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Bollywood Bockbuster Features North Adams Effects Studio

Staff Reports
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Local special effects company Synthespian Studios has a hand in the international blockbuster "Ra.One" that opened over the weekend.

The visual effects shots in the estimated $39 million Bollywood science-fiction opus (a record-buster for India) can be traced to the small North Adams studio. 

Helmed by industry veterans Jeff Kleiser and Diana Walczak of Williamstown, Synthespian Studios' best known film work is the X-Men trilogy (they're responsible for Mystique's transformations) and more recently made a young, blond doppelganger for Bruce Willis in "Surrogates." The new Columbia logo for Columbia Pictures is also their handiwork.

 "Ra.One" star Shah Rukh Khan signed Kleiser in 2010 as lead visual effects supervisor over more than 3,500 SFX in the film. His Red Chilies Entertainment special effects company hired Synthespian to execute 120 visual effects shots for the film involving complex digital transformations of live-action characters.

Graphics programmers headed by Helge Mathee wrote custom software (nicknamed "Q-Bricks") that emulates artificially intelligent systems, giving the component digital cubes a dynamism as they break apart and re-form, behaviorily collaborating with one another as they transmute into unified characters and objects.

Kleiser said the film not only raises the bar with groundbreaking visual effects, but further reflects a globalizing paradigm shift for the production process itself. The film's extensive postproduction work is being carried out by some 800 artists working at 10 different facilities around the world. While most shots were produced in India by redchillies.vfx, Synthespian brought together an array of talent from the United States, Canada, Germany, France and South Africa.

It's a breakthrough that focuses on quality talent rather than proximity or cost, said Kleiser.

"'Ra.One's visual effects represent a global effort from many different companies. It is only through recent advances in digital connectivity that this sort of remote, virtual collaboration has been possible," he said. "We can pick out a team from around the world, and work with them remotely on even the most complex shots that require elements to be created in separate locations and composited together into the same shot. Five years ago, this would have been inconceivable."

"Ra.One," which opened in India and other locations worldwide, features the story of an evil computer game character that breaks out of the virtual world. Rukh Khan plays the programmer and game charactor G.One who stops him. The film — which the features everything from action to musical numbers — has received mixed reviews but opened strong at the box office.


Pittsfield Workers To Upgrade Nuclear Missiles

Andy McKeever

 PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Guidance systems for nuclear missiles deployed on new and old Navy submarines will come from the hands of local workers.

Nearly 300 employees of local defense contractors received  job security with a $494 million government contract released in December to modernize the country's Trident II missiles' guidance systems.
"Work on the MK 6 guidance system operations contract is performed in Pittsfield by 244 General Dynamic employees, 32 Raytheon Company employees and eight Draper Laboratory employees. This award is a continuation of our existing work and will sustain current employment levels over the next three years," said Kathleen Granchelli, direct of media relations and communications at Draper, in an e-mail. That information was provided by General Dynamics, she said.
The Department of Defense announced the contract last month to Cambridge-based Draper Laboratories to build guidance systems for the missiles deployed on Ohio-class submarines. Local employees at General Dynamics, Raytheon and Draper will be responsible for 11 percent of the project.
The system is an inertial guidance that sends steering commands to the missile during launch. Pittsfield's contingent will be providing technical engineering. 
"Draper and its subcontractors' current efforts are to the ensure that the MK 6 can reliably operate its critical function through the year 2042. This includes replacing 1980s electronics with new technology," Granchelli said. 
The system is for Trident II missiles that were developed in the late 1980s with a long-range and highly precise guidance system that allows for first-strike capability. The missile is considered one of the most important part of the country's nuclear arsenal.
The $494 million is a base contract with unexercised options that can be funded annually. 
Draper is a nonprofit organization that provides research and development for multiple government agencies including NASA, the Air Force and the Navy. The laboratory has a satellite location on Merrill Road.
Tags: Pittsfield, defense      
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