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VAM 2023: How is production for OTT different than for films? Industry experts discuss

The two-day VAM Summit & Awards hosted by AnimationXpress packed insightful sessions throughout the day. One session on the first day was about creating visually stunning shows for OTT platforms.

The eminent speakers on this panel were: philmCGI managing director Arpan Gaglani; Contiloe Pictures founder & CEO Abhimanyu Singh; Future Works Media managing director Gaurav Gupta; ZEE5 VP and head of series – original content Khurram Imdad; Framestore CG supervisor – film and episodic Prashant Nair; Blink Pictures filmmaker, executive director Indrajit Nattoji and Raj VFX founder & director Chirag Chandrakant Bhuva. The session was moderated by Indian Television Dot Com Group founder, CEO and editor-in-chief Anil NM Wanvari.

The OTT space is booming with content. More and more production houses are investing in long-form series that heavily rely on visual effects to tell stories. In such a scenario, VFX houses are working on multiple series at a time, and on multiple episodes within one series. What’s their workflow whole working on OTT projects and how do they plan keeping the budgets in mind? The panel shed light on these and more such points in the discussion.

Wanvari started off by asking Abhimanyu Singh and Khurram Imdad about what was the thought behind going ahead with a VFX-heavy show like Taj: Divided by Blood – in terms of the budget, production value as well as the return on investment. The OTT series based on the story of the Mughal empire and its emperors, is created by Contiloe Pictures and streams on ZEE5. Singh replied how VFX is enabling them to create shows like that. “If we plan and use technology well, it helps us as storytellers to not only ensure that our vision is of global standards, but also ensures that we are able to do it within cost constraints.” Imdad said that Taj is a very post-heavy show, and that the perception of working on tight budgets is flawed. “Since the past couple of years, content and platforms are evolving, and so are we. We give importance to the story, budget comes secondary for us,” Imdad clarified. For war sequences, one needs to use pre-vis effectively. “VFX is not a fix. If your pre-production is strong, then you are able to achieve a lot on post,” Singh added.

VAM 2023 panel on OTT
L to R: Indrajit Nattoji, Arpan Gaglani, Gaurav Gupta, Abhimanyu Singh, Anil Wanvari, Khurram Imdad, Prashant Nair, Chirag Bhuva

Gaurav Gupta and Arpan Gaglani spoke about how OTT has changed the VFX industry. Gupta highlighted how OTT is bringing more stories to the audience and how streaming platforms are investing heavily in all genres of storytelling. Gaglani shared that how as an artist, he gets to explore more work because of OTT. “Few years back, I picked whatever came my way. Now, there are so many different projects and directors, I get to pick and choose. I am not restricted to just visual effects and feature film. I am doing documentary and shot films too,” he said.

Raj VFX’s Chirag Bhuva revealed how with OTT, they are doing challenging work day by day. “Earlier, I did TV shows. I still do TV shows. With OTT, we are earning well but also learning and educating ourselves every day,” he said.

They pointed out how production pipelines work differently for OTT and for films. Prashant Nair said, “OTT is a big learning curve. Production is a bit different than it is on films. We have to work on multiple episodes at one time. Even best laid out plans can go for a toss, so communication is the key.” Imdad explained how pipelines depend on the kind of project the makers are working on.

Indrajit Nattoji highlighted, “With OTT, you get the option to tell a wide range of stories.”

The speakers touched upon the budgets required for films, and the multiple levels of quality checks required in OTT series. Gupta said, “Everything expands with more content and more footage. HDR, 4K, Dolby sound – all of this requires tremendous upscaling in infrastructure. So we need to keep scaling up in tech and learning.”

The panelists agreed that OTT is changing the way we consume content, and the makers and VFX studios need to keep evolving. Technology is upgrading at a rapid pace and artists need to keep up with that, keep learning. But now, we have tech which is enabling storytellers to widen their horizons and achieve their vision visually.

AnimationXpress’ VAM 2023 took place on 23 and 24 March 2023 in Mumbai. The Summit was followed the VAM Awards.