Namit Malhotra, chairman and CEO of VFX company DNEG, bagged his seventh Oscar award in the Best Visual Effects category for his extraordinary work in Denis Villeneuve’s directorial Dune (2021).
He was also nominated for James Bond’s No Time to Die in the same category, alongside Free Guy, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and Spider-Man: No Way Home at the 94th Academy Awards.
“Dune has set a new benchmark for what visual effects can mean for storytelling in cinema. I believe there will be conversations in terms of ‘pre-Dune’ and ‘post-Dune’ in terms of what we do in the arena of visual effects, in the coming years. I am grateful to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for this Award and these nominations and proud to see our team at DNEG receiving this laurel. When I think that this is DNEG’s 7th Academy Award in the Visual Effects Category, it gives me great pride as its CEO and Chairman, and as an Indian. I started out in this business from a garage in Mumbai and I had to start from scratch in Hollywood. Now I feel there is no barrier that we Indians cannot breach,” he told News18.
— DUNE (@dunemovie) March 28, 2022
Born and raised in Andheri, Namit is a third-generation filmmaker. His father Naresh is a producer, and his grandfather MN Malhotra was a cinematographer in Bollywood.
Namit’s entrepreneurial journey began in a tiny garage in Mumbai in the ‘90s. Around 20 years later, the garage startup has turned into a giant company that employs 8,000 people across four continents.
While he is known for his stellar work in movies like Inception (2010), Interstellar (2014) and Tenet (2020), very few know his real journey from Bollywood to Hollywood.
A commerce graduate who employed his professors
Growing up in a family that worked in the film industry, Namit had always wanted to be a director. He completed his graduation in commerce from one of Mumbai’s HR College.
When he expressed his desire to enter the entertainment industry, his father nudged him towards building a post-production unit. Thus was established Prime Focus, DNEG’s parent company.
“When I started, computers were not that big. I initially thought my father wanted to take me off my agenda (of becoming a director). But he wanted me to do something more structured. I am incredibly grateful for his vision and proud of the fact that I listened to him, even though I had some shades of rebellion. He gave me the first $10,000,” Namit told Money Control.
He joined a computer graphics school in 1995 and two years later he ended up recruiting three of his professors and they began working from the garage with one Apple computer.
He took a different approach when it came to building his team, by going for employees that did not have any experience or knowledge of visual effects or graphics.
“I was 18 years old, did not go to any big college, and was not an engineer or a filmmaker. I had no professional experience. The first 45 people we hired were all like us, with no skills or experience. It became a joke in our industry. ‘Oh you don’t have any experience? Go to Prime Focus,’ they said. We were bringing fresh talent and teaching them from scratch. Children of chai wallahs and paanwallahs were becoming editors and animators with us. We transformed the ecosystem,” he told The Week.
Making his mark in Hollywood
By 2005, Prime Focus had established its stronghold in Bollywood and was valued at Rs 30 crore. In 2007, he saw an opportunity to enter Hollywood during the Writer’s Guild of America strike, which lasted for about 100 days. A year later, the market crashed with the Great Recession.
Amidst this financial crash, the movie Avatar (2009) was released and James Cameron had delivered a blockbuster.
Can you guess the man behind the incredible VFX?
Namit and his army at Prime Focus not only managed to bag a project costing millions, but also managed to dodge the financial crisis and make big bucks.
Now, Warner Bros wanted to work with him and convert Clash of the Titans (2010) to 3D. Then, a barrage of projects fell into his kitty, including Star Wars, Transformers, Harry Potter, Blade Runner 2049 (2017), First Man (2018), Venom 2 (2021).
A major reason why DNEG is now doing 100 films a year, and is in demand by big league directors, is Namit’s zeal to go above and beyond.
For First Man, he dug into NASA’s archives and scanned unseen footage of Neil Armstrong. He also built a 35-foot-tall and 60-foot-wide LED screen on the movie set. The screen played footage they shot to show the outside of the Apollo 11 spacecraft through windows.
For Interstellar, he worked with astrophysicist Kip Thorne on the latter’s formula on what a black hole would look like when light passed through it. Namit and R&D team translated the formula into the imagery we see in the movie.
Namit’s company is also behind the VFX of Alia and Ranbir starrer Brahmastra, a superhero trilogy directed by Ayan Mukerji. His other projects for 2022 include Moonfall, Stranger Things S4, Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, Knives Out 2 and more.
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