Airtel Live: Almost like a snapshot from Hollywood

By , agencyfaqs!, New Delhi | In Advertising | October 22, 2007
The film was shot mostly on sets in Mumbai, at Yash Raj Studios and Mukesh Mills, at a cost of Rs 85-90 lakh

The latest & #BANNER1 & # television commercial released by Airtel to promote Google Search on Airtel Live looks like the trailer of a Hollywood period film. In fact, the film, which was made at a cost of Rs 85-90 lakh, was shot in Mumbai, at Yash Raj Studios and Mukesh Mills, by Equinox Films.

The scenes were shot using the technique of chroma keying. Additions in the background and special effects were added on during the post-production stage. Software such as Maya, Digital Fusion, Adobe After Effects and Autodesk's Smoke, 3DS Max and Combustion, were used extensively to obtain the best-suited backgrounds for various scenes and for adding other effects to the film.

Taking a peek at what went into producing this clutter-breaking TVC for Airtel, Ram Madhvani, director, Equinox Films, says, "Looking at the script that was prepared by Chax and Gehlaut, we were to prepare a 60 seconder in a feature film format. It was to be worked out in a manner in which the spend per second would be most economical."

Ajay Gehlaut, executive creative director and creative head, Delhi, KS Chakravarthy (Chax), ex-national creative director and Pradyumna Chauhan, creative director of Rediffusion DY&R, are responsible for the idea and the scripting of the TVC.

Gehlaut reveals, "When you talk about search, the first thing that clicks in your mind is an action-oriented adventure, something similar to the stories of Indiana Jones and 'The Mummy Returns'. We used this as a metaphor and placed the product in context. We studied promos to get the script and format of the film in the same manner and tone. In the film, I personally feel that the unexpected ending took the message home."

Shot with a crane and rod

3-D plane added

Shot against chroma key

Background of Petra added

20 X 20 set of sand

Set extension

Re-creation of a Moroccan market
The film opens with a shot of some people digging at the break of dawn, accompanied by a voiceover which takes the TVC ahead in a story-telling format. A man is heard saying, "The search for the 'Book of Solomon': an ancient book which can control history". The Book of Solomon is shown, emerging from layers of sand. The hero is shown going through what looks like a catacomb. Getting clues, he and his team set off in search of the book. An army general, who is also seeking the Book of Solomon, gives orders to get the hero killed. The hero is shown journeying from Egypt through Libya and Tunisia, finally reaching Morocco. On reaching there, again, with the help of several clues, he and his team cross deserts and jungles and finally reach Petra in Jordan, where the book is learnt to be kept. The general and his men, too, reach the point of action. Much to the surprise of everyone, a girl emerges from inside the building, the book in her arms, and a mobile phone clutched in her hand. A close shot of the phone is shown wherein the product is displayed. The girl walks away cheerfully with the book. The general asks aloud, "What are we going to do now?" "Retire!" replies the hero in disgust.

Prime Focus Plus, the design studio in Mumbai, has brought the TVC to life with the post-production techniques used to complete the film. Khvafar Vakharia, assistant director to Madhvani at Equinox, and Sabu Jose, online digital artist, Prime Focus Plus, are the minds behind the effective post-production and visual special effects.

Says Jose, "The challenge, apart from pulling off the film very realistically, was the pre-planning stage and the post-production. The planning process, done by Equinox, was very systematic and strengthened with a lot of research and homework in terms of how the idea needed to executed in the best manner, without compromising on the vivid presentation that the script demanded. Madhvani came to us with the script and his desire to shoot the film in a studio and give the feeling that the film had been shot across various locations of the world. We executed the idea, under his guidance."

Jose terms two scenes - the aircraft sequence and the Petra sequence - as the most important scenes of the film from the post-production point of view. In the aircraft scene, the hero is shown hanging from an old fighter plane, kicking at the army men on a motor bike and flying away. Jose reveals, "We decided to shoot the man hanging from a crane to give a real look to the hanging and flying action. The plane, a three dimensional one, was made using 3DS Max software and the scene was later composited (a number of elements were brought together to give the scene a complete look and feel) on Smoke by adding the correct sky and other atmospheric elements like dust, motion blur, etc."

At least two weeks before the shoot, work began on a model of the plane and its texturing. A rough 3-D model of the aircraft was prepared some days before the shoot. A rig with two wheels was designed on an axis, exactly the size of the real aircraft that was chosen, and hung from a crane; a stunt man was made to hang from it. After the shoot, the final computer generated (CG) model of the aircraft was put together and a lot of rough compositing done, which included tracking to place the CG plane on the rig and matching the lighting, which was difficult.

For the Petra scene which has the hero and his team, the general and his men, and the little girl, the characters where shot in the studio with chroma key (a green painted background), keeping in mind the time of day and a certain continuity of lighting. For the background, a photographer in Petra was appointed to click some pictures of the location. Details on the use of lenses, the height from the ground and reference pictures of the characters were provided to the photographer, so that shots could be taken accordingly. High resolution pictures of Petra were composited and the necessary modifications were carried out - matching visual perspective, checking lighting and colour correction - to give feedback to the photographer, who was in turn responsible for getting suitable pictures for the foreground shots. Once the appropriate foreground pictures were obtained, the adjustments in lighting, lens effects and addition of dust were undertaken to create an illusion of depth and to give the scene a true to life feeling.

The scene in which the hero is chased by people riding on horses is actually a composite scene. A stock shot of people riding on horses was obtained from the Internet, for a royalty. An individual shot of the hero running was captured on chroma key and then the stock shot and the hero's shot against the green background was composited.

Set extension was one of the other techniques that was adopted at the post production stage. The scene which depicts the hero rescuing his female partner from bring drawn into quick sand, was shot on a 20 x 20 foot set of sand. The final scene that one gets to see in the film is actually an extension of the set of sand. The background with the sky has been added, which was originally shot on chroma key.

The team from Equinox includes Manof Shroff, the producer of the film; Himman Dhamija, director of photography; and costume designers Thea Bomanbehram and Pooja Sarin.

Production designers Fali Unwalla, Nitin Desai, Zahra Latif and Anna Iype designed the sets and look of the film. Asif Ali Shaikh has edited the film.

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