BEYOND BAAHUBALI

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Technicalities Revealed

Humans are always fascinated by the things which they haven’t seen in their real life. It might be about future or past. We have a tendency of making films on historical issues as grandeur as possible and entertain ourselves in that world. From the period of Black and White, many directors have marked their name in the history, making many historical Epic fantasy films in the Telugu language. Mayabazar was one of the first Telugu films that have portrayed grand visuals and created a remarkable history in those days. This was spoken by Telugu people for its great visuals, special effects and technicalities till date. After a period of time, Telugu cinema has seen social drama and later commercial films took over its rule where heroism has laid its pillars permanently. From then, a very few Epic fantasy films were seen in Telugu cinema.

Being aware of Hollywood cinema and its impact, people were always been attracted to great films like Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter etc. They completely take us to a different world. While most people and filmmakers forgot about Epic fantasy films in Telugu Industry as it is risky and needs a high budget. SS Rajamouli announced his film Baahubali which is a big historic Epic fantasy film with a huge budget. It was after several decades people have witnessed a complete Epic fantasy Telugu film with all larger than life visuals. People eagerly awaited to watch Baahubali 2 – The conclusion after the release of Baahubali 1 – The Beginning.

Story:

It has been said that “All the stories in the world have already been told”. There are no new stories. Every film story will automatically connect to our Hindu Epics Ramayana & Mahabharata. But all our stories have not been told from every angle. It depends on the perspective you narrate the story in the film to the audience.

Baahubali story can be easily connected to Mahabharata, where it is a conflict between the brothers for the kingdom. But the perspective which Rajamouli has chosen was different. It’s the story with never expected multiple plot points which spell bounds the audience. It is a story of GOOD vs. EVIL (Dharma vs. Adharma). The backdrop chosen to narrate his story was entirely new. He went over to create new worlds like Mahishmathi, Kuntala and Kaalakeya through computer-generated visual effects which have helped the film to appear larger than life.

Baahubali 1 – The Beginning:

The first part of the film could be treated as an establishment of the characters in different worlds that Rajamouli has created. It has ended on a note that Kattappa killed Baahubali. BB1 was the complete establishment of the Shivudu character than Amarendra Baahubali. Here Shivudu was introduced to us as a young man living in one of the local tribe’s community. Shivudu has a role of a man who wants to meet his dream girl. Later the situations demanded him for a character transformation from a normal person to a warrior taking up new challenges which led to find his past. Though we were shown the flashback in the second half, we could not understand the complete psychology of all characters because the entire story happens in BB2 and BB1 is just establishment. Second half of BB1 is the establishment of complete Mahishmathi kingdom, the characters and their basic characterization.

After watching BB2, the scene between Aslam Khan (Kicha Sudeep) and Kattappa (Satyaraj) in BB1 seems unnecessary for the story in BB2 as there was only planting for Aslam khan character in BB1 but no payoff later in BB2. Yet in another angle it can be considered as an establishment of Kattappa’s loyalty towards the kingdom and his strength, using one external character from outside the kingdom because everyone in the kingdom knows about his strength and loyalty. There were lots of positive as well as negative reviews like many people haven’t liked the BB1. It is because BB1 is just establishment of the Kingdoms and the characters, which leads to the second part where the actual story begins.

Direction:

SS Rajamouli’s strongest points in his films are STORY and EMOTIONS. He is good at playing and connecting the characters of the film with emotions. His way of narration has many plot points (A particular point in the story which leads to a new turn or twist) which could elevate the characterization, ultimately leading to the perfect engagement of audiences with the film. Some of the important features have been discussed below.

Character Study:
More than 25,000 illustrations were drawn for the characters and scenes in the film. A rigorous character study has been undergone to finalize the look and gestures of each character. It is very difficult because there are no references to the characters in Baahubali from any mythological stories. Every character has to be designed with a new design.

Strong Female Characters:
Rajamouli movies will have strong female characters. They have much more to do in his films than being a glamour doll. Sometimes his heroines become the main lead who carries the story forward (Eg: Eega). Though Baahubali story is about two brothers, the character transformations and movement of the story depends on the female characters. It may be Sanga (stepmother of Mahendra Baahubali), Shivagaami Devi, Devasena or Avanthika; their actions will lead to the next plot point in the story. Rajamouli has created an emotional dynamism in Baahubali using strong female characters which is less seen in Telugu cinema these days.

Strong Negative Characters:
Protagonist characterization will be highlighted when we cast a strong antagonist against him. The power of antagonist should be always greater than the protagonist. But by the end, because of the good qualities of the protagonist, he wins over the antagonist. Rajamouli films will have a powerful antagonist against a weak protagonist. The situations around will make the protagonist strong and rebel against the antagonist. Here in Baahubali, both are equally powered but antagonist possesses cruelty, grudge and a desire for the kingdom.

Grey Characters:
There are always grey characters in Rajamouli’s films. Grey is an intermediate colour between Black & White. It is always neutral in nature. These grey characters are situation driven characters. They live in such a condition that they are bound to something like loyalty or helplessness. They cannot question back until and unless they get into favourable situations or gets a complete backup from another character. Kattappa is the best example of grey character. Sometimes a protagonist can be a grey character too.

Opening and Closing image:

The first image or the sequence of images in the first scene setups the story of the film. This setup is important in grabbing the audience attention. This first sequence of images always should start with a jaw-dropping moment or a compelling question. This moment should lead to other sequences which give us a perfect closing image. Rajamouli has designed a perfect opening image and a closing image for Baahubali. The film opens with the map showing all kingdoms and follows the water body leading to the waterfall where Shivagami enters with a baby boy. Shivagami’s epic sacrifice for the baby at the waterfalls made the audience struck with several questions. The last sequence of images in BB2 ends with the Bhallaladeva’s statue head floating in the same water body from Mahishmathi kingdom. The final frame ends with the head exactly falling at the same place where Shivagami has sacrificed her life. This two opening and closing image sequences poetically convey the core of the Baahubali story.

It is because of Bhallaladeva, Shivagami ran away with the baby to waterfalls and the baby who has to enjoy the kingly pleasures has started his life like an orphan at waterfalls. The story starts at the waterfalls. The story ends with Bhallaladeva’s Statue head falling at the same waterfalls. The Karma has done its work silently. This is one of the best poetic opening and closing images so far in Telugu cinema.

Below images explain the opening and ending sequences in the film.

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Cinematography:

Baahubali is a story which is set to happen several centuries ago where Sunlight and fire are the only sources of light. It is very difficult to create that kind of natural lighting using artificial lights. Cinematographer Senthil Kumar has done his best for this epic Baahubali series. Senthil has an experience of this kind of lighting in movies like Maghadeera and Arundhathi which has small portions of the historical period. Baahubali was completely shot on the Digital format with Arri Alexa XT camera combined with Zeiss Master Prime and Angenieux Optimo Lenses. Senthil tried to keep his work as simple as possible. Important cinematic technicalities to be learnt through Senthil’s work in this film are as follows. BB2 was also shot for IMAX projection and was framed keeping in mind the IMAX 16:9 format.

Lighting:

Almost all the film lights available in India were used for shooting the film. As this is a larger scale film, it needs many lights to light up the large area of Mahishmathi. Both Tungsten (3200K), HMI lights (5600K) and Keno Flo lights are used. The list of lights goes on like this (as per the information collected from Ramesh Kushendar, Chief assistant Cinematographer for Baahubali):

Tungsten (3200K):
Babys (1K)
Juniors (2K)
Seniors (5K)
Inky – Dinky 300W & 600W
10K, 24K etc.

Day Light – HMI & Keno Flo (5600K):
Joker Bug – 400W & 800W
Keno Flo – 4 Banks to 12 Banks
1.2K, 2K, 4K, 6K, 9K, 12K, 16K and 100K HMI lights.
Sunguns
Some lights were also specially made by the team themselves depending on the scenes and locations.

Especially talking about 100K Soft HMI, this is the first film in Telugu to use such a huge light which can light up several acres of area on field. This light needs 480 or 380VAC input power to generate 100K output. Color temperature is 5400K with Color Rendering Index (CRI – a measure of a light source’s ability to show object colours “realistically” or “naturally”) 96. These lights require no warm-up time. They achieve maximum power and proper color temperature the moment they are turned on. These can be dimmed throughout 97% of its range with minimal shift in color temperature. These are specially design to deliver the soft light without any diffuser. (Source: http://www.hispeedvideo.de/LSoftSun.html)

senthil with 100KV light
100KV light

Motivated Lighting:

Motivated lighting is where a source of light is shown in the frame, but the light used to picturise the scene will be coming from the external source which is illuminating the region from the same angle as the source shown in the frame. As said it is some medieval period in the story where Sunlight and fire are the only sources of light, one can observe the lanterns installed all over the palaces of Mahishmathi and Kuntala which serve as the source of light for the scene. After establishing lanterns as main sources of lights in the master shots, external lights are used to illuminate the scene at the same angle as the lanterns. This type of setup makes the frame appears like the entire light on the subject is coming from the lantern’s fire nearby. This setup is used during the interior scenes in the palace as well as some night scenes.

This below scene of Kattappa killing Baahubali was shot using the motivated lighting initially establishing a big fire source caused by the lightning from the sky. But if you observe the making shot of this scene, the fire was created in VFX. But the main source of light is coming from the left side of the frame (see the lights, diffusers and skimmers placed on the left corner of the frame). A blue screen was used for VFX purpose. For the effect of fire, two lights were placed below which is lighting the blue screen uniformly. This explains how the motivated lighting was used for the entire film taking help of the VFX.

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And yes motivated lighting was used. That’s ok. But when a fire was established in a frame, the light that comes from the fire should be always flickering because fire never stands still, it keeps moving. How has Senthil achieved it? Here in these two films, a continuous fire flickering effect was continued when they shot the scenes having light coming from the fire. Observe the below picture, 2K lights were placed with a diffuser in front of it. Yellow colour gels were tied to a stick and were waved randomly in between the lights and diffuser continuously. Depending upon the scene and artiste costumes they have also used different colour gels like orange, red, green and blue (as told by one of the assistants of K.K. Senthil Kumar). This has created fire flickering effect in the film.

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Day for night:

Day for night is a very old cinematic technique which is still in practice, used to picturise a night scene shot using daylight. Film stocks, as well as digital camera sensors, lack the sensitivity of the human eye in low light conditions. So those particular night scenes are shot in daylight and are underexposed in-camera while shooting or darkened during post-production, with a blue tint (Moonlight is not actually blue but it appears to be blue to our human eye due to Purkinje Effect) which looks similar to a night scene. As discussed above, Baahubali is a story which is set up to happen several centuries back where Sunlight and fire are the only sources of light. So in order to picturise the night sequences one can’t install lights and shoot as several centuries back there were no lights in that period. When a certain sequence happens in a forest during night time, the only source of light would be moonlight or any big firelight. So DOP Senthil Kumar has used the day for night technique for all the night scenes in the film. He has used either natural fire light or day for night technique. Here is the epic scene of Kattappa Identifying Mahendra Baahubali, the son of Amarendra Baahubali after Bhallaladeva’s son was killed. The below images explain how they shot the scene in daylight and changed it into night effect in post-production.

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Visual Effects:

Almost 90% of the shots have VFX. Cinematography has to compliment the VFX perfectly. Most of the film was shot against the Blue and Green screens which are as tall as a huge building. The lighting and camera angle to the subject; shot against a green screen should match the virtual lighting and camera angle of the background which is later added in the VFX post-production. This matching of camera angles is done by marking with the white markers on the green screen. These are later used to track the real camera movement in the shot and apply the same tracking motion to virtual camera in VFX. These markers also help VFX artists in recognizing the position of the different objects to be placed in foreground or background in a shot. Previsualized computer-generated shots helps the cinematographer in matching the lighting and the camera angles. Previsualization (also known as previs, previz, pre-rendering, preview or wireframe windows) is a functional tool to visualize complex scenes in a movie before filming. For example, let us consider the below shots.

Here these below shots were shot against a green screen. Their camera angle should exactly match the backgrounds which are later added in the post-production. For this, they have previsualized the shots in VFX before filming. There are nearly 4,500 such VFX shots in these two films. Having a VFX supervisor always on the set helps a lot while shooting for VFX.

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Baahubali - The Beginning _ VFX Breakdowns.mp4_20170501_224757.372

VFX are grandeur than ever. VFX Supervisors V. Srinivas Mohan and R. C. Kamalakannan have done their best for the film. Around 600 artists and 17 visual effects studios across India, South Korea and China created 4,500 visual effect scenes and computer graphics for both ‘Baahubali’ movies. But the two parts have their own drawbacks in VFX in complimenting the reality. There are many shots in the film where VFX appears to be unnatural. VFX work would have been much better in BB2 climax. It looks so unnatural while the soldiers fly into the air and lands in the kingdom of Mahishmathi. But in overall presentation, it has crossed the audience expectations and has a wider response.

Animatronics:
Animatronics is a technique of operating lifelike robots which are later used as references in creating the virtual animals or humans in VFX. The animals which are seen in BB1 and BB2 are created using the lifelike animal models which are operated mechanically through external cranes and robotics. This technique is used in many entertainments medium like virtual Jurassic Park where dinosaurs are mechanically moved to entertain viewers. Here is one such example from the film where the huge elephant prototype was lifted using a crane and later in VFX the elephant was virtually given life. Similarly, all other animals are brought to life in the film.

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Production Design:

The movie had 25+ artists who created 25,000 sketches during the pre-production stage to visualize the World of ‘Baahubali’. Sabu Cyril, the production designer’s work was magnificent in this film. With the several references, he and his team have created the gigantic forts of Mahishmati and Kuntala in a new architectural style. The weapons were also unique and the large war machines were really built. Let us look into some insights that we need to learn from this film.

Complementing VFX:

In order to get a real look in VFX, the original set needs to set up at least 20 percent of the whole set. Observe the below picture, here the set is constructed up to some extent and a green screen is placed after that with white markers on it. So In VFX, this original set was used as a reference to create the rest of the total set. The green screen will be removed and the extension created in VFX will be placed. This construction of the 20% set would take up lots of manpower and hard work.

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Color Tones:

Every colour has its own psychology and can affect our mind in their unique way. A colour can generate certain mood and feel of the film. Most of the colour tones were generated in Post Production level. DI Colorist Shiva from Annapurna Studios has done an excellent job. Here in these two films, warm and cool colour tones are used to differentiate both Mahishmati and Kuntala Kingdoms. Mahishmati is always warm in tone with orange shade palace representing the power, the bloodshed and the cruelty of Bhalla. Kuntala is in cool colour tone with white palace which represents peace, happiness and love etc. Observe the portrait of Prabhas as Shivudu in Tribal area and Shivudu in Mahishmati also observe Amarendra Baahubali in Kuntala and Amarendra Baahubali in Mahishmati. One can observe a lot of difference in the colour tones.

Baahubali 2 - The Conclusion Trailer _ Prabhas_ Rana Daggubati _ SS Rajamouli.mp4_20170506_222404.765
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Apart from a few mistakes, there are many important lessons to be learnt for young filmmakers and enthusiasts. These two films have occupied a separate place in Telugu as well as Indian cinema history. Baahubali will remain as the pride of Telugu cinema forever.

By
Dinesh A

M.F.Tech Cinematography. 

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