Chapman’s Excellent Adventures in Chennai

Chapman’s Excellent

When a visual effects facility is routinely pushing through work supporting thousands of shots a year for dozens of highly regarded clients, you’d think such a well-heeled organisation wouldn’t be so self-conscious about the inner workings of its production engine. But, that’s exactly what BOT VFX lavishes its focus on, despite its position as a leading provider of supporting services such as roto, paint and matchmove for visual effects facilities.

A few months back, BOT reached out to industry veteran Alexi Chapman — at the time, an independent consultant —seeking his help in assessing and recommending improvements for BOT’s 2D pipeline. Chapman has been “around the block a few times” when it comes to setting up and managing 2D departments. Over the years, he’s worked at numerous facilities in Vancouver, small and large, doing everything from working shots as a roto artist to leading a 2D department.

“I had worked with the BOT team for many years and always thought highly of the creative team that delivered solid work project-after-project and client-after-client as I moved to different facilities,” reflects Chapman. “So when they asked if I was able to come out to India to meet with the team and dive into how they did the work, I jumped at the opportunity. And it’d be an opportunity to visit India – something I always looked forward to.” In briefing Chapman before his visit to India, Hitesh Shah, BOT’s chief was quick to reveal what BOT considered to be key to their success – the three P’s: People, Pipeline and Process. “It’s important that you get an ‘inside’ look at who we are as a team, and understand how our pipeline works and how we go about things. Only then can you glean recommendations that will help us raise our game,” coached Shah.

Not one to shy away from adventure, Chapman landed in Chennai, ready to dive into work, and dive into Indian culture, both with equal vigor. “I was taken aback by the great warmth and excitement with which the team received me,” says Chapman of finally meeting the team members he’d only connected with in Skype sessions, conference calls, emails and chat sessions over the years. “When I walked into BOT’s office, it hit me that despite differences in language, culture and environment, artists are artists everywhere. I noticed that like artists in Vancouver, BOT artists adorned their cubicles with maquette, sketches, paintings and collectibles from their favorite movies. Talking to the team, it became abundantly clear that the stuff they do is more than just a job to them – they’re really into VFX, and they’re stoked by the same things artists I’ve worked with in Vancouver value. Once I understood this, it was easy to understand why BOT consistently delivered solid work.”

Chapman spent time talking to artists, leads, and supervisors in each of the roto and paint/prep departments through the better part of a week. “We conducted ‘a-day-in-the-life-of’ reviews for Alexi to help him understand both the pipeline and processes and to some extent approaches the individual artists take,” reflects Sreyans Bardia, BOT’s Head of Production. “These reviews proved to be extremely useful because Alexi was able to assemble some great insights that have helped our efficiency, reduced some technical issues, and reduce feedbacks from clients.” Many valuable insights were the result of Chapman’s intimate knowledge of how BOT’s clients actually used the work produced by BOT. For example, when client-side compositors find the need to open a Silhouette source file delivered by BOT in order to make some minor tweaks, it becomes awfully confusing when shapes fly in and out of frame. From years of experience, BOT artists have found this technique (of “disabling” shapes for a few frames by pulling them off-frame) to be highly efficient. However, it is also highly frustrating to client-side artists to quickly understand where they need to make the modifications and move on.

Chapman concedes that despite enormous variety of clients and projects, each with their own nuances and expectations, BOT is able to deliver to the individual requirements with relatively few feedbacks. Some clients only care about the alpha mattes for roto, others want the SFX Silhouette source files, and still others want the splines converted to The Foundry’s Nuke. Some projects require separated core mattes and blur mattes, others want blur baked into the same matte. For paint work, there are always the nuances of colorspace and grain particular to a show. Add to that, the projects on any given day can be in HD, 2K, 4K, 30fps, 24fps, 25fps, log, linear, varied film gates and so on. “It’s like the kitchen in a restaurant that serves dishes from 10 different kinds of cuisines from as many menus – the BOT kitchen has to be ready to deliver on anything every day,” Chapman says.

In between all of the deep-dive sessions, dailies reviews, and deep insight gathering at the office, Chapman also managed time to soak in South Indian cuisine, some sightseeing and a bit of exposure to South Indian culture. Chapman said, “I was already a fan of Indian food before this trip, but Sreyans, who’s a foodie himself, expanded my palate to a new level. He and the team were also gracious enough to take me around to see some sights I thoroughly enjoyed.” “Consider it India’s version of Southern Hospitality,” jests Bardia.