I have written previously about some of the master classes you can find on the BAFTA Guru website, and have been watching and doing further research through this website on CGI and what digital artists feel are the advantages and disadvantages. This basic information is important as I need to have a broader understanding of procedures involved with CGI, and what it can actually achieve today in order to contrast and compare with my deeper understanding of miniatures. On the BAFTA Guru website were recordings of 3 talks that I would like to summarise here in relation to the capabilities of CGI today.
Firstly I’d like to write about the masterclass by Jonathon Faulkner of Framestore, in which he spoke about the role of VFX as a whole, and as a solution to practical problems. I found as someone who has a very limited understanding of the potential of CGI this was a useful masterclass in explaining the basics.
There are five types of shots where visual effects are used when it is broken down. Cleaning up – wires and rigging that are left on camera at the time of filming. Environment enhancement – changing from day to night, set extensions when filming everything on location has cost implications, entire digital locations. Atmospheric effects – smoke and water etc. Characters – face replacement between hero and stunt men, to a certain extent crowd replication. Props and stunts – models and miniatures, bluescreen.
It was also interesting to hear about the on-set roles of VFX technicians. One such role is to be there to explain to actors, directors, lighting and cameramen what will eventually be there once the shot has been handed over to post production so that everyone can allow for this. Someone also needs to record info on atmospheric conditions at the time of shooting, take measurements of the actual set and take continuity photographs so that the digital work can match in as closely as possible. Finally, someone needs to be on set to advise others of the cost implications of their decisions and actions at the time of filming, so that changes can be made to ease the production of the digital work later.
He talked about how everything from locations to hair, makeup and costume, could be achieved digitally if the relative cost of doing so was irrelevant, and of course the actual thing will always be more realistic on camera:
“If I am asked about how to achieve a shot, and I’m asked about the visual effects solution to it, the best solution is always to shoot it for real if you can”
In fact, I found it really interesting how Mr Faulkner made the point that the digital artist does often have to fulfill the job of the costume designer, and the hair and makeup technicians, and so the skill of working in digital VFX does involve a high level of artistry and understanding alongside the technical skills of working with the software. I have during my research questioned how many digital artists do have this level of artistry and imagination, or is the digital artist someone who understands the capabilities of the computer and the software available, so it was interesting to hear this from a VFX artist.
The second talk was led by representatives of the company Jellyfish, who are a BAFTA award winning VFX company based in Soho, London. Their masterclass was based on the idea of saving money on VFX and what should and shouldn’t be done in this respect, in their opinion. They emphasised how important the planning stage should be, and how at this stage cutting corners will eventually result in further cost. So, make sure you do hire a VFX supervisor, and use storyboarding and pre-viz to plan out your film. It is also worth getting in touch with VFX companies even at the script writing stage to get their input right from the start. This ties in with what José Granell from the Magic Camera Company emphasised when I interviewed him earlier in the year. Mr Granell believes that a lot of poor CGI shots are instigated by late or no planning on behalf of the director, and a lack of understanding of the complexities digital artists are dealing with. These artists also need to be guided and informed throughout the process in order to produce the best work.
Using miniatures requires forward planning which includes a set deadline and procedure for building and filming that ultimately results in a more convincing outcome.
The third master class was taken by the makers of the low budget film “Monsters”, Gareth Edwards and Colin Goudie. With 250 VFX shots to produce over a short period of five months, it often involved judging when they could afford to take short cuts and asking themselves how lazy could they be with each shot as opposed to how to get the best most technical shots. Their basic test was to watch each shot once instead of on a continuous reel: did it convince you? If so, move on. What is the main focus on camera? If it is not the VFX element, the audience won’t notice how poorly the effect is achieved. To save on money you have think how to make a shot easy to achieve. In “Monsters” no creature is ever closer to the camera than 10 meters, so that the camera doesn’t have to capture close up interaction with the environment which would make it much harder for the digital artist. All the digital work was done using basic programs like Adobe Photoshop and Aftereffects with a small amount of 3D work in 3D Studio Max. The main point that I took from this talk was to remember that all film making is an optical illusion, nothing is reality: the actors aren’t real characters, the illusion of movement is actually 24 still frames per second etc. Although it was a deliberate poor use of CGI elements, it’s interesting to hear about what these short cuts might be. They in turn highlight some of the disadvantages and the difficulties CGI face, which I can take forward to make comparisons with the technique of building miniatures.