Special Effects

The intermeshing of ubiquitous visual effects into virtually every feature film has evolved into a vital part of the production process and is something that the producer and director need to keep in mind as they look at staffing. These artists, who can supply everything from cloud movement to digitally altered lighting, backgrounds and three-dimensional beings. A visual effects supervisor is now hired from the outset of pre-production, since extensive planning is required for the technical specifications that need to be met.

Visual effects can start through the process of previsualization. Previsualization, also known as pre-rendering, preview or wireframe windows and previz (pre-vis, previs), is used to visualize complex scenes in a movie, television show or commercial, prior to and throughout production. Previsualization is applied through storyboarding, utilizing the most complex digital technology or the simplest of sketches. It is used for planning purposes and saves vast amounts of time and money. The beauty of previz is that it allows the director to experiment with different staging and creative options such as lighting, camera angles and movement, stage direction and editing, without having to incur the costs of actual production.

As the earliest planning technique, storyboards have been used in one form or another since the silent era. The term “storyboard” first came into use at Walt Disney Studios between 1928 and the early 1930s. The typical practice was to present drawings of basic staging, action sequences and stunts. By the 1930s, storyboarding for live action films was common and storyboard artists were part of every art department.

Previsualizations can add music, sound effects and dialogue to closely emulate the look of fully produced and edited sequences, and are most encountered in scenes that involves stunts and special effects. Digital photography, sketches, clip art and 3D animation can be included in a previz presentation. With the ever-increasing use of visual effects, 2D and 3D computer generated imagery (CGI), pre-viz has become an invaluable tool for filmmakers.

It is important to have a cursory understanding of pre-viz and other types of digital technology as it has changed the needs of the filmmaker and thus the demands on the film commissioner. Here are some of the ways in which previz and other forms of digital technology may come into play on location:

– The pre-viz team may need you to locate architectural drawings of existing buildings that will be used in the film.
– The pre-viz and/or visual effects team may need your help in scouting the locations that have been chosen for the production or to assist in the scouting of the perfect landscape. This may involve additional scouting expeditions.
– The pre-viz team may ask for photography that your office already possesses or ask you to scout, in order to help create ideas for and/or discussion with the director.
– The pre-viz team may need to do Lidar* scanning and could spend considerable time at a location to accomplish this task.

*Lidar (also written LIDAR or LiDAR) is a remote sensing technology that measures distance by illuminating a target with a laser and analyzing the reflected light. Lidar is a technology used to make high-resolution maps, with applications in archaeology, geography, geology, seismology, forestry, and now, film.

Motion capture is the process of recording the movement of objects or people. It refers to recording actions of human actors, and using that information to animate digital character models in 2D or 3D computer animation. When it captures subtle expressions, it is often referred to as “performance capture.”

In motion capture sessions, movements of one or more actors are sampled many times per second. Whereas early techniques used images from multiple cameras to calculate 3D positions, often the purpose of motion capture is to record only the movements of the actor, not his or her visual appearance. This animation data is mapped to a 3D model so that the model performs the same actions as the actor.

Camera movements can also be motion captured so that a virtual camera in the scene will pan, tilt, or dolly around the stage driven by a camera operator while the actor is performing, and the motion capture system can capture the camera and props as well as the actor’s performance. This allows the computer-generated characters, images and sets to have the same perspective as the video images from the camera. A computer processes the data and displays the movements of the actor, providing the desired camera positions in terms of objects in the set.

As lengthy end credit sequences will attest, multiple visual effects companies are contracted for very specific effects shots or specialties, such as water, sky (sunrise to sunset), sand or snow, or for one or two aspects of complex shots, such as background warriors or creatures.

Effects-driven sequences are now so extensively used in films that multiple vendors are required to simply keep up with the work load – it would overload just one or two vendors, a problem even an industry giant like Industrial Light And Magic faces.

Like the Roman republic and Caesar’s army, a film is only as strong as its crew. The right decision in hiring a key crewmember can pay for itself again and again in the course of preproduction, production and postproduction. The wrong choice can prove fatal to a production’s ability to meet its artistic and budgetary goals.

The more the crew feels bonded as a valued and productive unit, the more pleasurable and creative the filmmaking experience can be. Mutual respect, a feeling that opinions are expressible and valued, and fair working conditions and good food go a long way toward keeping the set atmosphere positive, a goal every production should aspire to.

While many crewmembers are never mentioned at the Oscars, every position has value and every individual contributes to the making of a film.