Rajnikanth can play the violin with a piano. Rajinikanth can divide by zero. Rajnikanth can count to infinity (he's done it twice). Rajinikanth can act.
The last from this list of four, is not a famed Rajini joke, but in fact, something the makers of his next historical production, Kochadaiyaan, directed by daughter Soundarya R Ashwin, have had to assure the media about.
That Thalaivar (leader), as he's fondly called by fanatic followers, will be acting, and performing his own stunts, is a vital piece of information to ease nerves twitching at the thought of 3D animation, which this Tamil film employs, overpowering Rajini's prowess. Nothing overpowers Rajini. Not even MOCAP.
The story of 8th century Pandya king, Kochadaiyaan Ranadhiran, is the first Indian film to use Motion Capture technology (MOCAP). The technique combines human actors with computer-generated animation, the way it was done to create the blue, 10-foot-tall creatures at the heart of James Cameron's Avatar. Actions of actors are recorded, and the information used to animate digital character models in 3D. When the process includes face and fingers, or captures subtleexpressions, it's referred to as performance capture. The most recent film to rely on MOCAP wasSteven Spielberg's The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn.
Kochadaiyaan co-producer Dr Murli Manohar, says, Rajinikanth, dressed in a body suit, will perform while 80 cameras capture his every move. "The idea is to enhance his performance, and construct visuals for a period piece that can't be created otherwise."
It's far from that easy, though. USbased firm, Giant Studios began experimenting with the technique in 1999 with Lord of the Rings. CEO Candice Alger says they use hundreds of thousands of lines of code to define the human skeleton of actors with scientifically accurate detail: bone length, density, connectivity, and rotation properties. All these parameters are modified to mirror the appropriate skeletal set-up for any mechanism that needs to be animated. Filming takes place on a spare motion-capture stage called 'the volume'. Actors dress in skin-tight bodysuits with reflective markers. Every movement is tracked by an army of fixed cameras, while a specialised headrig camera records the actor's face and eyes. "When the actors perform on stage, by using a software, it's possible to translate their performance onto the digital characters that they are playing in real time. When Spielberg was making Tintin.., the performers would act on stage and he could look into his monitor and see the characters in the digital environment. This helped him direct the film as if everything was happening as part of live action," she says.
It's the technology Giant relied on to create digital doubles of soldiers storming the beaches in Flags of Our Fathers and the appearance of humans moving through snow and water in The Day After Tomorrow.
"When Soundarya said she wanted to direct this film, I decided to support her desire to immortalise her father," says Dr Manohar. A team of Indian technicians has been trained by MOCAP experts from Hollywood, and the digital labour for Kochadaiyaan is expected to roll out in London. Three studios - Infinity, Image Matrix, and VTR - are working in tandem to create aworld of retro fantasy. The shooting will begin next month at Pinewood Studios, south west ofLondon, where all James Bond movies are shot. "We are attempting an audio-visual spectacle. Of course, it's going to be expensive but I will have a better idea of technology costs once we wrap up," Dr Manohar adds. India's growing appetite for action and fantasy-centric films means investments in animation are unlikely to derail.
Sony Pictures released Tintin.. in India six weeks before the US, and the film grossed Rs 21 crore in the first 17 days, making it the highest grossing animation film in India. The country is a market not just for audiences but technicians too, with foreign producers outsourcing VFX to Indian studios. Accel Animation Studios in Thiruvananthapuram is the only one in the country to offer MOCAP services. "We used MOCAP in bits in Enthiran. A more complex use may be attempted in Kochadaiyaan," says NR Panicker, chairman, Accel, who is awaiting the arrival of Paris-based director Fred Fougea, who intends to use Accel's facility for his next animated project, Why I Did Not Eat My Father. An interesting debate surrounding MOCAP is one that questions whether it's acting or animation. Avatar bagged nine nominations but not a single onefor its actors. Alger says, "We don't believe it takes away from acting. In Tintin.., Steven wanted the characters to be human and believable. That's what happened." Trashing the contest, Spielberg said in an interview, it's a technique that creates an intimacy which only actors and directors who've worked in live theatre, have experienced.