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Williamstown native shines at Bollywood hit movie

May 26, 2013

PITTSFIELD, Mass. (AP) — Though he speaks very little Hindi, Jeff Kleiser knows a film’s special-effects scene looks and sounds the same in any language.

Kleiser, a Williamstown resident and founder of Synthespian Studios, was the visual effects supervisor for “Ra.One,” the most expensive Bollywood film to date. He oversaw a global crew of 800 visual effects artists on the sci-fi film’s 3,000 visual-effects scenes.

Though a box-office smash in India, “Ra.One” had a rare U.S. screening at the Beacon Cinema in Pittsfield recently. The Berkshire Film and Media Commission and Williamstown Film Festival sponsored the rare opportunity to see Kleiser and crew’s work on “Ra.One” in a U.S. theater.

“This played in 4,000 theaters in India,” Kleiser said before the screening. “More people will see this film than any of my other ones, and I won’t know any of them, except the ones who are here tonight.”

“Ra.One” is a 2011 science-fiction superhero film starring Shah Rukh Khan, known as “The King of Bollywood.” The film is about a video-game developer’s world spiraling out of control when his shape-shifting, indestructible virtual creation becomes all too real. It was India’s third-biggest film in 2011, with a budget that translates to $23 million — extensive by Bollywood standards.

Kleiser was tapped to be the visual effects supervisor for the film through a friend who knew Indian filmmakers at Red Chillies, the studio behind “Ra.One.”

Though Kleiser had worked in movies like “Stargate,” and “Judge Dredd,” it was his work on the shape-shifting character Mystique in the original X-Men trilogy that piqued the interest of the production crew at Red Chillies.

The signature visual effect of “Ra.One” — at least 120 shots of the movie — involves characters breaking into tiny cubes, and also re-assembling.

“Same idea as Mystique, but a different technical approach,” Kleiser said.

Kleiser and his team had to create new software for the cube effect in “Ra.One.”

Kleiser was on the film set in Mumbai, but all post-production of “Ra.One” took place at MASS MoCA. The crew would speak a mixture of English and Hindi.

Eighteen companies across the globe, including Kleiser’s Synthespian Studios in Williamstown, worked on “Ra.One.” Kleiser conducted meetings between them all right from the Berkshires.

“Every day you’d have people from across in the middle of the office,” said Travis Pinsonnault, who has worked with Synthespian Studios for 11 years, and did work on “Ra.One.” He attended the recent Pittsfield screening.

Sandbox FX of Pittsfield also assisted with visual effects for “Ra.One.”

EROS International, the distributor of “Ra.One,” donated the film for the Pittsfield screening. Spice Root of Williamstown catered Indian cuisine by Spice Root of Williamstown.

About 75 people attended the screening. All proceeds were generated back into the Berkshire Film and Media Commission, and the Williamstown Film Festival. Kleiser is on the board of both.

According to Diane Pearlman, executive director of the Berkshire Film and Media Commission, the event was hosted to acknowledge Kleiser’s work that’s now reaching Bollywood blockbusters.

“It speaks to the caliber of talent we have here,” Pearlman said. “I think the film community is becoming more international, but the design and concept of visual effects is still happening here in America.”

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