Namit Malhotra, the man behind Dune’s VFX Oscar win


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As Canadian filmmaker Denis Villeneuve’s sci-fi epic ‘Dune’ swept six awards at the 94th Academy Awards, it also brought home an accolade for India with its Best Visual Effects win, comfortably edging out ‘No Time to Die’, ‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’, ‘Shang-Chi’ and ‘Free Guy’.

The VFX for ‘Dune’ has been done by DNEG, a studio headed by Namit Malhotra, third-generation film industry entrepreneur. This year, incidentally, two of DNEG’s projects found their way into the recent edition of the Oscars — ‘Dune’ and ‘No Time to Die’ — but it was Villeneuve’s epic that eventually clinched the prized gold statuette.

Eldest son of Bollywood director Naresh Malhotra (‘Yeh Dillagi’, ‘Achanak’, ‘Kranti’ and ‘Dil Ka Rishta’) and grandson of M.N. Malhotra, the cinematographer, Namit is the founder of Prime Focus Limited, which is billed as the world’s largest independent integrated media services company. DNEG was born out of the merger of Prime Focus and Double Negative, a London-based VFX studio.

‘Dune’ marks the seventh Oscar win for the studio after Christopher Nolan’s ‘Tenet’, ‘Interstellar’ and ‘Inception’, Alex Garland’s ‘Ex Machina’, Villeneuve’s ‘Blade Runner 2049’ and Damien Chazelle’s ‘First Man’.

“‘Dune’ is a very special film for us. I have been talking about how there is a pre-‘Dune’ and a post-‘Dune’ world in the VFX space simply because of what we were able to achieve. I am very proud of the work that my team has been able to put together with ‘Dune’,” Namit said, speaking about what the Oscar win means for DNEG.

“For a film such as ‘Dune’, it wasn’t just an effort to create big VFX moments, but to be able to do justice to the story and tell it through our visual work. This is just the beginning of what is to come and there’s no stopping now,” he added.

Namit’s journey has been a long one marked by constant learning and a keen eye for business combined with excellence. After enrolling in a computer graphics school in 1995, Namit launched his own editing studio called Video Workshop, operating from his father’s garage. He partnered with three of his teachers from the graphics school and brought them on board as co-founders.

The mid-90s was the beginning of the era of economic liberalisation, which, among other things, opened up a wide market for outsourced audio-visual work in India, an opportunity that Video Workshop capitalised on and delivered work for several television shows and serials.

Soon, Namit merged Video Workshop with his father’s company, Video Works, a film production equipment rental business, to create Prime Focus, which eventually merged with Double Negative in 2014.

Listing the challenges faced by DNEG while working on ‘Dune’ and ‘No Time to Die’, Namit said that the biggest was that “one is a modern-day action spy thriller and the other transcends into what humanity’s possible future could look like as imagined in 1975.”

Being able to bring a James Bond movie into the visual effects category at the Oscars, for the first time in the 60-year history of the franchise, was a big moment according to Namit.

“That is a big step forward, knowing that we had a different approach to visual effects when compared to ‘Dune’. James Bond is all about making sure that he’s capable of doing anything. That is the character. That is what he does. It is very close to reality,” he continued.

As for ‘Dune’, Namit said the “visual effects crew ensured that all post-production work remained as realistic as possible”.

“Each VFX element was designed to heighten the photorealism of Villeneuve’s immersive vision, which has introduced a whole new generation of fans who have never read the book. Whenever someone watches ‘Dune’ they will discover new things, new details about the world,” he said.

Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting Anurag Thakur recently took to Twitter and congratulated DNEG for their Oscar win.

AVGC is the abbreviation for Animation, Visual Effects, Gaming and Comics. In her Budget Speech last month, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said a task force would be set up “to build domestic capacity to serve our markets and global demand”.

When asked how this win would push the envelope for India and enable the country to project itself as a VFX soft power, Namit responded: “The work we produce is not just out of India, or London. What we do is so seamless that it is impossible for people to differentiate where it was done. Today, if we are going to make Indian movies and stand against Western movies, or any other films in the world, we have got to be able to take on that challenge.”

“I believe we can take it on very comfortably. I feel with the way our business is growing and evolving, we have a tremendous opportunity to do that. Because India has its own treasure of characters and stories and history, there is no limit to what we can create and how much we can create for the audience. We haven’t even scratched the surface yet. But now, I can confidently say that there is no barrier that we Indians cannot breach,” he added.

As for all the VFX aspirants, who follow him closely and wish to work with him some day, Namit has an important life lesson to share.

“Nothing comes easy. Artistes have to adapt to the process of unlearning and learning continuously with the evolving demands in the industry where every day there’s something new that comes to the table.

“If you’ve truly got what it takes to transform the future of visual storytelling, we’ve got a platform that will enable you to do so. But It all boils down to passionate professionalism where there are no boundaries to do great work,” he concluded.


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