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June 25, 1998


Intel and the Magic Shop

Priya Ganapati in Bombay

Email this story to a friend. Intel Corporation has launched the Intel Centre for Advanced Cinematics, a joint initiative with Ketan Mehta's Maya Entertainment Limited in Bombay.

John E Davies, vice-president and general manager, Intel Asia Pacific,
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inaugurated the centre. And in keeping up with the nerd image, did it virtually!

Davies and Ketan Mehta cut the ribbon against a stark blue background in a corner of the podium. The cameramen then had to use all the tricks of the trade and superimpose the guests of honour against a film clip of a studio at Maya Entertainment Limited.

There were virtual fireworks too! This was followed by a presentation on creation of a spaceship using 3D Studio Max software on an Intel platform.

ICAC, which aims to promote the use of the latest hardware and software technology on an Intel architecture platform will be a part of 'Maya the Magic Shop', a computer graphics and post production studio for creating high quality computer graphics and animation.

The Magic Shop is a part of Maya Entertainment Limited. Currently, they are involved in producing a television series called Captain Vyom. It is a futuristic space adventure incorporating special effects, computer graphics and animation.

"The series is the first of its kind in Indian television and the path-breaker in this field," a company statement claimed.

In a speech at the launch of ICAC, Mehta talked about how Magic Shop was born. "It all started with a simple filmmaker's urge to do a science fiction. This required a lot of graphics and special effects. As I started working on the script, I realised that the technology to do the project was not available in India and the cost of doing it in USA or even Hong Kong or Singapore was prohibitive.

"But then appeared a silver lining. PC's were becoming faster and with the arrival of the Pentium chip it became affordable to convert a dream into reality. So in association with the National Film Development Corporation and Concept Communication Limited we started Maya The Magic Shop."

ICAC is being touted as a melange of technology and creativity and the entertainment industry's first technology lab in the country.

"This is a merger of two fundamentally different worlds and two different cultures," R Sivakumar, director at the Intel Centre said.

"A few generations ago technology and creativity were considered opposites, artists scoffed at technology. With filmmaking all that has changed, technology has become an integral part of the creative process. Today computer technology is opening up new horizons for creative people. It is opening up the doors of perception and imagination. It is stimulating the creative urge to dream the undreamable, to imagine freely and make it possible," Mehta waxed eloquent.

In a statement to the media the company claimed that the centre is expected to become the premier venue for experimentation and production of new forms of digital interactive entertainment. It would merge the richness of the film industry with the power and versatility of the Intel architecture platform.

The Centre will use digital content creation tools running on a network of workstations equipped with Intel Pentium II microprocessors. "ICAC will be using Intel's dual Pentium II processor based server. There will be six dual 300 MHz Pentium II processor based rendering workstations. They will be networked using a 100 MBPS fast Ethernet," Sivakumar explained.

The animators at Maya are delighted with the new technology. "Previously even with good software we didn't have the power to process our ideas. It used to take around 35 minutes to create a single frame but now the same frame takes just three to five minutes. It is a tremendous boost in terms of productivity. Now if we are not happy with a shot we can go back and change it. Since we have so much power it becomes difficult to render an excuse that it cannot be done," gushes Sheetal Paknikar, a graphics coordinator at Maya.

Davies told Rediff "We are designing microprocessors and platforms that can do the job. The Pentium II processor will enable the animators to work with full screen video and great screen graphics. We will try and put more information on platforms to make 3D animation quicker and more realistic. One of our goals is to make visual computing more realistic.

"We try to work with various companies. For example, we have a technology centre in India that works with the software industry to try to bring capabilities to the marketplace. We also try to bring out newer and faster platforms. We talk to tools people like Adobe, Kodak, Kinetics who provide software tools. You have to see that if we don't have the tools the platforms is useless. We have to, in one word, do 'enabling'."

Mehta is thrilled about the lab. But there are doubts on whether the largest film industry in the world will take to special effects in a big way.

He is quick to dismiss these reservations with "There is no other choice. Whether in the field of education, information or entertainment the computer revolution is here to stay."

"Indian sensibilities favour real images. For example, we are brought up on mythology. Special effects would really enhance the quality of our productions," he elaborates.

However, when given the example of the poor quality of special effects prevalent in the film and television industry today, Mehta shrugs it all off by saying "If you are satisfied with your mediocrity then what can I say."

He explains "But I am excited about the potential, that's what drives me. You have to somewhere stick your neck out and try and do something new. Somebody has to start. You can't forever step backwards and look forward. You have to look into the future."

Mehta boasts that ICAC is the result of Intel's appreciation of the work being done at Maya the Magic Shop. "What is great is that these guys approached us after seeing what we have done. It is a pat on the back for us," he said.

Mehta has many plans for the future. "Apart from Captain Vyom, we propose to start regular production of film and television software using computer animation and special effects. A science fiction film titled Manas is already on the drawing board. We propose to explore the field of computer games and interactive media too," he explained.

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