- Category: More Top Stories
- Published on Tuesday, 20 November 2012 01:01
- Written by Gordon Meyer
I first met Emmy Award-winning Visual Effects Supervisor Bill Taylor, ASC in 1977 when I was a USC film student producing a tribute to Taylor’s Oscar-winning boss, Visual Effects Artist Albert Whitlock. Taylor had worked as a cameraman with Whitlock, and when Whitlock retired in 1985, Taylor and Matte Painting Supervisor Syd Dutton founded Illusion Arts, where the team worked on more than 200 movies. Taylor’s film credits include The Fast and the Furious, Bruce Almighty, The Notebook, Milk (for which Taylor and Dutton created more than 150 “invisible” shots) and, more recently, Lawless and First in Flight.
Whitlock’s matte work involved creating a painting on a large sheet of glass that would depict a scene’s visuals that didn’t really exist. Specialists like Taylor would shoot live-action footage and then double-expose it with the matte painting to create a seamless melding of the painting and live footage. While spending time at Whitlock’s studios on the Universal lot, I viewed many of his matte paintings up close and was surprised to see that they were more stylized than detailed. “Al’s paintings were highly impressionistic,” says Taylor. “He knew that a certain kind of very loose painting could look absolutely real on the screen.” Whitlock’s technique of creating impressionistic art for matte paintings is a practice that continues in the 21st century, a time when paintings are created digitally. Instead of painting window-sized sheets of glass, today’s matte artists use tools like Adobe Photoshop. “We’re about creating the illusion of reality,” Taylor explains. “Photoshop’s tool set, with things like its color-matching capabilities, has everything that a matte-painting artist needs.” According to Taylor, Adobe After Effects is another popular tool of choice to integrate matte paintings with live-action photography, partly because of how smoothly it works with Photoshop. “But if you really need to do very complex compositing,” he adds, “NUKE from The Foundry is a superb program that’s almost become the standard in the world for high-end compositing.”
As often as possible, Taylor will shoot or oversee the shoots of live-action footage that will ultimately be married to the digital matte paintings, so that issues like lens flares are minimized. “Generally speaking, we just photograph without filters and try to get the absolute best quality that we can,” he reports. To capture footage, Taylor has a marked preference for the ARRI ALEXA and Sony F65 cameras, because “they have a dynamic range that’s superior to film and have a resolution that’s close to film.”
When planning visual effects, Taylor likes work in partnership with as many departments as possible, beginning in preproduction. “I can help all the departments,” he notes. “For example, when you’re pre-visualizing or storyboarding a scene, sometimes if you say, ‘I wonder what this scene will look like if we move the camera two feet to the left,’ and by moving that camera just a little bit, you can eliminate a world of complexity.” Taylor adds that by making simple adjustments in camera placements or even wardrobe colors for green screen, he’s often able to help a producer to simplify shots so they can be done quicker and money can be spent on other shots.
At our 1977 awards ceremony for Whitlock, legendary Director Alfred Hitchcock presented the award to his longstanding friend and colleague. “You by now realize that a matte is not something you wipe your feet upon,” said Hitchcock. “You know the real tragedy of this business is that the better a job Al does, the less people know he’s been there. What we really need is for people to come out of the movies saying, ‘My, what a good matte.’ But since I can’t wish you more recognition, Al, all I can wish you is more money.” Thirty-five years later, talented visual effects artists are still not household names but their stunning work continues to be invaluable to the industry.
Post Digital Effects Bill Taylor
photo by Owen Roizman, ASC