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Creative Inspirations: New Deal Studios, Visual Effects
Illustration by John Hersey

Practical vs. digital effects


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Creative Inspirations: New Deal Studios, Visual Effects

with New Deal Studios

Video: Practical vs. digital effects

(Music playing) Matthew Gratzner: Each discipline is a very interesting study in creativity and difficulty. I think the practical side of it - everytime we go to shoot a model, on the practical side, regardless of what is, full-scale, miniature, whatever, it's like you're shooting a Swiss clock every time. It's like this immensely complicated intricate thing that has to work, and cannot fail, and usually you get one shot at it. Sometimes you have two takes, but sometimes you have one shot.

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Creative Inspirations: New Deal Studios, Visual Effects
55m 39s Appropriate for all Feb 19, 2010

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New Deal Studios is where the line between illusion and reality disappears. Come along for a peek behind the magician's curtain at one of Hollywood's top visual effects houses. In this Creative Inspirations documentary, find out how key scenes from Martin Scorsese's film Shutter Island were created, as well as segments of The Dark Knight and Night at the Museum. Using a combination of models, miniatures, computer graphics, and digital effects, New Deal Studios was designed from the ground up to be a place where effects professionals could do their best work, and where filmmakers could have their visions realized.

Subjects:
3D + Animation Video Creative Inspirations Documentaries Visual Effects
Author:
New Deal Studios

Practical vs. digital effects

(Music playing) Matthew Gratzner: Each discipline is a very interesting study in creativity and difficulty. I think the practical side of it - everytime we go to shoot a model, on the practical side, regardless of what is, full-scale, miniature, whatever, it's like you're shooting a Swiss clock every time. It's like this immensely complicated intricate thing that has to work, and cannot fail, and usually you get one shot at it. Sometimes you have two takes, but sometimes you have one shot.

So you'll spend a lot of time R&Ding, and figuring stuff out. And then you get to the end of that project and the pressure is very intense, and now it's the time, like this has to work and you are on set, and there is no room for failure. Then you have to shoot that and hope it works, and I have seen, literally, six months of work come to a conclusion of a hundredth of a second of film time, well, not film time, but a hundredth of a second of real-time that ends up being like four seconds of film or something. And it's an amazing amount of a stress built up to that point.

The digital side, on the other hand, doesn't have that kind of stress. There is stress to make a deadline, certainly, but like if something doesn't work, or doesn't look right, and you kind of step back, and you say, "Well, maybe we should work this a little bit more." And you don't have hundreds of people waiting on that thing to work. So on the one hand, the miniature and practical side, you have the stress of 'this has to work on the day.' But on the flip side, when you fire an air mortar, or you blow something up, nine times out of ten it's going to kind of do what you think it's going to do, and gravity is going to take over, and the light coming down from above, if you are shooting outside, is going to look real, and the shadows are going to look real.

So you get a lot of free, so to speak, detail. You get a lot of stuff that happens. Certain physics are going to happen. But then digital effects, well, the pressure of getting it to work right that first time isn't there. The pressure is getting it to look real. So I think those are the two - it's like each one has their own sense of creative difficulties. On the one side, you have the ability to build. I mean, I can take anyone of these pieces from my desk, and probably have a painter to do a great job painting it, we light it, we shoot it, and I can make it look 15 feet tall, just with the right camera angle, right lensing, but it's getting to that point, which is a bit stressful. You're on set.

That's the stress of making it work that first time. Digital, on the other hand, how long is it going to take to make this, any one of these pens or pencils look photographically real, and not feel like a rendered object, and that's sort of the challenge there. I think one of the biggest strengths of digital work is the fact that you can tweak it, and noodle it. And I think the biggest weakness of digital work is you can tweak it and noodle it. And I think that's one of the hardest things. I have to say, when we were strictly doing miniature effects, it was, I don't want to say it was easier, but it was certainly, there was an end to all of what we were doing.

There was a point like, "Well, here is the model. "We are now going to shoot it. We have shot it. I hope you like it." Now, we can go back and we can change it. We can change an actor's eye line. It gets to the point where - and I think that's great, but I think that you lose a certain organic fault, or organic misstep, in digital effects that starts looking kind of artificial and created. So the creative process overall, for what we do, is different in every department.

And the creativity that some of our mechanical effects guys have, they'll come up with some insane way to launch a projectile like 100 feet, and that's their creative process in doing that is some insane physical computation, or physics computation as to how far something can be launched and what it needs to weigh and everything. And that same creativity on the digital side may be, "How do I make this leaf blowing look real." So it's actually a very interesting process, but as I said, there is a hierarchy, and there is a point where you do have to sort say, "Okay, we need to move on from here." And it's tough because you always want to appease the clients, but you also have to make sure it's working within the budget.

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