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TURNING DAY TO NIGHT ON AN INDIAN EPIC

Cinematographer KK Senthil Kumar captures Baahubali 2: The Conclusion

 



BAAHUBALI 2: THE CONCLUSION


Baahubali is an epic fantasy that has been called “the future of Indian cinema.” But don’t call it “Bollywood” – the film was made in southern India, originally in the Telugu language. The region produced about 800 films per year – in fact, it’s reportedly drawing technicians from Hollywood. But Baahubali is believed to be the largest film ever made in that country in terms of budget, schedule, visual effect shots and crew size.




Cinematographer KK Senthil Kumar spent close to five years on the project, which was released in two parts. The original took in more than $77 million at the box office, and the second part easily broke that record-setting total with more than $300 million worldwide

“When we first discussed the film, [director] SS Rajamouli and I thought it would be a regional film,” says Kumar. “But we always imagined a film with universal appeal, and so it had to be visually exciting. And the second film is visually much more grandiose than the first. Everything had to be larger than life. Still, cinematography for any film is not about making breathtaking moments. The question is always, ‘How can we visually convey the emotions of the characters?’”

The director-cinematographer team has worked on six films together over the past 13 years. More than 25,000 conceptual illustrations were made for Baahubali, and the look and gestures of each character had to be carefully designed. Colour has deep meaning. Sunlight and fire are the only sources of light in the story. Almost 90% of the scenes include visual effects.

In order to illuminate the tale, Kumar cornered the market on film lights in India. He used day-for-night technique on all night scenes – shooting night scenes in daylight, but carefully controlling contrast and exposure so that the image can be “printed” down to a convincing night scene in post production.




“I wanted to give the visual effects people as much information as possible, so that when it came back to me in colour correction, I could make the look we desired,” says Kumar. “Shooting ARRIRAW on Codex gives me lots of scope in the DI to get the image I want. The lenses were Master Primes, which gave me a very clean, beautiful image. As a result, when I wanted to manipulate the colour temperature, I could do it efficiently in colour correction.”

“Despite the extensive pre-visualisation and storyboarding, I always had the freedom to go away from the concept art,” he says. “We had the freedom to improvise. The concept art is necessary for so many people to come to one point. But once we were on location, we did what we thought was right. And for dramatic scenes, the dynamic changed – we didn’t storyboard, and the actors had the freedom to make their art as they saw fit for the characters and their emotions. Our job was to capture it in the best possible way.”

The cameras were ARRI ALEXA XTs with Codex in-camera recording. “I’ve been working with ARRI cameras going all the way back to the D-21,” says Kumar. “So I feel at home with the ALEXA. I like the organic colours that the ALEXA and its colour science produce. I also like the viewfinder. I’m just very comfortable with the camera.”



That comfort level was important given that a crucial part of his responsibility was to maintain consistency over the 600+ shoot days. Kumar says he’s happy with the images. “The film is currently playing on IMAX screens, and even when it’s blown up, the image still holds really clean and crisp,” he says. “The first film was more about introducing the characters, but it left a lot of unanswered questions. The second part has more major emotional drama, and it answers all the questions. Our experience of making the first film helped us as we went about making the second one. All of those reasons add to the second film and make it better.”


“...I FEEL AT HOME WITH THE ALEXA. I LIKE THE ORGANIC COLOURS THAT THE ALEXA AND ITS COLOUR SCIENCE PRODUCE”


“I did my best to give the audience an authentic feeling of being in that time and place,” he says. “We didn’t imitate any Hollywood or Chinese films, as is often the case. We wanted to make a purely Indian film, and I’m proud of what we accomplished.”















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