When Vasu (Jayam Ravi) misses the connecting rope and drifts off somewhere in space in the second half of Tik Tik Tik, there’s a deep silence in the theatre. You take in the vastness of the space, a man adrift, and a rope that seems to be moving further away from him, but then, he figures out a way to latch on again. A little before that, the Indian spaceship docks with the space station of another country, a move that involves some deft maneuvering.
Considering the film’s budget and the technical challenges associated with a space movie, credit must go to the VFX creators, Ajax Media Tech for being able to elicit the right reaction from the audience. The behind-the-scenes shots after the end credits give an inkling of the work the teams involved have put in.
For five-and-a-half months, till January 2018, when the film was to originally release, 180 artistes worked nearly round the clock in a building on Patullos Road in Chennai to finish the CG work on the film. Heading the team was V Arunraj, VFX Supervisor.
The three-year-old company pipped others to the post and got the opportunity to take up total VFX of the graphics-rich film, instead of sharing the scenes with many companies, as is the norm in the industry. “We have worked in such films too, and have also taken up full work in some films, but Tik Tik Tik offered us a rare chance to showcase what we are capable of. And so, it was a passion project of sorts,” says SM Ramanathan, Chief Manager, Sales and Operations, Ajax.
Arunraj, whose team has also worked on parts of 2.0 and Viswaroopam 2, says the tight deadlines and tighter budget ensured the team used resources optimally and rushed to meet the deadline. They overshot the deadline by a fortnight, but no one really complained. “Producer Nemichand Jhabak called us in after some portions of the film had already been shot. We researched extensively on the space station, space shuttle and came up with models from the references. It helped that our CEO J Muthuraj also gave us inputs. This was not a project the company took up for profit; it was a chance for us to show what we are capable of,” says Arunraj. This focus helped; once they cut the teaser and trailer, director Shakti Soundar Rajan was convinced his film was in the right hands.
Because time was a constraint, the VFX teams, both national and international, requested the production team to help execute a plan. “Usually, the entire interiors are built using CGI. But, this time around, we decided to work on a part-set and match it to the exteriors.”
Math played a huge role in ensuring the scenes in space did not look tacky. The team measured distance, angles, and time taken to land in Point B from Point A. The members also built some dummy props for the scenes, so that when fused, the CGI would look more convincing. The team was given reference points, and worked around them, says Arunraj.
Among the scenes the team is very proud is the recreation of the asteroid slamming into earth. The smaller one looks very real, and the pounding rain on screen does little to cool the red-hot asteroid. “If we had not prepped the way we did, the rocket might have looked like a toy,” says Arunraj.
Ajax is happy with the response coming its way. “Usually, in Tamil Nadu, not many companies opt for extensive post-production, because the interest on borrowings starts to kick in. Usually, one minute of CGI takes a whole day,” says Ramanathan, whose staff has worked on portions of Spider-Man: Homecoming and Black Panther.
And so, every rupee was stretched and the VFX bill was about Rs 2 crores. Internationally, it might have cost above Rs 40 crores,” says Ramanathan. “But, for us, this project was an opportunity to show what we were capable of. Now, people know we can come up with such work too.”