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Noticing Effects Shots


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#1 Jim Hyslop

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Posted 22 February 2009 - 04:52 PM

In the February issue of American Cinematographer, the "Production Slate" section covers the movie "The International." Cinematographer Frank Griebe is quoted as saying "Probably half the shots in the movie are effects shots, but it's the kind of film where you don't want the audience to notice them."

Which got me to thinking - what "kind of film" is there, where you do want the audience to notice the effects shots? It seems to me the answer is "None, except perhaps a documentary about effects shots."

As soon as the audience notices an effects shot, they're pulled out of the story. I think this holds true for all movies, even movies that are extremely effects-heavy.

I remember seeing the first Star Wars movie in theatres in 1977 (back when it was just "Star Wars" - no episode numbering yet). In the opening sequence, with the star background etc., of course I noticed the effects shots, and thought how cool the effects were. But then the story started, and the rebel ship flew past, followed by the immense Imperial Star Destroyer. My thoughts as the Star Destroyer came by were not "Wow, what a great effects shot," but rather "Oh my God, that thing is HUGE!" (I actually shrank down in my seat :-)

In other words, the opening title sequence let me admire the effects shots for being good effects. But that also established effects as being part of the story. After that, no matter how "flashy" the effect, I did not notice the effect as an effect, but rather as part of the story. Obviously, the effects shot I mentioned did have an impact on me, since I can clearly remember that moment over 30 years later, but I did not notice them as effects shots.

On the other hand, in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, released one year later, the effects sequences of the Enterprise being drawn through V'ger were so long and drawn out (15 minutes of nothing but the ship travelling through V'ger, if memory serves correctly) that I wanted to scream "OK, enough of the effects already, let's get on with the story."

So, the bottom line, it seems to me, is: there is NO "kind of film" where you want the audience to notice effects shots as effects shots.

Thoughts? Comments?
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#2 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 22 February 2009 - 05:51 PM

I don't think Frank Griebe was particularly saying that there are other movies where you are meant to notice the effects, just that the type used in "The International" would not stand out because audiences aren't looking for them.

A long time ago in an early Cinefex, Richard Edlund was talking about the success of the Cloud City shots in "Empire Strikes Back" and he said basically that no one in the audience is going to believe that the movie was actually shot in a floating futuristic city so no matter how good or photo-realistic the effect was, there was an element of fantasy and unbelievability to it. So it's basically an insurmountable hurdle to some extent to be 100% convincing when the effect is of a highly improbable thing.

In a contemporary action movie like "The International", there generally wouldn't be an incident or shot that was so fantastical as to defy belief, so there is a greater burden on any effects to blend in seamlessly with non-effects footage or else it would be distracting.

These sorts of invisible effect work happens more and more these days, from simple burn-ins for TV screens, or added reflections over glass, to erasing distracting things from the frame, adding or removing props, etc.
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#3 Scott Fritzshall

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Posted 22 February 2009 - 06:50 PM

Right now I'm working on a film that has tons of dinosaurs in it, and includes people interacting with dinosaurs. The dinosaurs look really, really good. It's all extremely seamless. There is nothing about the quality of the effects or the way in which they are used that takes you out of the film; none of it is really "flashy" at all. And yet... it's a movie about people interacting with dinosaurs. Of course the dinosaurs are CG. It's not that any of us want you to notice the effects, but obviously you're going to because it's the sort of movie where impossible things happen. Take a look at The Golden Compass, which won the Oscar for best visual effects last year, and compare that to, say, The Dark Knight, which is nominated this year. The Golden Compass has a girl riding a talking polar bear in battle armor. The Dark Knight has a semi truck flipping over in the middle of Chicago's financial district. Both have way, way more effects shots than you would assume they do. Neither intends for you to notice them. But you probably notice them much more frequently in The Golden Compass, because while a semi truck could, (and in fact did) flip over in downtown Chicago, polar bears don't talk, or give rides. It's a function of the type of movie and what is happening in it more than anything else, especially these days since directors have also mostly gotten sick of seeing silly show-offy effects shots.

Back in the day, effects shots could kind of cause the film to grind to a halt, because all of a sudden the camera had to stop moving in order to technically accomplish the shot. Once we started getting to the point where CG integration was basically seamless, you had directors who used it for all sorts of crazy shots, and those shots stood out because while they were visually seamless, they were either obviously impossible or simply stylistically dissimilar from the rest of the film. Lately, things seem to have swung in the opposite direction, and directors are starting to stage effects shots in exactly the same way as they do everything else, which I really think is to the benefit of the storytelling overall.
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#4 Mike Lary

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Posted 22 February 2009 - 07:18 PM

So, the bottom line, it seems to me, is: there is NO "kind of film" where you want the audience to notice effects shots as effects shots.

I recently watched a movie that I would categorize as that kind of film. There were several shots that were designed to bring attention to themselves. One in particular was of a man being struck in the back of the head so hard that his eyeballs popped out of their sockets and flailed around in front of his face. The shot was unnecessary, overly gratuitous, and in the context of the film it defied physics. To me, those shots reek of self indulgence and serve no purpose other than to bring attention to themselves as effects shots.

I think we're less likely to question effects shots when they fit within the physics of the story. Superheros can punch through concrete, but regular people can't. Ideally, all films would blend VisFX shots seamlessly since that serves the story best, but some Directors prefer style over substance.
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#5 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 23 February 2009 - 12:34 AM

I'd say that the more graphic, stylized movies like "300", ""Sin City", "Speed Racer", "The Spirit", or even the effects in "Moulin Rouge!" to some extent are not meant to always be photo-real.
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#6 Jim Hyslop

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Posted 23 February 2009 - 10:28 PM

I don't think Frank Griebe was particularly saying that there are other movies where you are meant to notice the effects, just that the type used in "The International" would not stand out because audiences aren't looking for them.

Ah, that makes sense, and fits the context of the article. Thanks for the nudge in the right direction.

And about the eyeballs popping out - sounds like one of the myths tackled by Mythbusters!

--
Jim
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#7 World Wide Wes

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Posted 08 April 2009 - 06:01 AM

Best not to watch the sausage being made.
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