“Have mothers on earth stopped giving birth to brave sons?” a
booming voice asks in Sanskritised Hindi. Out steps Arjun, the third of the
Pandava brothers, to resounding applause, as a host of spectators cheer. The
sight is breathtakingly beautiful, and the rich colours create a visual feast.
The scene is a part of animation spectacle Arjun – The Warrior
Prince, made by Tata Elxsi’s Visual Computing Labs (VCL). The division has
succeeded in capturing on celluloid a slice of the Mahabharata, India’s longest
epic and an intrinsic part of its mythology. The film depicts the journey of
young Arjun, as he becomes the most powerful warrior of his time.
Riding high on the acclaim earned by Roadside Romeo, its
first animation feature film, VCL embarked on the journey to create Arjun in
October 2008. The second animation film in its repertoire, Arjun was completely
different from its predecessor and showcased the versatility that the division
was capable of.
Released in May 2012, Arjun opened to great reviews, with the animation receiving
a lion’s share of the commendation. The affirmation of its work was a
vindication of VCL’s hard work and competence. S Nagarajan, COO, VCL,
says, “We had just finished work on our first animation feature film,
Roadside Romeo, and it was absolutely critical for us to keep the momentum going,
not only from a financial and business viewpoint but also to prove that Roadside
Romeo was no flash in the pan. Making a second feature film demonstrated our
Roadside Romeo was an important film in the context of VCL’s learning
curve. It helped the division learn some valuable project management skills.
Mr Nagarajan says, “There were unanticipated problems that cropped up
during the making of Roadside Romeo, but we learned to solve them as we went
along. Our experience of working on the film also brought to the fore our ability
to manage a long form project. There are multiple things that have to be accomplished
at different stages of any long-duration project. We applied these learnings
The production of these films was a feat, especially in a scenario in which
the animation industry in India is still fragmented. VCL needed to deal successfully
with a slew of challenges in its journey towards completing the film.
These challenges included strengthening the capabilities of its infrastructure.
VCL invested in high-end computers and powerful render farms. The availability
of talented artists was another issue. In the absence of any degree course in
animation in India, VCL had to hire students who had completed diploma courses
and train them to be able to work on a theatrical film.
The film itself was completely different from VCL’s first venture. Where
the fictional Roadside Romeo was endearing and Disney-ish in its makeup, Arjun
was true-to-life, drawing from a source that has been interpreted and explained
innumerable times down the ages.
“UTV, the film’s producers,” says Pankaj Khandpur, creative
director, VCL, “gave us the story and screenplay along with the dubbed
audio track and basic sketches of the primary characters. About 75 artists worked
on the film.”
And so began the process of breathing life into a dream. VCL proceeded to
create the designs in the 3D space. Incidentally, the art director of the film
had visualised the film as a painting and wanted the film to have a 2D look.
This posed a challenge. Mr Khandpur explains, “The technique of 2D is
very restrictive; it does not allow one to do any major camera moves. Since
we are a 3D animation company, we decided to make the film in 3D but give it
a 2D look. The viewer is able to see a 2D film with a difference, one in which
the depth of the characters is clearly evident, as are camera movements.”
The work of creating the characters and backgrounds started in earnest. Storyboards
were hand-drawn to give animators an idea of the general look of the film and
to get everyone to think as a team. Numerous teams worked in tandem, creating
the background, foregrounds and props, and fine-tuning the characters in the
film. Mr Khandpur says, “We were given the basic character design for
the primary characters, but beyond that the characterisation had to evolve.
For example, Arjun had hair that flowed like a luxuriant mane.”
A lot of effort was put into creating the backgrounds. In fact, the producers
had commissioned two architect-designers to design the palaces and temples seen
in the film. These architects went to Nepal, studied the ancient heritage structures
there and designed accordingly.
The detailing has added layers to the visual spectacle that is Arjun –
The Warrior Prince. “The film,” says Mr Khandpur, “is a work
of art, with a beautiful feel and texture. In that animated world, it looks
as true to life as possible.”
The film is a milestone for VCL. Mr Nagarajan says, “Before the film
was released, we showed the trailer at MIPTV, a market in Cannes, where buyers
and sellers of animation films congregate. We received very positive feedback
there and have consequently been able to bag projects from buyers in France
and the UK. We expect Arjun to help us to position ourselves in the world market.”
Arjun has done much to raise expectations for the fledgling animation industry
in India. Audiences will now wait eagerly to see what VCL comes up with next.