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Indian VFX Firm Prime Focus Begins Work on 'Sin City 2'

As a co-investor in the project, the VFX major is underway on Robert Rodriguez's long-awaited sequel, which will include matte paintings, 3D environments, particle dynamics, digitally created rain and snow, among other effects.

Prime Focus CEO Namit Malhotra H
Prime Focus
Prime Focus CEO Namit Malhotra

Prime Focus World, a subsidiary of Mumbai-headquartered Prime Focus Limited, has begun work on Sin City: A Dame To Kill For as the project's exclusive VFX vendor having co-invested in the film directed by Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller. While Prime Focus did not comment on the size of its investment -- unconfirmed figures floating around range from $10 million to $19 million -- the Indian VFX major said that it “will be sharing in the equity of the film thereby representing a true partnership."

"We recognize that it is these tent pole franchise movies that have the best track record in performance at the box office, and so we are looking to participate in the overall success of projects such as this,” the company added.

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PFW will harness its facilities in Vancouver and Mumbai (with its London facility also chipping in for overall support and management) to execute over 2,000 shots for Sin City 2, the largest number handled so far for any project by the company. The project will be supervised by PFW's Vancouver-based VFX supervisor, Jon Cowley.

"Robert Rodriguez does not like to repeat himself so he is raising the bar as the benchmark is already set [with 2005's Sin City]. The film's visual landscape is going to be much more dynamic. It is a very distinctive style and the makers of the franchise are clearly looking to set new standards,” PFW CEO Namit Malhotra told The Hollywood Reporter.

Slated for an Aug. 2014 release, Sin City: A Dame To Kill For will again star Bruce Willis, Jessica Alba, Mickey Rourke, Rosario Dawson and Jaime King along with new cast members Eva Green, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Josh Brolin and Jamie Chung, among others. The first Sin City became a cult classic for its use of stylized computer graphics environments and VFX, created by multiple vendors including The Orphanage, Hybride Technologies and CafeFX. The film was also co-directed by Rodriguez and Miller, the comic book icon who created the Sin City comics that were published by Dark Horse in the nineties.

Prime Focus has an existing working relationship with Rodriguez having done some VFX on the director's latest Machete Kills, the sequel to the 2010's Machete starring Danny Trejo and Michelle Rodriguez.

Malhotra -- who co-founded Prime Focus in Mumbai in 1997 -- says that the company's rapid global expansion in recent years has helped it weather the ongoing turbulence facing the VFX business.

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“When we set out on this mission to make Prime Focus a global enterprise [which entailed the company making an initial $43 million investment in 2008] we were ahead of our times, as historically VFX has been very regional,” said Malhotra. “Sin City 2 will fully leverage our global platform to meet both creative and production challenges, while delivering the project on time and within budget.”

Much as India is known for its low-cost advantage, Malhotra clarifies that he “has never sold India on the basis of cost, as that is not our business model -- but it's what others have been trying to do. We actually look at India as our creative and scaled-up base, which may be so because of cost. Even in our 3D conversion business (credits include the 3D conversion of last year's Star Wars – Episode One: The Phantom Menace) we are able to do the highest quality work at competitive costs.”

Malhotra cites the example of Apple, which designs its products in California but has them built in China, “thereby offering world-class products at a good price."

"That is our proposition," he explains. "You cannot achieve creative vision and quality and raise the bar if you are only looking at cost-cutting. With a 4,000-strong staff, we are the only player in the VFX industry to have that kind of scale.” The global expansion drive has also seen Malhotra living in Los Angeles for two years.

While servicing its clients in India, PFW has gradually built its order books in recent years, working on some major Hollywood projects such as The Great Gatsby, White House Down, 2 Guns, Men In Black 3, Total Recall and others. Currently, the company's order book stands at a combined value of about $125 million to $130 million (7.5 bilion-8 billion rupees), with projects to be executed over the next two to three years. Recently, the company received a $53 million equity investment from Macquarie Capital and also expanded into China with a Beijing office.

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Sin City 2 has its fair share of challenges, most notably the handling the huge amounts of data. “A lot of programming goes into moving data around our global digital pipeline and we have huge experience in that, given some of the recent projects we have handled (such as World War Z and the Star Wars 3D conversion),” explains Prime Focus co-founder and chief creative director Merzin Tavaria, adding, “Daily, we have a couple of hundred shots moving around at just one of our facilities and they are all tracked at every stage.

Tavaria also feels that Sin City 2 will take “a huge leap” because it is in stereo 3D. “A comic book that comes to life, that takes things to a whole new dimension in visual storytelling. And Robert Rodriguez is going to push the image even further. Incorporating a melange of techniques, the VFX will include elements such as matte paintings, 3D environments, particle dynamics, digitally created rain and snow, among other features.”

But Malhotra has a deeper connection with Sin City, “The very first film I happened to see at a theater in L.A. was Sin City. And that was before I even bought any company in North America (where Prime Focus acquired Post Logic Studios in LA and Frantic Films in Canada in 2007). For me, it is now all coming full circle.”