Production designer Muthuraj, who was part of two big-ticket projects in 2017 and grabbed the attention of viewers with realistic yet glossy set pieces in Mersal and Velaikkaran, calls 2.0 the most challenging magnum-opus. In an exclusive chat with Firstpost, Muthuraj talks about traveling with the Shankar-directed film for nearly three years, Rajinikanth’s appreciation for his work, and what kept him motivated through the course of laborious shooting schedules.
“The construction work for sets had started at least eight months before the crew went on floors in December 2015. Creative challenges will not let you bother about working round the clock. Our primary concern was that the audience should not feel alienated about this science fiction genre and the concepts should not be too futuristic. So, we wanted the production values to be accessible to everyone,” Muthuraj told Firstpost.
Muthuraj said he had to work hand-in-hand with the visual effects supervisor since the film features extensive VFX portions. “Some action sequences needed the balanced effort of art department and VFX. In the Delhi stadium sequence where 155-feet high Chitti appears, we scaled the entire stadium using LIDAR scanning. It helps in capturing the dimension of the real space. We employed multiple techniques for the stunt sequences. A quarter portion set was erected to capture some stunts, and we imposed this with the effects. We also built a miniature of the stadium and used it for the visual effects,” explains Muthuraj.
He further adds, “Before the VFX team uses any of their 3D models in the set or real space, I would always give my inputs. I would give my approval for every design of the CGI team. What a carpenter models in my team and what their designer comes up with should not look different. We never had confusion on the sets; both our teams would be clear of what is expected from us.”
Muthuraj says his team nearly had a thousand members working at various stages and locations to ensure hassle-free shooting experience. “I was clear about making the communication seamless to derive the expected output. Explaining our plan to the other teams like costume team or the direction is very crucial for the crew to march forward. The whole fleet had as much as a thousand members for execution and a hundred member team every day on the spot,” said Muthuraj adding that cinematographer Nirav Shah would always be present in the discussions. “Colours, textures and every aspect of the properties and environments will be discussed in detail to keep all of us on the same track. Once the concepts are decided, we will work with the DOP to determine the lighting levels and source.”
About working with a bevy of famous Hollywood stuntmen including the likes of Kenny Bates of Transformers fame, Muthuraj said, “It was mutual learning between our team and theirs. They were surprised by the manual approaches we used for simple stunts. Manual stunts and equipment will be under our control, and there is no way they will falter. They will offer their inputs on some new techniques. Quantum FX built Rajini sir’s suit which costed more than a crore. In the scenes where multiple clones have to appear on screen, we designed a lot of duplicates of that suit. Our copies were not expensive though.”
Asked about the most challenging part of the film, Muthuraj said, “I would apply myself in the shoes of the characters before I decide on how to build the location around it. The real challenge comes during the execution of the concepts or design. I wanted to reduce the use of CGI in the props and environment as much as possible. In the sequence where 200-feet bird sways around the road and buildings, I have to make sure the streets don’t resemble that of some foreign land. I have to establish the connection between the space and the audience.”
Spilling some beans on the special props he constructed for the film, Muthuraj revealed, “We built around fifteen to twenty army tankers, a fully equipped vehicle for the scientific research center with sophisticated interiors. It took nearly eight months for us to make the vehicles alone. To make it look realistic was an immense challenge. For the song ‘Endhira Logathu Sundariye’, we constructed a robotic garden with a lot of interesting creatures.”
Muthuraj said he had met with a few robotic engineers in Chennai to get an insight about how their labs looked in real life and to get a sneak peek into the kind of instruments they have. “But to make those devices and instruments as per their specifications would have required more than Rs 5000 crores of the budget. When we already had Chitti’s reference in the prequel, I thought it is what we needed to carry our designs forward.”
One of Muthuraj’s most anticipated upcoming projects is Sivakarthikeyan’s untitled sci-fi film with Indru Netru Naalai-fame director Ravikumar. “It has a lot of exciting aspects, which will be entirely different from 2.0. It will be a kid’s favorite with aliens and space concepts. Almost fifty percent of the film is over now,” said Muthuraj on a concluding note.