THE best advice Azim Hulaimi can give aspiring rotoscope artists is this: “If you don’t love it, don’t pursue it”.
It seemed like a strange thing to hear from the 31-year-old from Kuala Lumpur, but after hearing how daunting the process can be, it’s not hard to see where he’s coming from.
Imagine using a computer software to trace out a subject so you change the background to something else. Not too hard, right? Now image having to do that for a moving image, frame by frame, for a film that has 50 to 60 frames per second. That is rotoscoping – what Azim does best.
And the tough part is, sometimes you don’t even know what any of your work is for.
Speaking about a project he did a couple of years ago, Azim said: “We had been rotoscoping these scenes for about six months, and we were wondering – why is this Indian boy on a boat in the middle of a water tank?”
That, of course, turned out to be a scene from Ang Lee’s Life Of Pi, which gave Azim and the team from Rhythm & Hues Malaysia a share of an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects.
Azim has also wielded his magic on Hollywood movies Django Unchained, Alvin And The Chipmunks 3 and the upcoming Seventh Son, which will star Jeff Bridges and Julianne Moore.
While showing R.AGE before-and-after footage of the Life Of Pi scenes he worked on, Azim explained how he used rotoscopy to isolate the foreground of a shot containing actor Suraj Sharma (who played lead character Pi) and the boat, so the producers could replace the water tank in the background with a beautiful ocean.
Rhythm & Hues Malaysia also received much acclaim for their work on Richard Parker, the tiger in the movie.
“(Working on) the hair was a real pain. We had to rotoscope (Suraj’s) hair, strand by strand,” he said. “One shot may only be two seconds long, but the work we do on it can take one or two months.”
The most disappointing part of the job, said Azim, is when a director decides not to use a scene the team has spent months animating.
“It’s an occupational hazard. Sometimes directors don’t know what they want so it’s better if we get the scenes done first and let them decide later.”
But all the hard work certainly paid off when Life Of Pi won an Oscar for Best Visual Effects at the 2013 Academy Awards.
“We have this tradition where everyone from the office will watch the movie together at the IMAX theatre and we always cheer when the scenes we’ve worked on come on.
“But the thing is, when we watched Life of Pi, we didn’t cheer. We were so in awe with how nice the visuals were. That was when we knew the movie could win the Academy Award. We’d never seen anything like it.”
Sadly, Rhythm & Hues Malaysia had to let go of all its employees when its head office in the United States filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in February.
“The Oscar was supposed to be flown to the all the Rhythm & Hues offices around the world that worked on the movie, but before it could come to Malaysia, the company closed down,” said Azim. “We were all looking forward to actually holding it in our own hands, so that was really disappointing.”
Fortunately, Azim and three of his former colleagues have something up their sleeves. They’ve recently founded their own visual effects company called Mira Digital and hope to employ all the people they worked with at Rhythm & Hues Malaysia.
“Our target is to work with Hollywood again but for now, we’re taking things slow. We’re hoping to start on our own movie. It’ll be a local film but with Hollywood high-end visual effects.”
Azim Hulaimi will be speaking at TEDxYouth@KL this Saturday. For more information, go to tedxyouthkl.com. R.AGE is the official print partner of TEDxYouth@KL, and you know what that means – we’re giving away passes on our Twitter account! Follow us at @thestar_rage to join our #RAGEswag giveaway today.