A recent article in The New Yorker, “Hollywood’s Turn Against Digital Effects”, claims Hollywood is extolling “practical effects” over CGI. “You could hear boasting about “real” sets and practical effects in the hype around nearly every one of last year’s non-Marvel blockbusters.” Fury Road led the pack with its stunts by real people swinging on real poles mounted in real cars.
There are a number of problems with CGI, aside from showing unrealistic events. The economics are deadly – the CGI company that so brilliantly created Life of Pi went bankrupt even as the movie got an Oscar. (See my article on this.) It’s hard on actors who have to react to empty blue screens as though something profound is happening.
Don’t get me wrong – I love the magic of CGI! It engages my imagination in a way that’s hard for physical effects to do, although 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) certainly managed. But the emphasis on CGI has gone overboard. I’ll be glad to see some balance.
For the New Yorker article, click here.
I was also fascinated by the history of physical vs CGI effects in a two part article about how accustomed we get to the spectacular. Check it out: CGI and the Banality of the Incredible by Bill Mesce and Ricky Frenandes.
UPDATE: A friend just posted this link which lets you swipe to see the difference between what was shot and the image with CGI – fascinating! http://brightside.me/article/17-favorite-movies-before-and-after-visual-effects-64705/
UPDATE: At SDCC2014, I found out there really was a man inside of the 10 foot high robot! I hadn’t though so, but at a demo of another big active model, I met Zennie Abraham, who had watched the robot setup last year. Zennie is a prolific blogger and did a great interview with the man behind the robot. It shows how the man & machine come together: http://youtu.be/ScNIWqiOv5Q
Check out Zennie’s blog at http://www.zennie62blog.com.
I’m off to Comic-Con! I have tickets for only 2 days but just seeing what is going on outside the convention center is worth the trip. Here’s clip of something I wandered into last year – a “rehearsal” of a 10 foot high robot!!
During the demo, they unhooked the robot from its support, making sure it could balance itself. Then they tested how well it walked. What fascinated me about the robot was how sophisticated its balance was. It didn’t stand like a statue; it stood like a human, with all the little motions and adjustments we do automatically.
You can see a little of that here: Robot
Once they’d tested the basic movements, they rehearsed a brief scene – an interaction with a person. The robot’s motion and voice were controlled remotely. If you’re a total robot geek like me, you can see all 16 minutes here: http://youtu.be/LAl5tj0lP84
I have to admit I kept thinking of all the movies in which a robot being tested started attacking the crowd. In this case, me!
Wandering around Reddit uncovered some interesting snippets from Jonathan Leaders, who has worked on many animated 3D films and who’s recent film “The Croods” just got nominated for an Oscar [at the time of this Reddit event]:
“I must say, it’s not actually the oscar nomination that interests me. It’s the environment that surrounds it. The people. It’s absolutely inspiring to be part of a group that is banding together to make something big that will echo throughout almost every country in the world. But this group of people doesn’t really focus on the distribution (the fame of it- for that is all fame is, distribution). They focus on the perfection of their individual craft. And how they use their time and efforts to help others outside of work. And what sorts of large projects can also be contributed to.
“I’ve never met a group of people with so wide a reach, that you can see the culture and shape of the world changing as they move. And I don’t mean just that I have seen girls tattoo Megamind on their bodies (which I have). I mean this: The tech groups volunteer with NASA after work to mentor kids in robotics at local high schools. Or we have a toastmasters on campus where we face our fears of public speaking so we can reach out to more people. Or when we have great mentors from competing company’s, such as Pixar’s Pete Doctor who come and share their story and freely give advice. To us! their competitor! It’s that kind of open attitude and collaboration in the larger things that makes me inspired and my world gets just that much bigger. I wrote an article on more of the details of inspiring innovation for a magazine (I don’t have the link since I’m on my phone but see jonathanleaders.com for a link to the article of you’re interested in innovation-creating from the campus.)
– from the business side animated films are hard because their cost is so high. $30 million isn’t a bad budget for a non SFX based film. But 3D animated films now are in the $160,000,000 range. That means we have to nail it. Also there’s a lot of mid-to-high level math involved in programming the 3D world. It’s emulating real world physics and how light bounces and that is based on the real math behind their respective sciences. Plus the tech changes every film! Contrast that to traditional media, where it still changes but slower.
Q What do you think of online script writing competitions? Are they legit?
-The best competitions in general are the ones showcasing the whole process. In other words, your local film festival. Find or build a team and work your way through the circuit to sundance! There’s a few steps between here and there, but just take one step. Then the next.
– Script writing in general is difficult because remember that scripts are, in effect, business plans. They should get a return on a $20m to $120m investment. (That’s not including marketing/distribution) I did not write the script but I have friends who have done script writing. What I suggest is that new script writers go to live events where they can perform short monologues and get recorded and noticed that way. Also to try to publish books and get a following because that has a lower barrier to entry. I have not heard of online competitions getting noticed out here but, again this is not my exact specialty :)”
You can follow Jonathan Leaders on twitter:
We all know that our favorite Vulcan wasn’t really lowered into a volcano in Star Trek Into Darkness. We know it was a visual special effect – VFX. If you’ve seen a movie in the last 20 years, you know that VFX have played an increasing role in movies. What you may not know is that the business model in VFX and in studios has driven an appalling number of VFX companies out of business.
One of the most bizarre examples is the brilliant company Rhythm & Hues, creator of VFX since 1987, including such beloved movies as Babe and Life of Pi. As Life of Pi was winning an Oscar, Rhythm & Hues was entering bankruptcy. How could this happen??
This video, Life After Pi, talks about what happened: http://youtu.be/9lcB9u-9mVE
If you’ve ever run a business, you know that being held to a fixed price while the scope grows will give you nightmares. Early in my training career, I made my mark as a project manager by refusing to expand scope without more pay. Too often people feel they can’t do that, especially if their client is the “only game in town” or can blackball them.
Adding to the problem is that in spite of the long time it takes to develop VFX, directors hesitate to define what they need until the last minute. If some new effect captures the public’s attention, they want to be able to include it in their movie.
As the video mentioned, no longer do directors do the detailed planning up front that used to be required. I’ve found that many people in the business recoil in horror if I suggest project planning – “Oh my god, it would stifle our creativity!!” Hmm, research scientists in weapons and pharmaceutical organizations have said the same thing when their unlimited expenditures were curtailed. Instead they got more creative AND learned to plan their work. But right now we have enormous amounts being spent on studio tentpoles – and their suppliers being forced out of business. Hmm.
While we’re on the subject of strange business practices, I asked a Hollywood contact about accountability – wouldn’t the studio be held accountable if they used deceptive business practices on a movie? No!! Each movie is done as its own corporation – which is disbanded at the end of the movie project. Sure you could sue, but by the time anything happens in the judicial system, the work is done and that company no longer exists. Good luck on getting any judgment that has teeth, no matter how flagrant the violation!
Seems change is overdue and inevitable.
The fight scenes in Star Trek and Star Wars intrigue me. “How’d they do that?” Especially those lightsaber battles in Star Wars. Some very enterprising young men answered some of those questions for me. They put together their own their own laser fight, using local locations and gear they created themselves. Here’s a look at how they created it: The Making of “RvB2”.
These guys are pretty awesome.