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Approaching visual effects

From: Creative Inspirations: New Deal Studios, Visual Effects

Video: Approaching visual effects

(Music playing) Matthew Gratzner: What visual effects were created for was, it was essentially a technique to do something you couldn't do for real, and that's all it comes down to, no matter how many running aliens, dinosaurs, building crashing, airplanes blowing up, and ships sinking, all that aside. You go back to the silent era and you look at the matte paintings, or the double exposures or hanging miniatures, where you have a model in the foreground, and a live action in the background, I mean, you go to back to, you know, 1915 or 1920 or whatever, they were done that way, not because they wanted to tell to the audience, "Look at this new great effect!" It was that, "Well, we really can't build Circus Maximus in ancient Rome. How we do that? "Well, some guys in the art department are going to put together this "Coliseum model, we're going to hang it in the foreground, and that's how we are going to achieve the shot." And it was because they couldn't do it for real.

Approaching visual effects

(Music playing) Matthew Gratzner: What visual effects were created for was, it was essentially a technique to do something you couldn't do for real, and that's all it comes down to, no matter how many running aliens, dinosaurs, building crashing, airplanes blowing up, and ships sinking, all that aside. You go back to the silent era and you look at the matte paintings, or the double exposures or hanging miniatures, where you have a model in the foreground, and a live action in the background, I mean, you go to back to, you know, 1915 or 1920 or whatever, they were done that way, not because they wanted to tell to the audience, "Look at this new great effect!" It was that, "Well, we really can't build Circus Maximus in ancient Rome. How we do that? "Well, some guys in the art department are going to put together this "Coliseum model, we're going to hang it in the foreground, and that's how we are going to achieve the shot." And it was because they couldn't do it for real.

So somewhere along the line, because it became such an amazingly technical and flat-out creative part of the business, it sort of stands on its own, and people forget that it's sort of a thing to just bridge the story together. The most exciting shows and the most exciting opportunities we have are to work on films that are not necessarily visual effects films, because it sets a challenge and you are setting this bar at a point where none of your shots can look artificial, because you are shooting these amazingly-composed, beautiful live-action shots on the side of a cliff in Massachusetts or you are in some tremendous location inland and now you are cutting from that to a visual effect.

So there is nothing - you're not dealing with sort of a superhero or a supernatural experience. It's just a very clear-cut production photographed sequence that then has to translate into a visual effects shot. So the biggest challenge on shows like that is that you can't turn around and say, "Well, you know, I mean, there is a bit of suspension disbelief because there is going to be some sort of like CG particle system," it's like no, no. It has to look - when you see actors and then you cut to a POV and it's supposed to be a lighthouse on a cliff with waves crashing against it, and it doesn't exist, in any capacity, in real life, it can't cut to a visual effect shot.

It truly has to look like it's part of the same movie. And I think those films, while, again, as I said, they are my favorite kinds of films, are the most challenging. They are also the most rewarding, because people have no idea what you did on the show. And that to me, as I said, that's the real benefit, or I should say the real reward for a visual effects show is when somebody says, "I have no idea what you did." It doesn't really help getting other work, because then nobody knows what you did on the show, but it does help, in the grand scheme of things, because you can show people that not all visual effects have to be some over-the-top explosion or over-the-top crazy action that could never be achieved.

Some of them can be simply to satisfy something you couldn't do for real, even if it is mundane. That's sort of the exciting challenge, particularly on a show like Shutter Island, which takes place in the mid 50s. So not only are you trying to recreate a sequence that's believable, you are recreating a sequence in a specific time period. The advantage with working on 'Shutter Island' and 'Aviators,' I get the chance to work closely with Dante Ferretti, who designs these amazing sets and these amazing compounds and the sets are unbelievable, and then we have to match all that in smaller scale, which is always a challenge. And then transitioning the photography into digital effects, we then go in and we take our match clips of live-action.

We go through some of the textures of that are from the miniature. We'll use the miniatures as texture maps onto digital models. So really, again, having all the techniques and tools at hand allow for us to give a one consistent sort of look throughout the whole picture.

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