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Alien 3 VFX question


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#1 Wendell_Greene

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Posted 09 November 2005 - 05:22 PM

In the "Alien Quadrilogy" DVD there is a behind the scenes featurette on the production of "Alien 3". David Fincher is seen setting up an exterior shot outside Pinewood Studios with the production designer and a few other crew members. Fincher discusses and outlines the framing of the shot, which takes place on the exterior of the planet's surface. Fincher is heard commenting on the skyline and then we hear the line producer Ezra Swerdlow interrupt him, asking, "But aren't we painting in the sky?" To which Fincher replies, "Yeah, but dusk and a blue sky, means we don't shoot" and then when Swerdlow, seems not to get it, Fincher says it again, even more adamantly, "Ezra!, Dusk and blue sky means NO SHOOT, ok !" Swerdlow, reluctantly agrees and then Fincher points toward the camera as if to say,"See, I have you on tape!" Swerdlow laughs and then says, "Ok, Dusk and a blue sky, but we'll shoot it anyway!"

Does anyone know the reason(s) why "dusk and a blue sky" would mean no shooting"? I tried researching the answer in the Cinefex issue that covered the VFX of that film and I looked in other publications but I can't find the answer.

According to the commentary the VFX were all done optically instead of CGI [except for one shot at the end of the film where the Alien's head is doused with cold water and shatters into pieces and one other shot on the planet's exteriors where they added cg dust and debris]

Thanks in advance.
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#2 Mitch Gross

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Posted 09 November 2005 - 05:35 PM

Dusk and a blue sky would mean a golden glow with poppy colors, a rich, sumptuous look known as "golden hour" that many filmmakers dream of for beautiful images. But for the overcast, stormy, dusty, monochromatic and generally harsh environment needed for Alien 3 it was not at all suitable. Even if the sky was replaced, all of the surface items illuminated by that sky would have the wrong look. He wanted overcast, flat light and wanted to shoot it at dusk so that he could make it semi-directional so that the foreground went dark and everything appeared backlit.
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#3 fstop

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Posted 10 November 2005 - 07:17 AM

They were also matching exterior footage of a beach slag-heap shot in Newcastle, North England, which was pretty grissly weather. The Newcastle location was used for the long shot of the escape pod splashing into the water, while the Pinewood backlot stuff was suppose to blend into the same geographic area, and all enhanced by BOSS FILM's matte work of the prison complex to look as though it's happening within the same square mile. As you mentioned prior Wendell, this was all a minimal CG/digital show (compared to today's films, although alot of time, technicians and money did go into developing major CG/digital innovations) so it's not like they could digitially grade all of the fx footage to be consistent like they probably would do now.

Generally I was very disappointed by the quality of visual effects on display in Alien 3. I found the multi-comp and motion control intensive approach to really work against the unique visual success of the first two movies. Clearly nobody learned anything from this when they made Alien 4. However, whatever the quality of the film, I think Alien Vs. Predator got the in-camera/miniatures prioritising spot on.
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#4 Mike Williamson

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Posted 11 November 2005 - 05:44 AM

I'm not sure that shooting a blue sky at dusk would necessarily mean that you'd have to deal with golden light and saturated colors, we're actually talking about a post-magic hour period if I'm understanding this right. For example, look at the evening-for-night scenes (driving, etc.) that Bozelli shoots in "King of New York" where you get a night look, except that the sky is blue rather than black. None of those shots are what I would describe as "magic hour".

Perhpas Fincher was worried about pulling a key on scenes that would be very blue overall, therefore pulling out a specific shade of blue would be tough? That's a guess though, I'd be curious if anyone had a better grasp of this problem.
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#5 fstop

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Posted 11 November 2005 - 11:40 AM

No, it isn't nearly that complicated, Mike- it's really down to consistency with the Newcastle stuff and overall overbearing bleak overcast look in a pre-CG matte era. This is what weather is typically like at winter in Newcastle:
Posted Image

Here is the slag heap footage they shot in Newcastle, with BOSS film mattes of the prison complex:
Posted Image

Here is a backlot/matte shot from what is suppose to be the same prison exterior location:
Posted Image

Here's a backlot shot with CG debris and more Boss mattes/comped miniatures that keep the planet consistent (seen later in the movie):
Posted Image

Alex Thomson/Cronenwerth really wanted soft, consistent overcast, rolling cloud stormy dramatic sky weather (preferably backlit), and they were lighting pretty wide shots of open spaces (it's not like they could hang a muslin frame the size of a football pitch over the backlot). A British blue skied dusk would have given long shadows and obviously a completely different ambience and exposure that was out of their control.

This typical British blue skied winter dusk would expose the ground too flatly and without any mood to work with:
Posted Image

By the way, from what I remember I think Rick Fichter shot the BOSS effects plate for the Newcastle stuff, so whoever shot the backlot shot would have been extending what was there.

If Alien 3 had been made today with a D.I. (as Alien Vs. Predator was) I'm sure they would have shot under whatever weather and corrected in post (same set up as Die Another Day's opening Korean beach stuff).
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#6 Wendell_Greene

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Posted 11 November 2005 - 12:42 PM

Tim, I really appreciate the excellent photos and the info about what it's like in the UK, they really support what you and Mitch said in your initial posts.


By the way, from what I remember I think Rick Fichter shot the BOSS effects plate for the Newcastle stuff, so whoever shot the backlot shot would have been extending what was there.


I watched and listened to Fincher's comments again and this seems to make the most sense.


Mitch, Tim, Mike, thank you for your comments.

Edited by Wendell_Greene, 11 November 2005 - 12:49 PM.

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#7 Max Jacoby

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Posted 11 November 2005 - 02:17 PM

Alex Thomson/Cronenwerth really wanted soft, consistent overcast, rolling cloud stormy dramatic sky weather (preferably backlit), and they were lighting pretty wide shots of open spaces (it's not like they could hang a muslin frame the size of a football pitch over the backlot).


I was told by the 2nd Unit Dop of Alien3 that Jordan Cronenwerth shot the beginning of the film, when they find the pot that crash-landed on the planet. Incidentally he said that seeing the film in the theatre, he found it pretty easy to see which Dop shot what. Jordan Cronenwerth's printer lights were really low (18-20) and he went for a more delicate look, while Alex Thompsons were in the mid-thirties for deeper blacks.
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