Juror in the Spotlight: Anup Kulkarni
Anup Kulkarni is a multiple award-winning Cinematographer and Visual Effects Supervisor, who has worked all around the world, and in a variety of genres, ranging from feature films, TV-shows, documentaries, and dramas to sci-fi, thriller, and art films.
With an eye for naturally-motivated lighting and inspired movement, Kulkarni has earned multiple cinematography awards. According to Kulkarni, this deeper understanding of visual arts gave rise to a new passion, and that was cinematography for motion pictures. In Los Angeles, he has had the opportunity to work on award-winning and prestigious projects such as Life of Pi, Thor 2, Percy Jackson, R.I.P.D and many others.
In the following interview, Kulkarni takes us on a journey from his childhood in India, film school, the decision to move to LA and some of the major productions he worked in, such as Life of Pi, Thor 2, Percy Jackson and R.I.P.D to name a few.
Anup, please tell us about your background. You grew up in India and attended Physics studies at the University of Mumbai. How did you get into visual storytelling?
During my childhood after seeing Hollywood’s marvelous films like Titanic, Jurassic Park & Matrix for the first time, that’s where my fascination with the technology involves in VFX and cinematography started. And from that point onwards, I wanted to do something in visual storytelling world. Growing up in an artistic household always encouraged me to look into what was ‘beyond’ the thin veil called ‘reality’.
While finishing my bachelor's in Physics I started exploring wildlife photography with my simple camera & there my journey into the visual storytelling was enriched. I started my film journey through VFX industry. I was working at Rhythm & Hues studios as a 3D Camera tracking & Matchmove Technical Director. While doing that I worked on various award-winning films like Life of Pi, Thor: The Dark World, Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters etc. While working on that I was moving out of still photography into more sort of cinematography & VFX combined world in the film that I liked. After that, I gradually segued into the visual form of storytelling through camera angles, colors, lights & of course vfx.
What is the very first piece of equipment that you owned, and how did you get it?
When I was in college, my father bought me an initial version of Nikon D90 DSLR camera after seeing my keen interest in photography. Later I studied photography from National Institute of Photography, Mumbai, India. My senior professor was highly knowledgeable & experienced in the industry. He was very kind enough to solve my endless doubts about experimenting with photography.
While that time I went into many dense forests, wildlife sanctuaries & jungle safaris in India along with my other photography enthusiasts. I brought along my D90 camera to record my experiences for my parents to see. The imagery out there was so spectacular like thousands of birds in murmuration during twilights, endless sunrises that went on for miles. I thought wouldn’t it be a lovely life to travel around the world and record life within nature. Slowly I started liking photography of a majestic Indian Bengal tiger. Later I did my photography specialization in Bengal Tigers & snakes in India. For that, I got many national awards in photography & my photos were presented in many galleries across India.
Thor: The Dark World
When did you move to Los Angeles, and what were your first impressions from LaLaLand?
I moved to Los Angeles right after 2010 when I started working in visual effects field. Before coming to LA I was already working on some Hollywood films & knowing the LA’s working culture but after coming here I realized the grandness of this city. The audacity, the boldness of this place. I was so inspired & motivated by the fact that I am working at the world’s entertainment capital so I prepared myself mentally for the enormous amount of challenges I was about to experience.
I came to the Hollywood with the optimistic determination that I would make my story here. Los Angeles has the best platform for the film industry people so you have to compete with world’s best artists here. Plus you need to remember that you are easily replaceable by another creative artist. So this is a place for those who believe in their dreams & work extremely hard to achieve it. I found many like-minded people, all trying to carve a place for themselves in the industry.
At Rhythm & Hues Studio, you've worked on some high profile productions: Life of Pi, Thor 2, Percy Jackson, and R.I.P.D to name a few. What are the challenges a matchmove technical director has to deal with?
I was always get fascinated by Hollywood Visual effects & the process involved into that. While doing my specialization in Visual effects & 3D Animation, I always dreamed of working at Rhythm & Hues Studios, which is an American visual effects and animation company that received three Academy Awards for their great Visual Effects work. It has also received four Scientific and Technical Academy Awards.
My dream came true when I got the offer letter from this studio to work as a 3D camera Tracking & Matchmove Technical director and my first film was Life of Pi.
My job was to create a 3D virtual camera in our proprietary software called Voodoo with its X, Y & Z values. This camera movement should match that of your original camera. Tracking camera movement in a 2D footage enables you to add virtual 3D objects to your 2D footage. This virtual camera’s all three dimensions should be exactly identical to the real one otherwise the 3D object would slide & look unreal. The real challenge was in this entire process that has to be done so precise & needs to be properly calculated according to its physical camera values. To do that we have to work on sub-pixel of that image. Sometimes this process takes place around few weeks but we couldn’t compromise with the quality of it. We had an extremely challenging time during working on Life of Pi as the DP Claudio Miranda used stereoscopic camera system which shoots with two lenses placed beside each other to shoot in an actual three dimensions & adds the realistic depth while watching it. Because of the Stereoscopic camera system, we had to create two virtual cameras to match with the original footage & create an exact depth while watching with 3D glasses.
Can you share about your experience working as a VFX supervisor? What are the responsibilities of such role?
Visual effects supervisor is the creative and technical manager, overseeing the work of the post-production artists dedicated to the art and science of VFX. I work with director and producer of a project & decide on the VFX needs for every shot. For some productions, sometimes prototype effects may be required for the director to examine before production.
The visual effects supervisor’s job begins at pre-production and continues through the end of post-production. The supervisor will collaborate with production department heads like the director of photography, and production designer to dictate the use of blue screen/green screen, motion control, or other necessary equipment. During production, I need to spend time on-set making sure the shots that require visual effects are being filmed correctly to allow for a clean edit. I have a responsibility for ensuring the creative aims of a director or producer are met.
During a recent film work, the client wanted to create an entire house burning effects with the presence of some real actors involved into that. So to achieve that we had to use a couple of special effects plus a various type of pyro techniques to make that effect realistic. Later on, my vfx team created a massive fire simulation & gave the entire scene a realistic feel.
Who are some of your favorite cinematographers, and what do you find exciting about their work?
I am a huge fan of Gordon Willis, ASC cinematography work. The way he played with light in Godfather series, Klute & Manhattan is phenomenal. Along with that, I think we can see his l