Thursday, January 16, 2014

The "Rhetoric of the Introduction" at the VFX Bakeoff

This is my report on the Academy VFX Bakeoff.  This year I was accompanied by Jon Snoddy and his friend Allison.  Their presence kept me in my seat for the whole affair, one of the first times that has ever happened.

Here are some notes.

A. Male to Female Ratio

Between Pam Hogarth, Rhonda Gunter, Phoebe Zerouni and the afore-mentioned Allison, all of whom sat close to each other, they substantially affected the M to F ratio at this screening.   I know that Nancy St. John and at least one other woman was also there in the audience, somewhere.  Yes, VFX is still nearly completely male.

B. Elitism

This is the first year that the subsection members had their own private reception, eliminating any unnecessary contact with people in the field who are not part of their group. 

C. Rhetoric

I paid particular attention this year to the rhetoric of the 3-5 minute introduction of each film. I have always noticed a pattern in the past but this year it became completely clear in my mind, probably because I was willing to listen to all 10 introductions (in the past I have gotten bored and gone to the lobby).

The structure seems to be this: (a) express humble gratitude that their film was worthy of consideration, (b) describe the genius and vision of the director and producer of the film and acknowledge that all ideas came from them, without them, there would be no visual effects nor any ideas of merit, (c) state the total number of shots and any special constraints such as deadline, (d) then, with the deadline and total shots in mind, discuss elements of the film that are featured in the effects reel that they believe gives them the best shot at being nominated. If they needed 43 special versions of the stupid talking dog, 3 of them physical, discuss this. If they had to put up 53 projectors in a helix or some other weirdness, mention it.   (e)  acknowledge the facilities that worked on the project, so they don't all kill you later. (f)  make a special last ditch desperate appeal for sympathy because of some horrible thing that happened during production that only other visual effects professionals will relate to (g) ignore the red light, (h) conclude that you really ought to have the nomination because of the brilliance and stamina demonstrated by this reel, and (i)  thank the audience and beg for votes.

D. Projection and Stereo

All films were projected digitally. Three were stereo, seven were flat. The Dolby 3D system was used.

E. Sound

The sound was not excessive this year, and there were less explosions over all.  This turns out to be a mistake.  The subsection has an apparent weakness for and love of the tradition of gratuitous loud noises as demonstrated by the nomination of Iron Man 3.

F. Scope of Work

Many of the films screened claimed to have 1600-1800 shots in their movie. A small effects film might have a mere 700-800 shots. Recall that Star Wars had approximately 300+ shots. The amount of work this represents is amazing.   Some people believe that there is an inverse relationship between the number of shots and the quality of the story.

G. The Year of Albert or Alfred or Something

More than any other year I can remember, the name of the renderer was dropped, and it was "Albert" / Alfred / Whatever. I doubt most of the people on stage would recognize a renderer if they tripped over one.  I believe that the choice of renderer is just as important to the quality of the visual effects as the choice of film stock is to a brilliant photographer: both very important and not important at all.

H. Water, Water Everywhere

But Pacific Rim's water looked much better than everyone else's. Go, ILM.

I. Its not the Effects that Stinks, its the Movie

Iron Man 3 was the canonical, too-stupid-to-live, visual effects for morons sort of movie. Come on everybody, lets hold hands because we can defeat gravity that way ! Well, you wont defeat Gravity or gravity, either one.   But it will get you nominated. 

J. Gravity... the triumph of Lights in Space

Did they composite, or did they rerender the face, only her effects company will know for sure.

K. Best Introduction

John Knoll's for Pacific Rim. Informative, interesting about scale, and within the time limit specified.

L. Dragons

Dragons are difficult and WETA's dragon was acceptable. I think people are confusing visual effects with animation. As an animated dragon it was fine, as a real visual effects dragon, not so much.

M. The Movie vs The Effects Reel

Gravity may be the classic case of where the movie is much more interesting than the effects reel.   The counter example for me was the case of Pearl Harbor, there the effects reel was better than the movie.

N. The Lone Ranger was out by itself

All by itself, The Lone Ranger maintained the traditions of models and physical effects.   The Subsection recognized their efforts with a nomination.   However, I can not understand nor forgive the travesty of the musical interpretation of Rossini's great finale.  Some things can not be randomly fucked with, even in Hollywood.

O.  The Nominees Are ...

Gravity,  Hobbitt/Smaug, Lone Ranger, Iron Man 3, Star Trek.

I will do a post on why I think this is weird.

No comments:

Post a Comment