From Analogue to Digital – Visual Effects
Visual Effects have become commonplace in today’s world of cinema cinema. We have come a long way from the early days of visual effects history and we have seen ground breaking developments in techniques and software that has allowed Visual Effects to become an integral part of the storytelling process.
Implementing Visual Elements – Analogue
Substitution Shots – Technique involving the pausing of the film and replacing, removing or adding elements from the scene to give the impression that they are disappearing or appearing. This was one of the earliest visual effects used and although today it is very noticeable, it was very much accepted at the time of its use. ‘The first widely acknowledged visual effect is’ (VES, 2010) was this techniques used in the film ‘The Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots.’ (1895)
Black Mattes – The use of Black Mattes allowed filmmakers to expose two different levels of visuals within a shot. By painting a black matte over a screen in front of a camera a shot could be taken exposing onto the film in all places but where the black matte was placed, the film could then be wound back and re-shot with the unexposed area now being effected. This was famously used in the ‘groundbreaking’ (VES, 2010) ‘The Great Train Robbery.’ (1903.)
Process Photography – Process photography is the method of filming a kind of back plate footage. This footage is then projected onto a screen and is re-filmed in the background of a live action scene. It creates the illusion of impossible or extremely dangerous elements being within the same location as the actors when in reality they are not. This technique was used to great effect in the film North by Northwest. (1959)
Sodium Vapor Process – Although green and blue screens were used before the implementation of Disney Studio’s Sodium Vapor Process. The Sodium Vapor Process was one of the greatest when it came to creating mattes for Visual Effect Implementation. This technique was used to split light waves and create moving mattes at the same time the footage was being filmed. This is the technique used for many of the effects used in films such as Mary Poppins (1964) and Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971.)
Implementing Visual Effects – Digital
3D Elements – In today’s day and age the use of 3D CGI characters, environments and props is extremely common. Improvements in 3D software has allowed directors to create footage otherwise impossible and stuck within the imagination. Storytelling and emotion shown through CGI characters have also become a lot more lifelike through the use of motion capture technology and more powerful software.
The Green Screen technology used at the dawn of visual effects pale in comparison to the technology and techniques of today. Green Screens are in common use in the world of visual effects allowing VFX artist to alter the reality itself with more ease than ever before. Many techniques such as the use of green screen suits has allowed the for the seamless integration of CGI characters, props and environments.
Tracking Software, both in its 2D and 3D from have allowed for much more complicated live action shots with composited Visual Effect elements. In the early days of Visual Effects when black mattes and similar techniques were used shots had to be still or with only slight movement making use of nodal pans and tilts. However with the use of tracking software camera movements can be perfectly mimicked to allow for flawless implementation of CGI elements in a moving shot.
Digital Compositing software has allowed a huge amount of changes and adjustments to be made in the post production of a film. Elements can be brought in and taken out with ease and the colour and lighting of a scene can be adjusted to fit the mood required by the director, without endangering the original footage of the film. The development of software such as After Effects or Nuke has allowed a jump in what is capable in the VFX industry.
Analogue – ‘It used to be that the ranks of colour timers, telecine operators for broadcast were an exclusive and high-priced club.’ (A.L.Hurkman, 2014.) In the days of techniques such as Photochemical Colouring, colour correction was not in common use. Many directors were hesitant about handing over their footage to a colour correction suite and it wasn’t seen as a necessary adjustment to make. The process of colour correction has also greatly changed through time with the change from photochemical colour to digital colouring.
Digital – In the Digital Age colour correction has taken great developments to become what it is today. What was once ‘half-million-dollar suites filled with dedicated hardware’ (A.L.Hurkman, 2014.) for colour correction has become just one feature of many editing softwares. Colour correction has also become a must have for any film to help achieve the required lighting and mood for each scene.
Effect on the Creative Process
Although the development of Visual Effects have allowed for amazing improvement in visuals within cinema they ‘have opened creative options well into the post-production process, virtually until the last possible moment.’ (VES, 2010). This means that directors are often not using creative problem solving to achieve what they want, instead they are leaving it to post production to be implemented digitally. During the early days of digital effects there was a clearer direction, ‘you had to get the Millennium Falcon to fly between the asteroids, and you knew exactly what everything had to do.’ (VES, 2010). ‘Now, after extraordinary progress in the power to create visual effects, everything can be constantly manipulated and changed….Because of this, filmmakers are no longer disciplined to make critical creative decisions up front and often postpone them as long as they can.’ (VES, 2010).
My belief is that a lazy approach to filmmaking will produce a poor film regardless of the of the level of CGI. I think in the past a lot of visual effects have gotten a bad wrap for directors and producers poor decisions. In my view visual effects are just another tool like a camera of lighting and it comes down to the intelligence and creativity of its use as to how effective its application becomes.
What do you guys think?
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