P3 Update Blog
Home This is where you can find all the blog posts throughout the site.
Categories Displays a list of categories from this blog.
Tags Displays a list of tags that have been used in the blog.
Bloggers Search for your favorite blogger from this site.
Team Blogs Find your favorite team blogs here.
Login Login form
A Return to Analog VFX?
Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE
By Gordon Meyer
Back in 1977, when the very first “Star Wars” movie hit the screen, its stunning visual effects raised the bar more than any movie since Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: a space odyssey.” George Lucas’ fledgling Industrial Light & Magic VFX company used a combination of classic technologies involving intricately built models shot in front of a blue screen with modified VistaVision cameras and the then-new technology of using personal computers to control camera movements. But that was before the age of digital VFX.
Now don’t get me wrong. I think that with the right artists, CGI technology has generated some amazing visuals, giving filmmakers the freedom to realize even more of their creative visions on the screen. But because it’s possible to do so much with computers, I think it’s made a lot of filmmakers lazy because it’s just so easy. Audiences can sense the difference between physical and computer generated realities. And so can actors.
25 years ago, when Robert Zemeckis directed the groundbreaking film “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” he created a cinematic world in which real people interacted with cartoon characters as if it were an everyday occurrence. Since the movie was made prior to the era of CGI, all the effects were hand crafted and had a physical reality to them. For example when cartoon characters interacted with their human counterparts in ways that enabled them to manipulate physical objects like pistols, clothing or cars, Zemeckis often used robotics to manipulate those physical objects. Animation covered the robots so all the audience saw was the cartoon images. But those robots gave the scenes a special reality which helped audiences buy into that world.
Likewise, Zemeckis had several of his stars, especially Bob Hoskins, train in pantomime techniques so that their body language would realistically replicate what it would have been like when Hoskins’ Eddie Valiant character picked up the cartoon title character by his ears. Hoskins’ pantomime training enabled him to project the idea of Roger having physical weight and substance.
A large portion of “Star Wars” fans will tell you that, although the CG version of Yoda from the prequel trilogy was able to do things that the Muppet Yoda could not, they still prefer the latter because if just felt more real. About 8 years ago, I interviewed “Empire Strikes Back” director Irwin Kershner in front of back to back sold out audiences at ArcLight Hollywood and we talked about working with the Muppet. Kersh told me that, after a while, his human cast forgot they were working with a Muppet because Muppeter Frank Oz did such a great job, they responded to Yoda as if he were a real live being instead of a glorified puppet. That not only made their jobs easier as actors, as a result, both the human performances and the overall perceive reality of the scenes worked better than those with the CG Yoda.
Now, according to a recent article from the BBC, filmmakers are starting to come back to old school physical effects and the use of models. British SFX supervisor Gavin Rothery recently turned to models in the upcoming science fiction move “Moon.” In an interview with BBC Culture, Rothery says, “I was always keen to get the film into this space as models have a certain honesty to them that I felt CGI-savvy audience members would appreciate.” He goes on to say that the film’s director wanted CGI, but they didn’t have the budget, so he got his wish to use models instead. “Not only did it save us millions of pounds that we didn't have, but I got to work with the legendary modelmaker Bill Pearson who worked on Alien, which was an amazing experience.” Computer graphics were added to footage of the model vehicles to help add atmosphere.
“People seem to appreciate the reality of an image that has been captured through the lens of a camera. I'm sure there are a lot of reasons for this, but it seems that audience members do have a certain tired feeling towards a lot of VFX. To be honest, it's probably the fault of the film for the most part – if it's just not holding you for whatever reason, then you'll start picking things apart as you watch. The human eye is really good at detecting fakeness and people just don't seem to really enjoy looking at something that has been presented as reality but isn't really convincing.”
Back in the 1970s when Steven Spielberg directed “Jaws,” they were experiencing problems with the mechanical shark. Had that movie been made today, they probably wouldn’t have even bothered with a mechanical shark and simply used a digital one instead. But then Spielberg would have missed out on the opportunity to make a better movie. Since he was having problems with the shark footage, Spielberg and his editor Verna Fields made the creative choice to dramatically reduce the amount of screen time the shark would have, leaving more to the audience’s imagination. As a result, the movie became much more suspenseful, which in turn translated into mega-bucks at the box office.
There’s no doubt that CGI can be a great storytelling tool. But it should never be used as a creative crutch. And, as good as it’s gotten over the years, unless the entire world is a computer generated one, as in the Pixar and Dreamworks animated movies, there’s still something that registers in the human subconscious as not quite real. So here’s to artists like Gavin Rothery who understand the creative and emotional value of physical effects and know how to effectively integrate them with CGI for the best of both worlds.
Listen to Gordon talk about what's hot in consumer electronics and home entertainment as co-host of "The Digital Doctor" with Jeff Levy live on www.HealhyLife.net Wednesday mornings at 8:00 AM Pacific time.