Visual effects (VFX) studios facilitate the creation of fantastical backdrops in all kinds of films epics, fantasy or action movies.
Some examples of Telugu films which relied heavily on visual effects are Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy, Sarileru Neekevaru, Ala Vaikuntapuramloo and Mahanati, apart from upcoming films such as the thriller Nishabdham.
The trend of using the services of VFX studios is increasing, and the restrictions on film shooting necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic has only increased producers’ reliance on these facilities. As a result, VFX studios are minting money.
Director Teja feels an over-dependence on VFX is leading to a hike in film budgets. He says, “If a director wants 15 minutes of VFX in his film, the producer concerned has to sell his house to pay for it.” Elaborating, he says, “VFX studios charge anywhere between `800 and `1,200 per frame, and given that 24 frames make one second of a feature film, one can only imagine the added costs if the VFX runs into minutes and hours.”
The new shooting guidelines issued by the Government in the context of the pandemic have added to the filmmakers’ woes. Films now have to be shot with junior artistes and dancers in masks. “That means VFX studios will pocket more money to remove the masks digitally,” points out Teja.
While producer Anil Sunkara admits that VFX experts have helped cut down reshoots and made filmmaking easier, he believes that budget allocations for VFX work have risen exponentially in recent times. “Costs go up to anywhere between `1 crore and `4 crore for a star-centric film while it could be `40 lakh for a small movie,” explains Anil.
“So, for the moment, VFX is affordable only to big producers. On the flip side, VFX allows digital cleaning that would have previously needed expensive retakes and helps in the re-creation of locations, which cuts down traveling to ‘virgin’ locales,” he points out.
Visual wonders such as Baahubali and 2.0 reportedly had VFX budgets of around `20 crore to `40 crore.
A VFX studio’s take
Yugandar, an independent VFX supervisor who has worked on 100-odd Telugu movies including Sarileru Neekevvaru and Ala Vaikuntapuramloo, however, does not agree that VFX budgets normally amount to such astronomical figures.
“The budget for visual effects in Telugu movies is a meagre two to three per cent for a `100-crore Telugu movie, whereas in Hollywood, the allocation is between 15 and 20 percent,” he explains. “Moreover, Baahubali and 2.0 are exceptions and visual effects usually work within stipulated budgets.”
In fact, Yugandar believes visual effects have actually cut down the budgets of movies. “We can create gigantic sets and place actors against eye-pleasing and breath-taking foreign locales at just 20% of the money which would otherwise have been spent on travel, boarding and other costs,” he points out.
“Earlier, some VFX studios used pirated software, but now original software is used, and this costs more than the manpower,” he says, rationalising the high costs.
He also says local VFX studios are having trouble due to competition from Bollywood and Hollywood studios. “With Hollywood studios attracting the best brains in our field, we have to pay extra to hire them, invariably adding to producer’s cost,” he says.
“Honestly, VFX studios are going through tough times. For instance, even a one-month down-time period could suck up profits made during the rest of the year because of high maintenance cost and hefty salaries for workforce,” he says, adding that even the Hollywood-based special effects studio Technicolor has filed for bankruptcy.