Saturday, January 5, 2013

Visual Effects Bake Off 2013, Part 2

I find the Bake Off to be extremely valuable and always regret missing it, even when I can not stand it anymore and have to walk out to the lobby. (Procedural note: since I am not a member of the Academy VFX Subsection, I can not vote, so I am not required to watch the whole thing).

Among the positive attributes are running into friends and colleagues whom I rarely if ever see at any other time of the year. One of my favorite people, Dennis Muren, I *never* see except at the Bakeoff. Last year he said one of the best things I have heard about the current state of visual effects:

"The problem with special effects is that they are not special anymore."

And there is value in seeing the current state of the art from many different projects projected in an excellent screening room one right after the other. Its amusing to try to guess what the theme of the year will be in advance: space battles? giant robots? hordes of zombies?

Notice the reflections on the bottom of the martian attack vehicle

One of the annoying downsides of watching these 10 minute sequences back-to-back (with some gap between them for the introduction of the next one) is the sheer volume of noise involved. You see, visual effects are occassionally used for those gentle and romantic moments, but not all that often, actually. Usually they are used when the director feels the need to blow up a city, or drop a spaceship on a bridge, or have one giant robot sensitively punch another giant robot in the nose, and these are loud, generally speaking, even in a vacuum in outer space. I remember once being in the lobby of the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood (on the telephone of course) while an unnamed very successful effects film was screening, and noting that I could always tell when there was a major effects moment because they were usually synchronized with the subwoofers in the theatre, which from the outside, sounded like a big truck slamming into a wall at 90 mph. About every 30 seconds or so, another truck would slam into a wall, it was sort of amusing. But at the Bakeoff, it may be more like every 15 seconds or less, and it is not muffled. The first 100 or 200 times that happens it can be entertaining, but after a while it starts to get old.

The second problem is that some effects reels play better than others. These reels are created especially for this screening and must contain only footage actually used in the movie (e.g. no outtakes, works in progress or explanatory footage). Depending on the film, and the choices made to show context of the specific visual effects shot or shots, the reel can be very entertaining or it can be disjointed. Of course they are all ultimately disjointed, these are excerpts after all, but even so. Ideally one will have seen the entire film in context, and for that purpose screeners (e.g. DVDs) are often sent out.

Too bad they can not show sequences from non, visual effects films at these things. That would be much more entertaining.

Anyway, here is the list of films that were shown:

Marvel's Avengers (to distinguish it from the other Avengers),
The Amazing Spiderman,
The Dark Knight Rises,
John Carter of Mars,
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,
Life of Pi,
Cloud Atlas, and
Snow White and the Huntsman.

Note: no Hunger Games.

To my amazement, most of these films were projected in stereo (e.g. 3D).  I guess the fad, if that is what it is, is not over yet.

My spies at the BakeOff liked: Life of Pi, Dark Night, Avengers, Hobbit and Snow White. In my spies words, they all made money, had good efx, showed well at the bakeoff, and each of them either had humor or strived extra hard to be realistic.

The nominations will be announced on Jan 10.

Click here to read part 3 of this post.

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