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No Looking Back For This Special Effects Artist After Ben Affleck Directed ‘AIR’

He is one of those successful people who believe that you are not the one to choose a profession, the profession chooses you. A natural progression from childhood obsession with cartoons, to sketching for fun, to animation, and eventually presenting himself as a talented VFX expert, has catapulted Hansjeet Singh Duggal to anchor the special effects team for the latest Hollywood release – actor, director, producer Ben Affleck’s ‘AIR’.

An American biographical sports drama film, ‘AIR’, which has wowed international audiences since its April release in the US with its impressive storytelling and phenomenal starcast, is making its India entry on May 12, being streamed exclusively on Prime Video.

No Looking Back For This Special Effects Artist After Ben Affleck Directed ‘AIR’, Lifeinchd

Photos/Images Courtesy: Hansjeet Duggal

Written by Alex Convery, the Matt Damon and Affleck starrer film affords us a unique peep into the true story of basketball legend Michael Jordan inspiring the iconic Air Jordan sneakers and the subsequent sneaker culture it triggered.

In the film, Matt Demon plays Nike executive Sonny Vaccaro, who tries to broker a business deal with then rookie basketball player Chris Jordan. Affleck acts as Nike co-founder Phil Knight. The film also stars Jason Bateman, Chris Massina, Chris Tucker and Viola Davis in key roles.

No Looking Back For This Special Effects Artist After Ben Affleck Directed ‘AIR’, Lifeinchd

Interacting with your own news website, during his short visit to Chandigarh on Tuesday, the unassuming Hansjeet shared how his dream journey in Hollywood has taken off with ‘AIR’. Two more films are lined up for him, shooting for one of which has already begun and the other is set to start rolling within this month.

Initially schooled in St Xavier’s Chandigarh under the guardianship of his maternal grandparents, later graduating in B.Com from Lovely Professional University, he says he realised rather late in his life (he was 18-19 then) that he had to pursue a creative field and that he needed technical training for that purpose.

“Till then, having grown up watching classic animation cartoons like Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Road Runner, Dexter’s Lab, The Powerpuff Girls and Samurai Jack, I had come to enjoy sketching all the cartoon characters when I was a 8-year-old. I didn’t know then what animation is, or how it’s done. It took me another 10 years to do that. Thus began the journey, my first job in animation being as an ‘inbetweener’. Drawing cartoons and bringing an object to life lead me to pursue animation and editing,” said the 33-year-old.

No Looking Back For This Special Effects Artist After Ben Affleck Directed ‘AIR’, Lifeinchd

But Hansjeet Duggal soon realised that drawing/sketching for oneself is one thing, but doing the same under a deadline, meeting the industry standard, and adding your own style takes considerable technical training and hard work. A fulltime graduation in Animation Design from Jaipur Campus of Birla Institute of Technology set him up for the pursuit of a professional career in the field of animation.

Along with getting to work on some e-books and other freelance work from clients abroad, the talented VFX expert made a few brief 4-minute movies of his own, which got noticed in the USA. An offer to make such short movies there saw him fly away to the entertainment capital of the world, Los Angeles, which is now his home. With it came exposure to some the established names in the field of special effects in Hollywood.

No Looking Back For This Special Effects Artist After Ben Affleck Directed ‘AIR’, Lifeinchd

Further honing of his animation skills, especially in visualisation and story-telling while pursuing his Masters at the prestigious Dodge College of Film & Media Arts, propelled Hansjeet to an all new level. At Dodge, he was inspired and mentored by established names in the field like Susie Finch and Eric Young, on whom he falls back even today for professional discussion and guidance.

In 2018, he stamped an emphatic mark in Brussels, Belgium, where his virtual reality project Freiheit, directed by him, produced by Shamola Kharkar and written by John Hirsch, was selected as one of 10 participants out of over 100 shortlisted contenders across the world at Stereopsia, an international forum dedicated to all artistic, technological, content, and business facets of 3D immersion.

Freiheit, literally meaning freedom in German, presented an emotional thematic journey of sacrifice and hope told through a young Jewish child entering a concentration camp in World War II. With his mother by his side, the child follows the traumatic events that threaten their survival and hope to be together. Freiheit begins on a train, as it carries several people to Auschwitz concentration camp including Helga (mother) and her child and ends with the struggle for their survival.

No Looking Back For This Special Effects Artist After Ben Affleck Directed ‘AIR’, Lifeinchd

Hansjeet had been working of several major special effects projects under the direction of other experts, before the big break came. He had already worked on a few 4-5 minute music videos with Ben Affleck, “but his reposing confidence in me to anchor the entire visual effects project in a full scale film was like a dream come true.”

The project was announced in April 2022 and shooting for it started in June. The responsibility was extremely challenging since it was the very first time that Hansjeet was required to plan and execute a project of this scale which would require involving a team of 80-100 at any given point in time, and deliver on quality within a strict timeline.

No Looking Back For This Special Effects Artist After Ben Affleck Directed ‘AIR’, Lifeinchd

“The movie was conceived to be a visual masterpiece, with 400-500 VFX shots that varied in complexity. Another challenge was that we were required to work on a brand new camera technology and colour science, which meant that we needed to create a new workflow from scratch.

“Eventually the team was put together with members drawn from US, Canada, Spain and India and the workflow streamlined within two months. Some shots were approved in the first go, while others required multiple versions and tweaks to get to the finishing line. It was a job well done,” he shared.

In Hansjeet’s opinion, the advantage of working on special effects in the US is that experts get adequate time to complete a project to allow them to maintain quality standards. On the other hand, in India quality invariably gets compromised because of unrealistic demands of instant delivery, he added.

Asked if given a chance, would he like to work on film projects in India, he said he could consider if he is given a free hand in executing the projects, “because compromising on quality is not an option.”

In fact, Hansjeet is in the process of setting up a full time office in Mumbai to scout for talent which is expected to be functional in a month’s time.

Here’s wishing the talented special effects artist all the very best from!  by APR Media House is an enjoyable digital reading startup, which keeps you abreast of the latest meaningful happenings of interest to large sections of folks in Chandigarh tricity, and expats from the region. It has been promoted by a public spirited senior journalist and media consultant with a view to encourage good quality and healthy journalism, a dire need of the times.

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