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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.



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