for accurate repeat passes. If full control cannot be made, it is still possible to take sync from the camera and synchronise with the Flair software.” The Milo used in Paheli ran on a Mark Roberts Motion Control precision rail. Sitting on top of loaded bearings on the customised rail enables the rig to move at great speed, depending on the style of move desired. Shedding more light on the technical minutiae behind the shoot, Mallet elaborates: “With the Paheli effects moves, a sync light, called a bloop light, was placed in the shot in order to give the compositor the ability to line up the various passes easily. This light is controlled from the rig’s root box that in turn is controlled by the Flair software. This light flashes on the first frame of the move or at whatever frame it is programmed to fire at.”

A technique called target tracking was also utilised on Paheli. This is a technique that allows the operator to programme where the rig looks between key frames, ie, the rig is given a metric value distance at a keyframe and the rig then knows to keep that distance from the object. This function of the rig is particularly useful when trying to create a curved move around a subject. As shooting got underway and comfort levels increased, the performance of the Milo impressed to the extent that extra shots originally planned for a locked off camera were added. By then, all that was left to wrestle with were the forces of the land. As Davison shares, “The only real problems we encountered were heat and an erratic power supply. I had a strong urge to paint the rig white, and at one point the camera body had its own parasol bearer.” “The terrain was rough but manageable. Heat was perhaps our main concern for the rig in this environment. Fans and umbrellas were used to cover the rig when not shooting,” commiserates Mallet. “The shoot was divided into two parts with a gap in shooting of about 10 days. The shoot went without a hitch and was a pleasure to work on. Vishal and the producers were very happy with the results and have invited Damian and myself back to shoot and also adviseon motion control for future ventures,” he adds.

These images show three elements: the first and second of each set are the motion control passes each of the main actor but playing two separate characters; the third are the two passes composited together

 

Certainly, the amalgamation of a competent technical crew – and no doubt some kismet – made for a smooth integration of the Milo into the production. Punjabi shares, “Working with professionals like Damian and Jay was brilliant. They adjusted to our style of working, were patient, and most important of all, they knew exactly what they were doing. Shots were set up in 20 minutes flat and time just flew by. “Having Shah Rukh on set with us also made our work much easier. He always hits his mark, his timing was perfect on every single take, and he always maintained his looks with the character. It is very important to have an actor who understands what you are trying to achieve and is patient with the technology you are using. It was a dream come true to work with him on this shoot,” Pujabi effuses.

And what does the producer-lead actor who has the schizophrenic task of playing both husband and ghostthink of the use of the Milo despite initial reservations? “Shooting with the motion control rig here in India was amazing. It is not very often my crew is exposed to this kind of equipment and it was just great to see it work and move. A bit scary at times when this huge black dragon-like machine comes hurtling towards your face and you have to perform in front of it. Yes, it was very intimidating,” confesses Shah Rukh.

“As a filmmaker it was great to have Vishal and his team from Eagle Video Films present on shoot to plot the moves as they would do live composites and match the takes to ensure the director got what he wanted. I think this is the first time I have seen something like this and it was a relief. I guess the end result speaks for itself.”

Cloning Around – by Chris Waitt

Cloning Around – by Chris Waitt 

The challenge of the movie Dupe was that the script called for several identical people. Award-Winning Director Chris Waitt describes how motion control was the answer.

Dupe is a short film, funded by the UK Film Council as part of their Digital Shorts scheme. It tells the story of a young slacker called Adam, who finds a cloning machine on eBay. He clones himself in the hope that the clone will tidy up his flat. Unfortunately – but perhaps inevitably – the new Adam is as lazy as he is and suggests they make another clone who will make a start on the dishes. Before long the house is full of lazy slacker clones who start to take over Adam’s life.

On Set -- Chris Waitt -- Writer / Director / Actor

“Obviously the script required us to have duplicates of our main character on screen at the same time. In one particular scene – in which the original Adam comes back from work to find a whole pack of Adams partying away in his living room – we wanted a long one-shot pan across seven Adam clones, all of them interacting with each other. Another scene required a fast whip pan around a bedroom to reveal a number of versions of the main actor in various positions in the room. Motion control was obviously the best way to achieve those shots. However, our low budget meant that shooting with a large motion control rig was simply not an option. Nor was it particularly practical, given that we didn’t have enough money to build a set and were therefore shooting on location in a small second storey flat. It looked as if we might have to do all our effects shots as stationary lock-offs. This was not an appealing prospect as it wouldn’t allow us to let the effects shots sit comfortably in the film, whose style was quite handheld and loose. When we consulted Mark Roberts Motion Control they suggested that the Ulti-Head might be right for the project. First it was much more affordable on our tight budget, second it was small and very portable, and third it didn’t have to come with a specialised operator. In fact we were in a position to shoot with it after just one day of training. The Ulti-Head turned out to be the perfect solution in every respect. Its size and portability were ideal for the location, and it proved to be a very user-friendly rig to operate. ”

On Set -- Chris Waitt -- Writer / Director / Actor

On Set -- Chris Waitt -- Writer / Director / Actor

“On a psychological level, too, the Ulti-Head was a pleasure to work with because it was very easy to set up and dismantle, and didn’t dominate the set. It quite quickly became just another part of the camera kit. This meant that we didn’t have to structure the whole shoot around the motion control shots, allowing us to focus on how the actual performances and story played out across a scene. Ultimately we were very happy with how quick and easy the Ulti-Head was to use. For us it was a perfect low budget solution to achieving motion control.”

On Set -- Chris Waitt -- Writer / Director / Actor

NETZERO Shoot at CCI

 

NETZERO Shoot at CCI

In a recent commercial for Net Zero, an Internet provider, production company Patriot Pictures and Riot used Camera Control Inc with their Milo long arm and Slimline Fries camera to shoot a series of pre-visualised moves of a Net Zero customer enjoying his Hyper Fast Internet experience. The concept called for a guy sitting at a desk flying along the Internet Superhighway. The entire background was to be computer generated with just the talent and table being real.

MILO with Long-arm On Set

The client had approved the pre-vis and so the moves on set had to match this very closely as to camera angle and pacing. The pre-vis artist was on set with Maya™ downloading move files directly onto the Flair computer. For each move a line up move was generated in Maya showing exactly where the real table was in Maya ‘space’. The Milo camera was placed in exactly the same orientation relative to the table and when that was done, the offsets between the Flair “world” and the Maya “world” could be determined by Flair and then applied to the actual camera move. In this way each move was rapidly imported and lined up. Once that was done any minor changes were made for framing and pacing and the move would be ready to go.
Two of the moves were slightly more complex. The first one involved going directly over the head of the talent with a specific camera roll as the camera went over the top. Operator Simon Wakely explains “anyone who has programmed this kind of move knows how hard it can be, and in fact this shot took a lot of time in CG to get it right, I didn’t want to spend lot of time in Flair tweaking it. In order to import the move accurately the Maya move was applied to a 3 Node Camera and that camera exported to Flair so that as well as having a Camera Location and a Target Location there was also an “Up” location that defines the roll on the camera. Needless to say this worked out really well and no time was wasted adjusting the roll which normally would have consumed some time to get it just right.” Each shot also involved a lighting effect pass, these were created by spinning mirrors which reflected light across the subject and gave the appearance of motion.

The second complex move involved a “boomerang” shot. The shot was of the talent flying past the camera as it tracks him going by. The client wanted to start 70 feet in front of the talent and end up 70 feet behind him. Not having enough track nor a large enough stage plus it would have required a HUGE green screen, the shot was cleverly designed in Maya by having the camera fly toward the talent, then turn the talent on a turntable and then have the camera pull away. Once worked out Maya provided the moves for the Milo motion control camera and a move for the motion control turntable. These files were then imported into the Flair software to shoot directly.

CCI's MILO on set

CCI's MILO on Set

British Airways Shoot for “Knucklehead”

British Airways Shoot for “Knucklehead”

The latest BA commercial, directed by award winner Daniel Barber from Knucklehead , used extensive motion control techniques supplied by the Visual Effects Company based in London.

The commercial begins outside the window of a flat looking at a man inside. With the hero character staying centre frame, the camera travels in a perfect arc through the wall continuing into a living room where the man is sitting on a sofa using a laptop computer. We pass a fish tank and, as the camera comes to rest, we follow the man who stands up and walks towards the camera and through a doorway before taking a seat in an aeroplane cabin. Still focused on the man, the camera continues tracking backwards through the cabin and out through the fuselage and tail of the plane.

Here you can see the full commercial:  QuickTime Commercial 520Kb

The VFX Co were involved in the project from the very start which allowed all the technical aspects to be foreseen and resolved before the shoot. Malcolm Wooldridge, senior motion control cameraman at the VFX Co, oversaw the project “The whole sequence had been planned in detail using pre-visualisation. 3D Data and dimensions from this pre-vis were then used to allow the set to be constructed and positioned in the studio to allow the motion control camera access to the required areas with the minimum of fuss. It was important to know well in advance which parts of the set needed to ‘float’ and what we would see after we had passed through wall etc so that these could be integrated into the design from the outset. ” he continues “by using our custom ‘rig chase’ software we were able to directly import the pre-vis moves on set and adjust them as necessary to accomplish the shot. The software is a very versatile and useful tool, giving us the ability to accurately predict where the rails should be positioned and which walls needed to be removed.”

The sequence was broken down into 4 main moves from 3 rail positions. The first two shots were programmed using a standard Milo motion control system supplied with an Arri 435 Advanced camera recording the takes. “The transition through the wall from outside to inside was used as a wipe point between the first 2 moves. There was enough overlap to allow for pre and post roll” explains operator Digna Nigoumi. “and an offset pass was also shot for the fascia wall replacement of the outside of the flat. The second move overlapped the first and used a 3D generated fish tank as its end wipe point. For the third and fourth moves, an 8 foot tall rostrum was constructed on which the Milo was placed. The use of our long arm gave us the reach to the overlap position and allowed the rig to pass over the aircraft lockers during the final track back. Some of the sections required very fast rig movements so we were able to ‘vary-speed’ the move where necessary and make sure that we were back to 25Fps at the point that Daniel wanted. Frame count inserters were output from the motion control computer and used to edit the video feed from the camera on set. This enabled us to accurately join each move section together so that Daniel could check the pace and composition of the wipes. As the cabin interior was only about 7 seats deep, replacement passes were also needed to fill in the other missing rows of seats and roof sections”

Effects supervisor Jason Watts and CG artist Andrew Daffy were on set during the shoot to composite the various passes recorded from the video tape and advise accordingly.

Stills from the finished commercial

Stills from finished Commercial

Stills from finished Commercial

We’ve moved at IBC

We’ve moved at IBC

Unbelievably it’s that time of year again! IBC is less than 5 weeks away.  We’ll be there but please note we will be in a different hall to the previous 5 years – now in Hall 11 along with all other camera equipment, look out for us on Booth 705.  This year our new General Manager James Biggs will be joining Assaff Rawner and Sophie Roberts on the stand.  Please drop by for coffee and a copy of the DVD showreel.

If you haven’t pre-registered then you might want to do it online, as it saves a lot of time in the queues and IBC provides you with a FREE 5 day Amsterdam travel pass.  Follow this link to register. FREE IBC Registration

On display will be the ULTI- HEAD,  our pan tilt remote head designed especially for motion control. We will be showing it at IBC with a Dutch roll option which gives a third main axis with 45 degrees of motion in each direction.  This lightweight mains or battery powered portable system can be mounted on a tripod, dolly or crane and comes with an array of different options for easy programming. We will also be showing the handwheels, laptop and panbars.

On the stand for the first time will be an upgraded Radamac Head supplied by Cine-TV,  Germany, fitted with new electronics and running with Flair – our award winning motion control software.  This head retains all of it’s original functions as a leading broadcast head but now has precise repeatability of motion.

Mark Roberts Motion Control will be located Hall 11 stand 705  9th -13th September. See you there.

CONTACT

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Contact

Tom Landsmann

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