Thursday, February 02, 2012

Special Effects

i just got through watching ‘Super 8’; A perfectly mediocre and insufferable Spielberg/Abrams vehicle, and after watching The Film, i endured The Featurette that accompanied it, on The making of The Alien.
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As a Small Digression; i’ve been working on another project for The last week or so on Cult Films, Since this topic has been in The News lately, And it occurred to me that after examining a dozen or so lists of Cult Films from The Internet; There is a curious absence of Spielberg Films. i would have suspected that E.T. & Close Encounters would have been included in most of these Lists, but None of Them had them !
And i thought ! ‘Oh my Gawd! i am not The only featherless parakeet that is aware that Steven Spielberg is a Horrible Film-Maker!’
Shindler’s List may have found an Historical Niche, But Jaws, E.T. & Close Encounters have already been largely forgotten.
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The Larger Point that occurred to me after watching this Featurette, and many others like it; Is that in order to obtain a particular Shot, It is entirely UnNecessary to Use all The Complicated Wire-Work or Driving Cars off Cliffs or Staging Large Scale Theatrical Productions of (x. Granted; All Film makers use miniatures and CGI nowadays, But they are still putting Stunt People is Genuinely Dangerous Situations, and Actually Blowing Stuff Up.
CGI has taught us that The End Product is Just Pixels on Film, And Many Film Makers have realized this years & years ago; But what seems to be Missing from their Vocabulary of Image Creating, Is that Whenever you’re filming An Actor; The Camera is The Complimentary Element of The Shot. Whenever you move an Actor; The Same Shot could just as Easily be Duplicated by Moving The Camera.
There is no Need to put an actor on Wires and hurl them around in The Air, when you could just as easily move The camera while The Actor stands still, and Nowadays, There is no Need to move The Camera. You could just as easily allow The Actor to Stand Still, Keep The Camera in a fixed or Nearly fixed position and reproduce The ‘Movement’ by Manipulating The Digital Information Collected by The Camera.
It is now possible for a 14 year old film maker in their basement to reproduce Any; Any Shot ever created by Any Film Maker in Any Film Ever Created.
The Real Difference between A Big Expensive Film and A Little Cheap Film is The Amount of Effort that The Film Maker puts into Post Production Detailing. The Big Film Maker has The luxury of Hiring thousands of Technicians & Artists to refine every frame of Their Movie until it looks perfect, Assuming that these Technicians & Artists know what ‘real’ looks like.
The Little Film Maker could achieve The Same ‘Real’ Effects, If they know what Real Looks Like. It should also be noted that What Real Looks like is very often; What we have Taught Movie Viewers to ‘Expect’ as Real. It has gotten so quirky that ‘Real Life’ Explosions don’t real at all. ( ! )
i also just finished watching Star Wars II ( The Clone Wars ) and found many shots that demonstrated The George Lucas Inc. Did Not Understand what ‘Real’ looked like.
Many films contain ‘Effects’ that don’t look at all like ‘Effects’, because The Film Maker understood this Axiomatic Principle. This is What makes Blade Runner & 2001: ASO so Eternal. Their Producers & Directors understood how to make Fantastic Things look Real, So that we’re unaware that a Special Effect is being Used. When you’re watching Star Wars, You’re aware that Every Shot is Reeking with Special Effects.

This Understanding doesn’t require a Huge Budget & Thousands of Technicians & Artists overworking each shot; All it takes is An Insightful Director that knows what Reality Looks like, and how to Create A Stylized Film Images that looks More Real than Real.

This is A Very Curious Cultural Effect. We are ‘Conditioned’ to Believe that what we see on Film or On TV Looks Real or Not, When it doesn’t look Real at all. The Test of This is go back and watch Old TV Programs or Movies that were at the time of their original Release, Thought to be Very ‘Authentic’ Looking, But Do Not Project that Sense Now.
What is Most Remarkable; Is Occasionally coming across an Older Film, A Very Much Older Film, Made with No Budget to Speak of, Made with The Most Primitive Production Effects, And Yet it Stands Up Very Well with Modern Audiences. The Contemporary Viewer may Concede that The Film Looks Stylized, But in such a Way that it allows The Film Viewer to Step into The Reality of The Film; In a Very different way than Modern Films ask us to ‘Suspend Our Disbelief’. These Older Films that seem very Real, Do Not Ask us to Suspend Our Disbelief, They Instead Create a Reality that we Eagerly Switch Over to, Allowing this Altered Reality to Show Us What Reality Is.
Very often; After Watching a Film like this; The True Reality that we live in, Seems Less Real than what we just immersed ourselves in.
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Examples :
As mentioned Earlier; 2001: ASO made in 1968, and Blade Runner; 1982, Seem as Real & Free of Special Effects as when they were made.
The Original Star Trek seemed much more Real to me than any of The Later Incarnations, And i think that What made it so Real looking, and this also very much applies to Blade Runner; is Lighting.
This may sound incredible Trite, but Star Trek: Next Generation did not understand lighting at all. i was ExTremely Aware in Every Episode that Every Surface was Equally Illuminated. Star Trek: OS frequently used lighting to create mood and depth, Separating Compositional Elements, Or Directing our Attention without subtly jarring our focus with Frame Cuts.
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It’s always Amazed Me. Amazed Me. That we as Viewers are able to Watch a Film or TV Program and Allow Our Narrative Observation of The Episodes to Endure Frame Cuts.
Just think for A Moment of how A Movie or TV Program Abruptly Cuts from One View to Another, Again & Again, Over & Over Switching from One View Point to Another, And Somehow, By Some Miraculous Enculturation Mechanism, We’re Conditioned to Accept This when we’re Very Young, To Allow This Entirely Foreign Narrative Technique to Override Our Ordinary Method of Viewing Reality.
( ??? )
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Pushing that Aside; Star Trek: OS, Used Lighting to Fill In Gaps of Narrative Continuance, thereby creating a fuller realization of totality.
Perhaps this is How our Minds Expect Reality to be Satisfied.

What we Use to Decide if Something is Real or Not, Is NOT The Appearance of Real Looking Sets, But A Measurement of Information that fills Our Senses with A Quantitative Degree of ‘Fullness’.
A Film seems ‘Unreal’ if It lacks a Fullness of Reality.

The Curious Point here is that our sense of Realness may be something like Point Eight, And in our Ordinary Lives; We ‘Know’ that ‘This’ is ‘Real’; So we allow that The Amount of Information falls far short of Point Eight. The Existence that you are Now Experiencing may only be something like Point Four. A Very Dull & Stimulus Free Environment may be very UnReal, And is Allowed to be ‘Believed’ as Real, by The Fact that it exhibits Features which distinguish it from Dreams & =All Other Known Forms of Reality Simulations= !

So that If you Are Watching a TV Show or Film that is Saturated with Sensory Information; It Easily Exceeds The Level of Stimulation in Your Ordinary Life, Thereby Making it Seem More Real.
But there is also something else working against A Film or TV Program from ALWAYS Seeming More Real than Reality; And that is; It is a Known Form of Reality Simulation.
We have gotten Used to TV exhibiting A Certain ‘Kind’ of Reality, that we are Conditioned to Exclude from A True Reality.
But there are Programs & Films that Circumvent that; And we DO Experience them as More Real than Reality.
Television that presents programs that are so Stylized that they are clearly Not ‘Real’ push us into an Alternative Reality that we eagerly accept as ‘Real’; Such as Pushing Daisies, The Prisoner, The Tick, Wonderfalls, Chicago Hope, Boston Legal or Dexter.
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So what is The Formula that i am proposing for Little Film Makers with A Very Limited Budget, to Adhere to, To Make a Film Seem ‘Real’.

-+ Use The Camera to Imply Motion when Moving The Actor or Element would be prohibitively costly or dangerous.
-+ Jiggle Suppression Technology, and Selective Frame Editing would seem to completely Eliminate The Need of ‘Railroad’ Tracks and such. / Selective Frame Editing refers to Digitally filming a Scene at a much higher resolution than will be eventually used; So that The Director/Editor can select a subset of each Frame to ‘Save’, Thereby Reframing a Shot, Adding a Pan or Zoom, Or Eliminating Camera Jiggle ( or Adding it! ) in Post Production.
-+ Create a Stylized Reality that Saturates The Viewer with Information that they will use to ‘Fill In’ Gaps that may be Missing from Surface Detail, Dialogue or Plot Continuance. An Example of this may be ‘The 3rd Man’ which uses The Sound Track, by Anton Karas & his Zither, to Overwhelm The Viewer into Entering an Alternative Reality.
-+ Use Creative Lighting, Chiaroscuro, Surface Textures, Composition & Timing.
-+ Imagine Each Shot in It’s Entirety, And Then Film This Imagined Shot. Rid your Vocabulary of Expressions like ‘Good Enough’ or ‘That’ll do’ or ‘We have to settle for This’. Each Shot Consists of nothing more than pixels on film, all you have to do is arrange them to complete your vision of what you know is ‘Real’. ‘Green’ Screens now allow Each Filmed Shot to be a Collage of Still Shots, Paintings, CGI & Mixing Shots. What is still missing from this technology ( ? ) is The Ability to mix Frizzle hair to Flat Backgrounds. ( ? )
-+ Along with A Really Good Sound Track of Music & Foley, Mat Paintings can make a very cheap Film look truly Grandiose.
-+ Attention to Detail, And Patiently adding The Noise of Life to a Film will push a Flat Film into Additionally Dimensions, beyound 3D.
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i just got through watching ‘Rise of The Planet of The Apes’ ( 2011 ) Which features many CGI Apes of Various Kinds, And They are just a Tad Short of Completely Convincing. The Arms Length Shots are much more ‘Real’ than The CloseUps, which are very convincing themselves; 70% of The Time.
What is most interesting though, is that in a few years; This movie will be Very Hokey!
The Effects will amusing, but not at all convincing, because while today i can see that The Effects look a little bit wrong, i’m exactly sure what it Wrong with them. Are they sometimes a little too flat, Are The Shadows not quite right, or are They missing The very subtle back lighting & reflections from nearby objects ?
It seems to me that The way to ‘fix’ that, would be to simple add very subtle random shadows passing over The ‘Bright’ surfaces with equally subtle light patches & glimmers over The dark surfaces. Our minds would interpret these as having to come from something, outside of our field of vision. This sort of thing could be, or should be added in post production, after The technical rendering is done with Ray Tracing, to allow The technical lighting artist to easily try several schemes and pick The best one with very little effort, expense or time expended.
The point being; as our attempts to reproduce reality are tested, we become better observers.

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