Vinay Chuphal, VFX supervisor at FutureWorks, tells us about his career in visual effects that began back in 1996

Vinay Chuphal joined FutureWorks in 2010 and has led the team on a multitude of projects ranging from Dum Maro Dum (2011), Holiday (2014), Badrinath Ki Dulhania (2017), Marjaavaan (2019), Amazon Prime’s‘ The Family Man (2019), Disney Hotstar’s The Empire (2021) and Netflix’s Jaadugar (2022).

Tell us about your career path; how did you get to where you are now?

I started working in visual effects back around 1996, I’m that old! I was working in a non-film-related job, but I loved watching movies, especially the Hollywood ones that were coming out at the time. Someone explained to me how the visual effects or ‘graphics’ as they were known back then worked, and this really interested me.

It was a time in India when television had begun opening up. There used to be only one government official channel in India, but then more started to come in. Through friends, I came to know someone who worked on one of these new channels, and he told me that if I went away and learnt how to create graphics, then I could join his studio as a creative designer – and that’s how I got my start.

What did this learning process look like?

I went to the Priyadarshini Institute of Multimedia, where I earned my Bachelor’s degree in Interactive Technology, Video Graphics and Special Effects. There, I was working with what is today known as Autodesk 3ds Max.

I started my VFX education in Delhi back in 1995, and in 1996 I moved to Mumbai where I got my first opportunity in visual effects. In Mumbai, I joined my first studio and learnt a lot, because I hadn’t done a lot of 2D animation before, so I was taken through the whole process of drawing every frame and manually scanning these into the computer – that’s how we produced animation back then.
Eventually, the studio went through an upgrade where we moved over to Mac-based software and started using Adobe programs such as After Effects and Photoshop.

I worked there for another two years before getting a great opportunity with another company. This was a formative time for me as my family was based in Delhi, and so I dedicated most of my time to working, coming in after hours, and picking up everything I could to become one of the top animators for the studio.

What was the visual effects industry like in India when you first started?

At the time there was a boom for visual effects in India, but not in the movie industry as there wasn’t the data handling infrastructure in place. So I started off working with broadcasters, creating logos for news outlets, and adding visual effects to music videos for MTV syndication, which was done in After Effects. Even simple renders were so time-consuming than what today is instantaneous, we used to charge extra for the service. So if a client would ask for a reflective surface, we’d have to run the computers overnight.

Eventually, I started working with Flame, a high-end compositing software from Autodesk, which changed the type of work I could get involved with. The reason I liked the software was that everything was real-time. Rather than spending time waiting for assets to render, we could keep working in the background. Flame had become our go-to software as it contains everything you need; compositing, 3D, 2D, lightning and more.

The Indian visual effects industry has advanced significantly since I started. The variety of our clients and the scale of the projects we’re working on is a testament to not only the technological advances we have made, but also the increasing talent of Indian VFX artists. We no longer have to prove ourselves to the biggest creators anymore – they come to us.

What are you most proud of in your career?

I feel quite proud that I’ve built relationships with clients that have continued throughout my career, even as I’ve moved between studios. I think this has helped me stay in continuous work, being friendly to clients, producers and directors. I’m happy to provide suggestions when needed, and never simply inform the client of what the problem is. I make sure to provide a solution to whatever barriers we come up against so they don’t feel as if we have reached a standstill.

We work with the top OTT providers, such as HBO, Netflix, Prime, Disney, etc who want a vendor partner they can depend on, so communication skills are a crucial aspect of my job at FutureWorks. A lot of the VFX business is built on trust, so I’m proud to be working for a company that is a valued partner across the globe.

What do you miss about being in a less senior role?

Since joining FutureWorks in a more senior role ten years ago, I’ve stopped working with visual effects software as much as I used to… I love working directly on shots, but I just don’t have the time anymore.
What do you spend most of your time doing?

My time is now spent managing artists, reading scripts, attending meetings, providing feedback for storyboard artists, visiting the sets, and finding solutions for clients.

What do you need to be good at in your job?

There are a few skills I need as a Visual Effects Supervisor. One is the problem solving we’ve mentioned, not leaving the client asking questions, but providing them with answers. Second, when there are budget concerns, I need to be able to suggest alternative methods of capturing the same scene in a different way. It might be that they have an idea of filming in a certain way, but the filming gear they have is not capable of what they are asking.

This is where I would step in and work with them to find a solution, and help them understand the limitations and workarounds according to their budget. I’m open with my clients, making them feel comfortable and reassured in their decisions. There have been a few occasions where a client has been working with another supervisor on set, but they still ask me to come on set and help them with their issues, which is a direct result of the relationship and comfort I have built with them.

What’s the best thing about working at Futureworks?

From our senior leader to our junior artists, we’ve built a team who are passionate, driven and focused on creating exciting content that pushes the boundaries of VFX and filmmaking.

It’s not just about working with the bigger names in the industry but providing a valued service that ensures they come back to us for their next project, which we do by being attentive to their needs and listening to their suggestions. We’re upfront about what can be achieved, and then make sure to deliver on this.

We have state-of-the-art technology, pipelines and great IT and management support, which has resulted in happier, healthier artists. There’s a better work/life balance as a result of this, and we can focus more on the creative.

What’s the most significant change you’ve witnessed in the industry since you started working in it?

I’ve been at FutureWorks for twelve years now, and I’ve overseen and handled different teams of people. There have been changes in technology, people management, client behavior, artist behavior, in terms of industry booms and changing costs – something changes in this industry every day. But I always recommend that my artists stay committed and focused on the work.

What excites you about the future of visual effects?

The visual effects industry is in a boom period, driven by the influx of great content being produced across the globe. There’s been an unprecedented demand for visual effects artists, which has been great for FutureWorks and the industry as a whole.

Specifically, as a company, I’m excited about the relationships we’re building with our clients. We’re more involved than ever, collaborating closely, and customising workflows to meet their demands, which is incredibly satisfying as a VFX supervisor.

What project are you most proud of?

I’m proud of all the projects I’ve worked on, but a recent stand-out for me was ‘The Empire’ for Disney+ Hotstar, an ambitious, epic project.

There were challenging scenes involved, including a 360 blue screen sequence, which required the creation of a photorealistic CGI elephant to be shown in close-ups. The fact that we were able to take on these intricate scenes is a testament to our talented team, and it was a proud moment when we picked up the IWM Digital Award and the Animation Express VAM Summit Award 2022 for our work on the series.

‘The Empire’ was a huge step for FutureWorks, showcasing that, not just us, but the Indian film industry is capable of creating visual effect-driven stories at an immense scale. We gained confidence from the process knowing that we have the systems, and team, in place to take on exciting creative challenges.

What are you working on next?

We can’t reveal any names yet, but we’ve got some exciting action films in the pipeline that will have great visual effect scenes. There’s also a period piece film that has multiple set-ups and changes of settings. And we’re continuing our partnership with Netflix, working on a number of their original features and programs. We’re always busy!

What advice would you give to someone just starting out?

Learn as much as you can about visual effects, even the parts that aren’t related to your role. When I first started, it was expected that I worked on every aspect of visual effects, whether that be roto, painting, etc. Now, visual effect artists are more specialists than generalists. I believe there are a lot of artists today who are happy to work in one area. So a compositor only works on compositing, a lighting artist on lightning… And this can make things difficult, especially when working on a project for the local market. I can only speak from experience, but I always wanted to learn more and more about visual effects, and I think younger artists can benefit from having a better understanding of jobs outside of their own.

Of course, there are absolutely benefits for the artists, because they are able to become experts in their field. But when you’re working on lower-budget projects, you don’t have the scale to set up a team who can only handle one aspect of visual effects. You need to look to multi-talented artists who have an understanding of a broader range of software.

What skills are most needed in the industry today, and what do you think will be most needed in the future?

Our workflow is continuously changing, so we’ll always have to adapt to any new programs that are introduced. The most vital skill is, and always will be, communication. It’s vitally important for anyone, whether they are a VFX Supervisor or a junior artist just starting out, that they are able to communicate clearly with not only their clients, but with their colleagues.

Starting out in visual effects can seem daunting, but it’s important to be upfront with your team about any blockers you are facing. You want a workflow that is harmonious, and to achieve this you need an upfront understanding of any barriers that may affect the work. Being a communicative partner to your clients is what will bring them back again and again.

Tanya Combrinck
Author: Tanya Combrinck

Tanya is a writer covering art, design, and visual effects. She has 15 years of experience as a magazine journalist and has written for publications including 3D World, 3D Artist, Computer Arts, net magazine, and Creative Bloq.