Interview with Pankaj Khandpur, Creative Director, yFX
What is the genesis of yFX?
Our story goes back almost 30 years! We were a small team of CGI professionals working only on advertising commercials. The very first feature film that we did visual effects for (actually just the titles!) was Aditya Chopra’s (Yash Raj Films) directorial debut, Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (DDLJ). This was way back, in 1995. Since then, we’ve had an on-going relationship with YRF, doing VFX for over 50 of their features, including India’s first animated full-length feature film! All this, as external VFX and animation vendors.
As the YRF films got bigger, and required more complex VFX than before, the question we faced was: does YRF need their own in-house VFX facility? This was about 10-12 years ago. We thought it was a bit early, as their big, VFX-heavy films were few and far between. But I think it was around 2012, when we began to realise that the YRF slate had grown multifold, with ambitious films like Dhoom 1 & 2, the first Ek Tha Tiger, and others. We took a call that the time was right to help turn Adi’s vision into reality… Because of our long-term relationship with YRF, some of us opted to help set up yFX Studios for, and at, YRF, and we opened with about 50 people in early 2016.
We are now 5 times our original size!
Apart from the size of the projects, what else prompted the move?
I’d say the challenge of setting up something brand new in a custom-built facility on the YRF campus, the fact that we’d be left alone to set up the way we wanted, in terms of technology and people and culture, the fact that we’d be part of a film project from ground zero, with interaction with everyone, creative and production, in the film-making process. Now, for the first time in our professional careers, we would be part of the entire process, and our contribution from pre-production through to final shoot and beyond, would be tangible and far more valuable than if we were mere vendors.
Most importantly, I think the key was the relationship and trust we had with Adi, and vice-versa, and with YRF as an organisation.
So now, 7 years on, in retrospect, did this turn out to be a wise decision?
Much more than wise! Both for us at yFX, and for YRF.
For us, unfettered control, and management of the facility, to operate the way we feel fit, with just the one goal of doing what is best for the project. New technology, more people, more space, training, outsourcing to anywhere in the world, even an out-of-town facility... Nothing is a showstopper, if it serves the purpose... the ONE focus of delivering the best work, on time, and within a reasonable budget.
We’re constantly working with YRF and their filmmakers to help achieve their vision; whether it’s ideating, or figuring out the best way to do something, helping visualize their ideas, how to practically merge the real with the VFX, and how to make all of this efficient, and cost effective. Whether it is methodology, new skills, technology. Or all of these. This is an on-going, collaborative process. No surprises for anyone, and far more professional than we’ve ever experienced!
Which is not to say you get a blank cheque! There are professional processes in place at both yFX and YRF, with enough checks and balances to make a corporate company proud! Build a thorough case, and if it makes sense, you get a green-light in minutes! No committees, no deferring of decisions, no stupid questions. That’s because we are all dealing with professionals FROM the film business. And they respect what we can bring to the table. They understand what is needed to make their projects better, more efficient, and practical. They get it!
For YRF, they can get on with making their creative vision work. Any idea for a film, no matter how large, or complex, even bizarre, can now be made possible! Focus on the idea, the big picture. There are enough of us at yFX, with enough experience, to collaborate with the YRF folks, to define methodologies, to make sure we can deliver, in how much time, what will be required to make it work, what compromises will be acceptable, and of course, the budget. So now “who will do the vfx?” is off the table!
The fact that we are all focused and aligned, and working towards the same one goal, makes this a tightly integrated, synergistic, completely focused collaboration!
So how would you define the culture at yFX?
When I started my career in this field, over 40 years ago, I quickly realized that VFX is a team game. How else can you deliver a project that has hundreds, even thousands of shots, often extremely complex? The first thing is: RESPECT. Respect your people, and each other. Respect your work. Take pride in whatever you do, no matter how mundane you may think.
Second: EMPOWER EVERYONE. Give them the latest tech, the training, everything that will make them the best they can be. Encourage communication between departments. Make them work together, not in silos. Encourage cross-pollination. Help people GROW. Give them vision. Show them their growth path. Make space for them, let them make their own decisions. Treat everyone as a fellow professional. From the ranks will emerge your future leads and supervisors, even the future heads of the studio. It makes complete sense to invest in your people!
Third: OWNERSHIP. Let each one be the owner of whatever he or she does. Whether it’s a part of a shot, the complete sequence, the entire VFX, or even the facility. With a sense of ownership comes responsibility. And thus, everyone works together, with a sense of purpose... and your show gets delivered, in the best possible manner.
This then is our philosophy at yFX: If each one of us looks good, we all look good, our work looks good, the studio looks good, the end project looks good. Win-win for all. Quite simple, actually!