Pune’s Krayon Pictures Interview: The Technology Behind Delhi Safari
Delhi Safari, a 3D Animation movie made by Pune startup Krayon Pictures, is seeing a worldwide release tomorrow (19th October). Attached to the move, are some big names from Bollywood (Director Nikhil Advani, voices by Govinda, Sunil Shetty, Boman Irani, Akshaye Khanna, Urmila Matondkar, music by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy) and Hollywood (Vanessa Williams, Christopher Lloyd, Jason Alexander, Cary Elwes), and one look at its preview will convince anyone that it is a quality product. Considering that it was conceived and fully executed by a company in Pune, PuneTech decided to have a chat with Anand Bhanushali, the Technical Director of Krayon Pictures, to talk about the technology that went into making Delhi Safari. The following article is based on our conversation with Anand.
About Krayon Pictures
Krayon Pictures was founded in 2007 by Kishor Patil, co-founder and CEO of KPIT Cummins, Nishith Takia, a Masters in CS from University of Maryland, USA, and Namrata Sharma, who had 14 years of experience in Animation and Software in Hong Kong, New Zealand, and Mumbai. Unlike other animation studios in India who were simply outsourcing animation work from studios abroad, Krayon Pictures was started with the intention of producing their own movies – i.e. creating their own IP. They got an idea for a movie, roped in Nikhil Advani, and Delhi Safari was born.
If you cannot see the video above, click here for the preview
About Anand Bhanushali
Anand is the Technical Director at Krayon. He has been with Krayon since day 1 of Delhi Safari. Before joining Krayon, he had worked national and international animation projects, including character effects in feature films like Hoodwinked, Fight Club Gaming Cinematic and Tinker Bell.
He was also responsible for implementing Krayon’s proprietary pipeline and asset management tool for workflow automation and enhanced artist efficiency.
About the Infrastructure Used by Krayon
Krayon has a data-center at their office in the center of Pune, behind Le Meridien Hotel. The movies are rendered using their render farm which is a densely packed cluster of 100 nodes, each of which has two Intel Xeon quad-core processors with 8GB or RAM, running the Red Hat Linux operating system.
The Storage is based on SOFS – scale out file system – a high availability file system with a total capacity of 48 TB, operating at Raid Level 5 and having a HDD Interface that’s a combination of SAS and SATA with a bandwidth throughput of 500 MBPS.
The network is two-tier architecture made up of Cisco 6509E switch with Dual Sup720 3C 10G as a Core Switch with 8 10G ports, 96 Fabric enabled 1GigE Copper ports and 48 1Gige normal ports and Cisco 3750-E 48 port switch connected to Core Switch by 4 GigE copper uplink.
Challenges Faced while settings up the Infrastructure
Krayon was initially based in Kothrud (in KPIT offices), but soon moved to Hinjewadi once they realized the scale of the infrastructure that would have to be set up. Unfortunately, Hinjewadi did not work out as a location for them. The basic infrastructure (e.g. electricity) was not entirely ready when they moved in, and in spite of having mammoth UPS backups, they kept running into huge problems with electricity fluctuations that the UPS was unable to handle. This led to blowouts, server shutdowns, and artists having to sit idle while the electricity problems were fixed. Finally, they moved to their current location near Pune Station.
They spent 4 months with the help of IBM in just designing the hardware architecture. Here is a detailed description from Anand’s interview at CGTantra:
Softwares and hardware are definitely important and form the core of the studio pipeline. You have to be extremely careful and have all the statistics, data , research ready before you choose any software and hardware as its going to be with you for quite sometime. If you do a mistake, then its a very expensive mistake, and can take the studio and the project down. Stability, flexibility and support form the basis of choosing softwares and hardware for a studio. We knew with the kind of quality, we are aiming with Delhi Safari, we would need robust hardware, definitely a huge Renderfarm of our own. Mr Parag Patil – our technology director , all the credit goes to him as he is the brains behind all the hardware in Krayon. Parag and me along with the IT and R&D team worked non stop for 4 months, sketching, workflow diagrams, network diagrams, configuration of workstations, to servers.. Everything.. We partnered with IBM and took their expertise and they did the set up of the entire backend infrastructure of our studio.
About the team at Krayon Pictures
They have a team of about 120 people, most of whom are artists. The artists are divided up into various departments, including about 40 people working on the animation, another 30 on asset creation (i.e. creating the building blocks and characters that will be used by the other departments), 10 on lighting, and 10 on compositing.
Most of the work is done using Autodesk’s Maya Software, and the scripting is done using Maya’s MEL, or Python.
Here is a description of the early days, from Anand’s interview at CG Tantra:
We started Delhi Safari with 8 artist including me and a small management team. So we had to build the entire studio, lay down the pipeline and parallely start pre-production, recruit a team, and train them. It was the most challenging task i had ever done, my approach was simple, i was very clear right from the start that the way pre production, characters, backgrounds were being designed with lot of detail and vast extensive sets, there had to be a pipeline which artist could very quickly adapt to and not worry about file management.
So we formed a small research and development team , basically MEL and Python programmers and we started brain storming, bouncing ideas, discussion about what was the most disliked part in our jobs earlier, and since we all came from various departments like fur, animation, lighting etc., atlas most of us knew what we didn’t want in the workflow. We spent almost a year making a simple workflow for every department. Basically ‘clean in and clean out’ , it means whatever comes in the department needs to be a clean file and whatever goes out needs to be a clean file, so every department needs to optimize file and remove unwanted data.
Challenges Faced with Building a World-Class Animation Team in Pune
India is not known for producing high quality animation movies, but from the beginning the Krayon Pictures team was sure that they wanted to build something that was not just “good enough for Indian audiences”, but was truly world class. In doing this, they faced an uphill battle, because it was not easy to get people who have experience of working on that kind of projects.
In addition, things were difficult because Pune did not have too many experienced animation artists. Except for BIG Animation, there are no other big animation production houses in Pune, which meant that hiring was a challenge. Thus, they had to go all over the country, including Bombay, Bangalore, Hyderabad, to find good animators.
One thing they never compromised on, was the quality of the people they hired. Thus, their hiring took longer than expected, but they decided that delays were preferable, but having the right kind of team was more important. They focused on trying to find people who were truly passionate about animation – because the other things can be taught via in-house training programs, but passion cannot.
Advice for Pune based entrepreneurs
Delhi Safari has proved that truly world-class intellectual property can be built out of Pune. However, the whole process was not easy. In addition to all the problems they had to solve in getting the movie made, there were a further set of issues to be faced after the movie was complete. Initially the movie was made in 2D, and then ran into some issues with the international distributors. At this late stage it was decided that the movie needed to be in stereoscopic 3D, so a lot of work had to be done to re-do the movie in 3D.
As a result of this experience, Anand has this important piece of advice for entrepreneurs: Do not start work on developing your IP, before you have sold the product. What he means is that you should validate the market, figure out your distribution channels, and only then develop your product. This is advice for any product entrepreneur, not just movies and animation. It’s interesting to note that this is exactly the same advice that serial entrepreneur Anand Soman gave Pune’s technology entrepreneurs 3 years ago. See “Don’t develop any software until you have a customer” for more details.
Specifically for those interested in building their own animation IP, Anand suggests that they should not start with a movie – that is difficult. Start with smaller things and slowly work you way up to a movie.
Delhi Safari is releasing in movie theatres tomorrow and we wish them the best.