Special Effects: What will WOW you?

Discussion in 'Movies' started by bradleybruns, Oct 21, 2009.

  1. bradleybruns

    bradleybruns Auditioning

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    As a kid, I saw the original “War of the Worlds” on cable. I loved it, but I knew that even though the effects were great for the time, the filmmakers were very limited in the scale of destruction they could show. What would a real alien invasion, with mass destruction, look like?

    Likewise, the Superman TV show didn’t have the tech or budget to show Supes really flying. Wouldn’t it be COOL to see Superman really flying?
    So as I grew up in the 80s, I got to see it all. And then some.
    - Real spaceships in Star Wars (not hanging from strings) - Superman flying for real - Dinosaurs in Jurassic Park (big, mean and scary, not models or men in rubber suits) - Liquid man in Terminator 2 - Toy Story animation - Bullet time in the Matrix - Forrest Gump interacting with historical figures - Jar Jar / Gollum (convincing animated character interacting with real actors) - Titanic really sinking (not an obvious model) - Realistic mass destruction (any Roland Emmerich movie) I know some of these effects haven’t aged well compared to today’s standards, but I think most were quantum leaps for their times. Today, the effects are as good as ever (though I still prefer practical effects). But I’m not as excited as I used to be. I’d always wanted to see real Transformers. They looked great, but felt like “the next step” instead of something really groundbreaking. Maybe we’ve been too spoiled with CGI. Have we really seen it all? With the proliferation of CGI, I can’t think of any effect than can’t be done with a typical blockbuster budget.

    My questions to you:
    What effects do YOU really want to see? For what effects would you hire a babysitter and pay full price on opening night?

    What effects have previously not been practical, or possible, except in your imagination?
     
  2. Sam Favate

    Sam Favate Producer

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    I'd like to see special effects slow down and not be so kinetic. Very often, images on screen move by so fast and scenes are so crowded that I don't know what I am looking at. Part of the problem is editing, of course, but I'm thinking of movies like Independence Day (the dogfight at the end) or even Revenge of the Sith (the opening scene), where there is simply too much going on. I much prefer the effect in the original Star Wars or even Return of the Jedi. Jedi is a good example: there is a lot going on, crowded frames and plenty of moving objects, but it is much easier for the eye to follow.

    What I would like to see are alien landscapes. Think Star Trek TOS but with today's rendering effects. Too many "alien planets" in sci fi movies don't look all that alien. Take a look at something like The Cage or Where No Man Has Gone Before (TOS pilots): As primitive (by today's standards) as those were, that looked like the frontier.

    I guess what I am saying is that special effects should be used to create visual beauty and interest, instead of trying to be the track for the next roller coaster ride.
     
  3. Brian Borst

    Brian Borst Screenwriter

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    I want CGI to look real. It doesn't really matter to me if it's a big effect or not. I was as wowed by some of the effects in 'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button' and 'Zodiac' than the more obvious Davy Jones in the 'Pirates' movies or 'King Kong'. I still don't see the terrible effects in that last one, even on Blu-ray. Kong looks amazing, the entire recreated New York City looks incredible.
    I guess it has to be believable to me, or has some realism to it.
     
  4. Lou Sytsma

    Lou Sytsma Producer

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    The best effects in a movie are those that are employed to serve the story. The form and substance of how they are carried out is of secondary importance to me. If the effect is enhancing a story moment, instead of distracting or detracting from it, those are the ones I treasure the most.
     
  5. Gary Hightower

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    Movies dont have good effects any more. It's all computer games now. I'd pay to see a movie with good effects, that is what I'd pay for.
     
  6. Chuck Mayer

    Chuck Mayer Lead Actor

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    The Curious Case of Benjamin Button wowed me last. Like many here, special effects don't seem special anymore. It is the creativity behind their use and the effect on the audience that is relevant. Special effects have primarily become spectacle effects these days. There is nothing wrong with using effects that way, especially when done creatively and in service of a good film (Iron Man). It just seems to be overwhelmingly the norm.

    In smaller budgets, I love watching Sunshine and The Fountain for their effects.
     
  7. TravisR

    TravisR Studio Mogul

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    I think an obvious CG shot is as fake as alot of obvious model shots in older movies. They're just fake in a different ways. I don't see how one fake shot is any better than the other fake shot. Where CG has exceeded models and traditional matte paintings is when you don't notice it.
     
  8. hampsteadbandit

    hampsteadbandit Stunt Coordinator

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    its interesting re-watching older films to see how things have changed

    I have spent the past few nights watching the 4 Alien films

    Aliens still looked stunning, apart from 2 special effects:

    SPOILER ALERT!!!




    -the matte painting of the Sulaco's hanger as the Marines are readying for battle (its very obvious compared to the live action foreground)

    -the dropship entering the planet's atmosphere (the cromakey looks terrible)

    at the time I originally watched this film, I did not notice these issues

    I falsely remembered a scene with Ripley driving the power loader on the Sulaco whilst helping the Marines prepare for the drop to the planet, as looking fake, but it still looked good today

    but today, movie effects are usually seamless, transparent and subtle, you don't get that "jarring" visual that stands out and ruins the suspension of disbelief

    If i was the film maker (James Cameron) doing a Blu-Ray edition, I would re-edit the film to remove those scenes as the rest of the Aliens film looks brilliant (real and gritty), even by today's standards

    there is a stunning model effect of the dropship powering through the clouds and being buffeted by rain, that is enough to telegraph the feeling of the drop
     
  9. Traveling Matt

    Traveling Matt Second Unit

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    What will wow me? A great story that goes somewhere, sincere characters with specific goals and desires whom you care about, smart photography with a sense of professionalism, a prominent and supplemental score, and the general charm of a classic film containing an authentic sense of magic and innocence.

    Special effects what?
     
  10. hampsteadbandit

    hampsteadbandit Stunt Coordinator

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    story is everything - computer games are going through this problem too, of the technology running away with the product and the story coming in a weak second

    I absolutely loved playing computer games, for many years on different platforms, until I got to the point where the stories in the movies I watch were always more interesting than anything happening in a game


    modern effects that have wowed me?

    I would say the re-imagined Battlestar Galatica tv show, and the Serenity movie (both effects done by the same effects people)

    incredibly gritty, realistic and involving - the space battles were stunning

    the use of fast zooms, bad framing and focus really gave the viewer a "sense of being" there - in one of the documentaries about BSG the producers said the effects were designed to give the appearance that the action was being filmed by a camera man (like a reality show!)
     
  11. Leo Kerr

    Leo Kerr Screenwriter

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    Ah, the "reality" of "bad film."

    I don't go to the movies to see bad film-making -- fundamentally, a movie-experience shouldn't be that dissimilar to a stage-experience. And no-body goes to the theater to see people "being real." Heck, if they did that, there'd be no opera — ever!

    To me, it seems like the unheard-of "special effect" now would be to make a film where they actually use a mix of long and medium shots, instead of just close and extreme-close shots, where the shot-length might be measured in seconds or fractional minutes rather than frames. Let us see the story you're creating!

    And if the effect, whatever it might be, can't hold up to being on-screen for 20 seconds, well, then, do it over, or get rid of it!

    I can't remember what it was, but just recently, I saw the opening of a film (walked out of the room) where it was all hand-held, shot with a medium-long lens (no more than about a 5-degree field of view) that was being garden-hosed around. I couldn't stand it; it was making me sick. Not shakey-cam, like Blair Witch, but just some idiots hosing the camera around. No sense of story-telling, or even attempting to show the story.

    That and the effects should be... integrated. One of the things I liked about Contact was how some of the effects were seamless. One of the things I disliked about Contact was the "ride through the wormholes." If you took a razor-blade and cut most of it out, no one would notice. I don't particularly like roller-coasters, and I'm not sure why they decided I needed to ride one in the theater for a few minutes.

    Leo
     
  12. Neil Middlemiss

    Neil Middlemiss Producer
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    Bradley - Your list mirrors my experience. I am impressed with intriguing and innovative ways to use effects. When Fincher moved the camera through the kettle's handle in Panic Room, that struck me as a creative way to use effects. I was impressed with how Battlestar Galactica created a docu-style to the visual effects, and how seamless the effects were in Cloverfield...But it has been a while since I have been in awe of a visual effect.
     
  13. Paul D G

    Paul D G Screenwriter

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    Fincher's use of FX always impresses me. Some of the shots in Panic Room, the overhead tracking of the taxi in Zodiac, etc. The first thing that comes to mind is the lengthy single take shots in Children of Men, in particular the scene in the car.
     
  14. hampsteadbandit

    hampsteadbandit Stunt Coordinator

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    "The first thing that comes to mind is the lengthy single take shots in Children of Men, in particular the scene in the car."

    thanks for the reminder - a stunning film

    there are a number of long shots - the car scene as you mentioned (which required a very ingenious camera rig), the opening scene with the terrorist bombing of a coffee shop in London, and several long shots during the awesome final battle in the refugee camp

    the co-ordination to make that last battle coherent must have been mindblowing

    the entire Children of Men movie had a sense of reality and grit that really sucked the viewer in, without any special effects being apparent
     
  15. JustinDorado

    JustinDorado Auditioning

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    Not really special FX more makeup, but I loved the makeup on The Curious case of Benjamin Button.
    Before I saw the movie I wondered how they could make it possible to take 1 actor and let him go from old men to infant.
    After I saw the movie I was impressed how believable it was.
     
  16. JustinDorado

    JustinDorado Auditioning

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    Not really special FX more makeup, but I loved the makeup on The Curious case of Benjamin Button.
    Before I saw the movie I wondered how they could make it possible to take 1 actor and let him go from old men to infant.
    After I saw the movie I was impressed how believable it was.
     
  17. Chad R

    Chad R Cinematographer

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    I think this is an interesting question. I took some time to think about it, and I don't think there's ever been a special effect that's wowed me. There have been many shots that wow me, and many of those are wholly made up of special effects -- but that's the point, it's not the special effect that wows me it's the design of the shot.

    There have been plenty of epic, huge compositions that wow the hell out of me without a lick of visual effect tinkering. There's the great pullback over the train station in "Gone With the Wind", Lawrence prancing on the wrecked train in "Lawrence of Arabia", the final shot of Ethan walking through the door at the end of "The Searchers". All epic, big screen shots because of design rather than special effects.

    But there have been many shots almost entirely comprised of visual effects that stun me, the opening shot of "Star Wars", the first shot of the full Brachiasaurus in "Jurassic Park", Jack and Rose riding the Titanic down on its final plunge. But these were great shots because of their design rather than the effects used to create them.

    Take "Transformers" for instance. There's plenty of fantastic effects work in that movie -- but I can't remember even one epic shot or moment. It was just a jumble of CGI and noisy images (and for the record, I never saw the second movie).

    Classic, epic images wow me. But they don't need visual effects to do it.
     
  18. TravisR

    TravisR Studio Mogul

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    There's such great effects work in the Transformer movies (the sequel deserves to win the special effects Oscar this year) that it's a heartbreaker that those effects couldn't have been in a movie that wasn't otherwise terrible.
     
  19. Darcy Hunter

    Darcy Hunter Stunt Coordinator

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    This is a case where the SPFX was truly special. Say what you will about the story, but the CGI facial animation really was the next big breakthrough for me. All of the shots featuring an older Benjamin were accomplished using a completely CGI animated head composited over the actors. Not just the scenes featuring a child-like Benjamin, but pretty much all the way until he starts to look like he's in his 50s. For instance the scenes where he goes to the brothel for the first time and also when he joins his real father for a drink all feature a completely computer animated head and face. This was the first film that truly crossed the "uncanny valley" for me. Stunning work.
     
  20. Chuck Anstey

    Chuck Anstey Screenwriter

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    Effect that are impressive and held up well: The original Planet of the Apes movies. Sure the mouths are not as articulated as they could be but it is still damn impressive.
     

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