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Illusion Reality Studioz discusses VFX challenges in Zee5’s ‘Taj: Divided by Blood’ series

After creating historical epics such as 21 Sarfarosh Saragarhi 1897, Swaraj, Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy and others, Illusion Reality Studioz (IRS) has added one more feather to its cap with Taj: Divided by Blood.

Starring Dharmendra, Naseeruddin Shah, Rahul Bose, Aashim Gulati, Zarina Wahab, Aditi Rao Hydari and Subodh Bhave among others, the first season of Zee5’s Taj: Divided by Blood consists of 10 episodes. Created by Contiloe Pictures’ Abhimanyu Singh, the show follows the story of king Akbar and the war of succession amongst his three sons – Salim, Murad and Daniyal.

Being a story set in the Mughal Empire, it features war sequences, fortified structures, vast expanses, and opulent palaces which were brought to life by IRS. To learn more about the studio’s involvement, Animation Xpress conducted an exclusive interview with Nitin Dadoo, the CEO of Illusion Reality Studioz.

Nitin Dadoo

As is considered a good practice, the studio has used storyboarding as well as previsualisation to plan out the scenes well in advance. One of the major challenges that the VFX team faced was diversity – the show makers consisted of both Indian and international crew. International writer-producer and director Ron Scalpello has directed season one. The showrunner and writers were all from the UK, US, and the DOP was from New Zealand. Dadoo shared, “Collaborating with the international team was demanding as we had to work closely with them to match their expectations and creative vision, integrate it seamlessly with the live footage and deliver the best results possible.”

IRS, which is also the in-house vertical of Contiloe Pictures, took about 16-17 months to deliver  approximately 2,900 VFX shots with 200 artists. The timeline also includes more than six months of pre-production work.

Technologies utilised in the production of Taj

To deliver the complex scenes for Taj, IRS took the help of several technologies like NCam, XSENS and others. Virtual production was used for one particular scene where Salim is travelling from Allahabad to Agra on a ship. As the team didn’t want to go on location and shoot, they decided to use NCam – the motion camera tracking tool to help the director and DOP visualise the scene. The background for this scene was created using Unreal Engine.

Set extension techniques used

IRS employed extensive set extension techniques throughout the production in season one. According to Dadoo, almost every scene featured set extensions, as creating large sets for the historical era was prohibitively expensive. “Almost every scene has a set extension,” Dadoo explained. To achieve the desired effect, the studio combined 3D imagery, matte painting, and camera tracking technology. He further added, “While the production team built sets up to 20-25 feet tall, IRS extended them to around 40-50 feet using VFX. The studio even created a CG version of the Bala Hisar fort for a war scene featured in the second episode of season one.”

CGI techniques used in the War Scenes

War scenes are a crucial component of any series based on the Mughal Empire, and Taj: Divided by Blood is no exception. In the second episode itself, a full-fledged war is depicted which was shot in chroma and CGI soldiers were created to show the army. For the long shots, Dadoo said that army multiplication was done.  

A traditional war sequence naturally includes blasts and debris spread across land and to showcase the smoke and fire, effects simulation was used. Dadoo further mentioned that if something didn’t work out well, the team had to recreate it completely using CG. The team also put in a lot of work in creating CG animals like crocodiles, horses, elephants and others shown in the series.

IRS has already completed its work well in advance for the second season, Taj: Reign of Revenge, which has been released today on 12 May. The major chunk of assets created for season one has been used in season two along with newly created assets.

Apart from historical shows, the studio is known to work on Indian projects like State of Siege 26/11, State of Siege Temple Attack and international projects including Blood Psalms, Cosmic Love and American Pie presents Girls’ Rules.

The studio is currently working on two Disney+ Hotstar projects, and Swaraj. Illusion Reality Studioz is also in talks with a French company and other Hollywood companies for potential projects.