Have you been awestruck while watching the visual effects in Titanic, Terminator 2, Alice in Wonderland, Hunger Games and X men? Have you admired the creative genius behind the visuals brimming with realism? The man behind those mind-blowing effects, Michael Karp, was in Thiruvananthapuram recently as a part of the Meet the Masters programme where he treated the audience to a live demonstration on visual effects. The event was organised by the Toonz Academy in association with the Kerala Chalachitra Academy.
A well-known name in Hollywood, Michael has an experience of 33 years and has worked alongside acclaimed names like Michael Bay, James and Jim Cameron, Michael Jackson, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jim Carrey, Tom Hanks and Angelina Jolie. Though Michael has made it big in Hollywood, his initiation into the world of visual effects was an accidental one. As a final semester film school student in Los Angeles, he was offered an internship at Coast Effects, where visual effects were done.
“I thought Coast Effects was where all the nerds work. But once I started my internship, I realised that I was one of those nerds and was quite at home there” he recalls. The effects work done at Coast Effects in 1983 belonged to a very old school analog with no computers. Cut to the present era, Michael says, “The visual effects business has experienced a dramatic shift from analog to digital and we are in the digital and computer-generated imagery (CGI) period. Another advancement is in the use of highly energy-efficient and light-weight lighting units.”
The biggest surprise is when he mentions that the other huge change in visual effects is that the industry has “moved out of Hollywood into Vancouver, London, Australia and India”. That is certainly good news for all the creative minds in the country since visual effects is becoming a major and integral game changer. Michael shares some happy news, “Visual effects is very popular among young people these days. Demo software is free and a common home computer is almost identical to the fancy units at professional facilities. Visual effects are growing rapidly in India and almost every Hollywood film has huge amounts of work done by artists in India. Hollywood films post produced in India have much larger budgets than Bollywood film visual effects. So there is a large quantity of low budget, high quality Bollywood work available and lots of well-paid Hollywood visual effects artists work in India now.”
Visual effects is not an easy field to master, but the job avenues are aplenty. Michael opines, “Visual effects can be difficult to learn, but it is mind-expanding and often very artistic. There are many disciplines in visual effects, modelling, match move, editorial, rigging, layout, lighting, texturing, rotoscope, paint, animation, lighting, software engineering, physics simulations and compositing. Many disciplines can be boring to work at; others can be very, very interesting. There are entry level jobs, where you can then move up. Most of the major Hollywood, Canadian and British visual effects houses have very large departments in India. Indian employers tend to provide more job security than Western ones, but sometimes with lower pay. Western studios have large freelance, project hire staffing.”
Michael is considered a guru in the use of Oscar-winning Vfx software 3D Equalizer. It is a German product and widely used at almost all large visual effects houses in New Zealand, India, Australia, London and Hollywood. Sharing his thoughts on the field he is a Master in, Michael says, “Visual effects have a broad range of uses. Many visual effects are invisible. In the very romantic film The Best of Me, we blew up an oil rig in CGI. People do not think of that as a visual effects film.”
Having worked with some of Hollywood’s A-listers, he mentions an incident that comes to mind, “I was working on a Jim Carrey film and the very slender actor had eaten too big a lunch that day and so we needed to remove his temporary pot belly.” Michael also teaches screenwriting and visual effects. Translating the vision of the director on screen and creating an emotional bond with the audience through his make-believe effects is very important. He opines, “With visual effects, anything the writer or director imagines can be seen on the screen. Visual effects is used to empower the director and writer’s creative vision and indispensable for assisting with artistic vision.”
This is not Michael’s first trip to Kerala. “I visited Kerala a year and a half ago for a house boat vacation in Alleppey. One of my closest friends is a journalist from Kannur and she speaks Malayalam, English, Russian and Hindi. I know a fair amount about Kerala now,” he says. Before ending, he pragmatically says, “We are in a Golden Age of cinema. Vast amounts of brilliant work are being created all over the world. Indian cinema has also become very sophisticated, in Bollywood, Tollywood and other venues.”...