Imagination VS. Visual Effects

Hey everybody. This is my first time forum post. I got Hitfilm Express during the free promotion, and I have to say, it's pretty amazing.
Anyway, as I've been messing around and making visual effects, I got to thinking that it takes a lot of imagination to make a visual effect. Sure, it's mostly technical skill, but you have to see an effect in your head and then try to make that using the tools at hand, and then match what you've made up with what you see in your head again to see how if it matches up. You have to imagine an effect in great detail, down to how the light interacts with everything else in the scene.
So I'm not saying imagination and visual effects are mutually exclusive. But I saw The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug recently, and the amount of special effects just depressed me. I know I can't do any better, but every single time it occurred to me that something was 3D animated or everybody was standing on a green screen, it dragged me right out of the movie. In the old trilogy, even though the orcs were obviously just people, they felt like they were really there. I had to use my imagination a bit to pretend they were orcs, but the fact that it was just dudes in make up didn't distract me the way the video game characters of The Hobbit distracted me.
2802512-Azogcloseup.jpgKratos_God_of_War_III.jpg

 

It feels like I'm playing the movie tie-in video game while I'm watching the movie.

 

So what do you guys think? We're getting close to having the technology where the visual effects artists can do all the imagining for the audience, but maybe I'm just getting old or maybe its the fact that everything's done for me, but movies today just don't capture my imagination like the old days. I think that's why we still have and will probably always have traditional 2D animation and pixellated retro games and weird art styles. We're all kind of sick of reality.
the-lord-of-the-rings-the-two-towers-107

 

This is what my childhood felt like, even in just my backyard.

 

Back to the Lord of the Rings, my favorite shots in those movies (and maybe even in all of cinema) are the flying-around-watching-wizards-hike-around-New-Zealand shots, because even though there were no special effects (there might of been some matte painting or something), it connects with my inner-child who used to walk around the forest or mountain and just fill it with fantastical adventures. Or, alternatively, found-footage horror films (or all good horror films, really) work because we only get hints and details about the horror, and our imaginations fill the rest in. I dunno, what do you guys think? Can the VFX artists and the audience imagine together?

So I was thinking about all this while I was making my first real serious short film, TRUST, for a film fest on the radio, and I was trying to composite an apocolypse scene, but no matter what I did it (a) looked really bad (my first time with hitfilm) or (b) took away from what it was like to watch it. So... here, just watch from 0:46 to 1:16 for the effect I was talking about.
http://youtu.be/LoonobSgLwY
 
So as you can see, I just left it as a lens flare. Is it a nuke? A virus? I don't really know. It doesn't really matter for the sake of the story. Right now I don't want you thinking "man, it doesn't make any sense that he's standing so close to a nuke he should be dead lolz" you should be putting yourself in the main character's shoes and thinking for yourself what the apocolypse is and how you feel about seeing your home town destroyed in an eerily, hauntingly pretty way.
I'm all ears, though. Do you guys think it would work better if I showed what it actually was? I only have five days to put this together (writing, filming, and editing) so I didn't have time to do anything TOO fancy. Oh, and if you want to watch the whole thing, that would be pretty cool, too *shameless plug shameless plug*


TL;DR/Summary: Maybe visual effects are doing too much of the work for the audience nowadays. VFX are cool, but for some films maybe we'd be better off with using our imaginations. Just something to think about.

Comments

  • Triem23Triem23 Moderator Moderator, Website User, Ambassador, Imerge Beta Tester, HitFilm Beta Tester Posts: 18,262 Ambassador
    Ah, I'm glad I'm not the only one wondering why Thorin Oakensheild was fighting Kratos, God of War.
    Your core question is a bit similar to this thread: http://community.hitfilm.com/index.php?/topic/4610-as-a-filmaker-do-you-ever-just-enjoy-a-film-anymore/?hl=%2Benjoy+%2Bfilm#entry37201 Or, at least the concepts overlap.
    I think as far as getting lost in a film goes, we lose a little bit of that ability--partially from age and experience: i.e., "yeah, I've seen that exact story before on other show 'X.'"--partially because, as film makers we're always subconciously analyzing shot's techniques, etc.
    But film is an inherently visual medium, and, arguably, the most inclined to "hold the hand." of the audience. Film has always been a quest to lead the viewer into believing the visuals of the film, from Georges Méliès "A Voyage to the Moon," and Edison Studio's "Frankenstein," in the first decade of the 20th century filmaker's have been trying to make the audience accept illusion as reality.
    That said, there's something to be said for NOT showing things to build suspense or anticipation. Reactions and sound effects can be as effective as visuals. Ultimately, as with all art, it's subjective.
    Your film is very good, but I'm torn on if you should do something more visual. I don't really think the details of the disaster are overly important to the core story of a man losing his civilization--both figuratively and literally. Of more concern to me is the fact that I felt like the disaster (whatever it was) had happened that morning and it was now afternoon. Which is a LITTLE early to be unable to scavenge more than Ritz and Jif, and already be casually murdering people. (But I'm an optimist--I like to think we humans would hold it together for at least a week before we reverted to anarchic savagery.)
    Your actors did a good job with the intensity of the scene, and my only other major critique was that the transition from the sniper segment to the denoument was a little abrupt. I'm assuming you're right up against a time limit, though, for the contest, and the scenes surrounding that abrupt break are mor important than some sort of time-laspse visual.
    My minor critique is I really don't like that blood spray on the sniper's first shot. This is a bit of a personal thing, but films always get gunshots completely backwards. We got used to seeing the "squib," which, of course, blew outwards through actor's clothes as site-of-"impact" with a great spray of blood. Dramatic, but wrong. A high velocity sniper bullet would punch a neat hole on the way in,, pass straight through and produce any spray and splatter from the exit wound and the shockwaves from a fast moving chunk of metal passing through blood and tissue would push everything out the far side (don't take my word for that. Mythbusters, Penn and Teller and Bill Nye have all talked about this too). Blood spurt would be more realistic lower and behind. maybe cheat a snow-puff as the bullet smacks into the ground. Also, I never think particle blood looks good. Blood is a thick, nearly opaque fluid with a lot of highlights, shadows, reflections, etc, and it's really tough to simulate. Stock footage overlays tend to look better to me. Again, personal thing.
    Good work, man!
  • KirstieTKirstieT Staff Administrator, Moderator, Website User Posts: 1,056 Staff
    edited February 2014
    I kind of agree and disagree with you in equal measure (but I'm not sure where the line is falling :P) 
    In terms of the ways that special effects distract me, I find the longer I work with special effects, the more I become aware of the tricks and methods being used in the movies - which I guess is a bit of a distraction. But honestly I'm a very shallow viewer in that once the movie has my attention - it has it; whether it's shot raw or is plugged to the nines with VFX. As long as there is a story I can grasp onto, I'm good. 
    When talking about LOTR (which I love) I guess I've just accepted that in order to recreate the scale and intensity/blood/gore of the fight scenes, they need VFX. Also, because nothing comes even close to the monsters which can be created digitally (including prosthetics in my opinion), I figure it's necessary for good fantasy storytelling. 
    Where you were talking about your favourite scene where the wizards are simply walking over the mountains, I can say with some confidence that there is a fair amount of matte painting and compositing going on there (just take a look at about 40 seconds into this VFX LOTR video to see what I mean: 
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KSmdeDREtps
    Perhaps the distinction you're looking for is not that you prefer scenes without modern VFX, but ones where the VFX is almost indistinguishable from the footage and therefore doesn't distract in that respect? For instance, I was shocked to learn that virtually the entire landscape of The Lone Ranger was CGI created: http://www.cgchannel.com/2013/08/the-lone-ranger-the-best-vfx-you-never-noticed/ 
    You said that: 

     

    "it connects with my inner-child who used to walk around the forest or mountain and just fill it with fantastical adventures"


    which would suggest that you felt your imagination was fed by this scene despite the fact it was likely created in post. 
    Is it that you prefer more realistic scenes (with VFX or without) as opposed to the mystical or impossible (which would have no choice but to be created digitally?) It's kind of a never-ending loop!

    However, I totally get your point and second Triem's comment where he points you towards another similar thread where this has been discussed in further detail. 
    In terms of your own video:
    Thanks for sharing this - I loved the tranquillity of your scenery despite the 'end of the world' situation. You shot it really beautifully and the actors coped really well with the scene and script. 
    I don't think the light flare takes away from it at all. The in-built explosions and footage within HitFilm in this context may have looked wrong, as you say. A light flare was much more mystical and left you wondering what the hell was going on. 
    In terms of minute details, I also had a bit of a problem (like Triem) with the blood spatter. I'm afraid I can't offer up such a plethora of knowledge in the same way he did in relation to the different kinds of guns, but my reaction was one of immediate "that was too big". I think it may have been the cloud of blood which kind of took up his whole body and obscured his face. I think in the case of this whole short, less is more. Would you consider making the gun shot a little smaller or perhaps making the red of the blood less potent?
    I also thought that maybe the actor trying to get the food was looking too low at some points while saying his lines. I'm not sure whether or not you filmed them talking separately but although he's on a snowy slope, I think he's addressing a point which would be below the face of the other survivor. 
    However, this is just personal opinion and you can totally call me out on this if that's the case. 
    I want to reiterate again that I really liked this (watched it the whole way through *fell for shameless plug*) and look forward to what you're doing next!
  • Connor BondConnor Bond Website User Posts: 3
    I've been thinking about it some more. I'm not saying I have the "right" way to look at film-making or even a "good" way, it's just a way. I probably don't agree with it anymore.
    That thread is really interesting, by the way.
    When I watch a movie, my brain compartmentalizes, and most of it is just enjoying the movie for itself while a little part in the back is analyzing the writing and the characters and the visuals and the special effects. Since thinking about the writing, characters and visuals keeps me more or less inside the world of the movie, that type of analyzing doesn't distract me too much, but when there are obvious special effects (and the more I learn, the more becomes "obvious"), it pulls me out, but only for the few seconds or minute or so it takes my brain to figure out why something didn't look right.
    Maybe I'm being too hard on the Hobbit. But I liked LOTR and not The Hobbit, so I figured pinpointing the difference would help me out as a movie maker. Now, though, I don't think the big difference was special effects or even old vfx vs new vfx, but that the Hobbit didn't really have a lot of things. Most characters are just there for the sake of being there (like Legolas and all of the dwarves whose names I will probably never know and even Bilbo, really) and the plot just kind of happens.
    Some blockbuster, rollercoaster-y movies can stand up alone on special effects, and that's still good filmmaking. Avatar works well enough because the effects draw us into the world, but with Desolation of Smaug, we're already in the world. We've already spent upwards of 15 hours in Middle Earth and hundreds more if you count all the fantasy video games and stories set in basically Middle Earth. What I was looking for was interesting plot and character to keep the world fresh and alive, but what that's not what I got and that bothered me.
    So VFX can strengthen a film. In fact, it strengthens most films. But it needs to stand alongside all the other elements of good movie-making or it doesn't really spark a conversation/capture the imagination/however you choose to define art. And so this all is an extremely circuitous way of stating the obvious.

    As for both of your critiques of TRUST, thanks! You're probably right about everything. Now that its done I can see (mostly) everything wrong with it, but there's nothing I can do about it now.
    That time limit is a killer. I was planning on putting in a time-passing montage between the apocalypse and the hold-up and between the action-climax and the ending, but I had to cut it out.
    The sound was my first time with a boom mic, and we had the recording way too low so I had to mix it back in with the on camera-audio, so what can you do? Probably spend days fixing it in post, but I'm no audio engineer, and we only had 5 days to put it all together.
    Blood Splatter--Any tips for how to make it look good/realistic/movie-y? Maybe a video of some nice looking effects? I agree that it's over-the-top, but at the time I thought it would heighten the drama. It at least distracts you from the fact that the main character doesn't react. At all.
  • CalebKCalebK Website User Posts: 435
    I don't really enjoy your critiques... People spent lots of time to do that and lots of work, no film can be flawless and you should learn just to enjoy them. A second hobby is being a magician. Even though I can see the way they did it sometimes that doesn't mean I should blurt it out. Furthermore their is much to learn from those professionals by looking at their teqniques and presentation.

    However I really enjoyed your film their was allot of edge of the seat action... However I was confused for awhile as I didn't catch that time had changed between the two shots. How die you make the dust particles look soo real with the same transparency?
  • Triem23Triem23 Moderator Moderator, Website User, Ambassador, Imerge Beta Tester, HitFilm Beta Tester Posts: 18,262 Ambassador
    I also thought that maybe the actor trying to get the food was looking too low at some points while saying his lines. I'm not sure whether or not you filmed them talking separately but although he's on a snowy slope, I think he's addressing a point which would be below the face of the other survivor. 
    However, this is just personal opinion and you can totally call me out on this if that's the case. 
    I thought the actor with the gun was looking low because he was nervous and looking at the BACKPACK. That type of distraction would let the hero slip out his knife without being shot for "making a move."
    CG blood is always a difficult beast to master, and I'll confess, I am one of those folks who think it never looks right. I'm thinking "300," now, where there would be these huge gouts of CG blood spurting from wounds in super slow-motion...and evaporating before splattering the ground. Blood spray and spurts are really really hard to make look right in post.
  • NullUnitNullUnit Website User Posts: 791 Just Starting Out
    I watched a digital version of The Hobbit that had a frame rate problem that caused a wonderful side effect. It made all of the animated characters move with a slightly stuttering motion like traditional stop motion animation. I wish so badly that this is how it actually looked. It was awesome.
  • KirstieTKirstieT Staff Administrator, Moderator, Website User Posts: 1,056 Staff
    I don't really enjoy your critiques... People spent lots of time to do that and lots of work, no film can be flawless and you should learn just to enjoy them. A second hobby is being a magician. Even though I can see the way they did it sometimes that doesn't mean I should blurt it out. Furthermore their is much to learn from those professionals by looking at their teqniques and presentation. However I really enjoyed your film their was allot of edge of the seat action... However I was confused for awhile as I didn't catch that time had changed between the two shots. How die you make the dust particles look soo real with the same transparency?


    Caleb - sorry if you think our critiques are harsh or not correct. We don't critique in order to put the creator down - Triem and I were simply giving our own opinions on his original questions about imaginations and VFX and following up by answering his questions about his own short.
    He said:

    I'm all ears, though. Do you guys think it would work better if I showed what it actually was? 


    While the point of the forums is to discuss filmmaking and techniques, many people also upload their work for critique. I myself am not amazing with VFX (by any means) but I am looking forward to putting my first piece up here simply in order to get critique from people. We have so many knowledgeable filmmakers on here with great advice and opinions to give, and I want to find out how to make my work better. In fact, I want people to tear it apart. 
    I think (hope) Connor knows that we really enjoyed his short, as I said, and that it was a terrific idea. While he absolutely doesn't have to take any of my comments on board, it is nice to get others opinions - especially when you're still learning or getting to grips with new software. Everyone's going to have different opinions on what flawless is.
    The bottom line is - we pick tiny details apart because in our experience people benefit from it or say "oh! I'd never noticed it before" and ultimately it's something you remember for next time. If you don't get critiqued, you don't get better :)
     

    Now that its done I can see (mostly) everything wrong with it, but there's nothing I can do about it now.


    But Connor I think it's worth stressing that there isn't anything WRONG with it - it's an interesting short which really captures attention and imagination - any critiques I make are purely based on my own opinion - I don't claim to be a professional of any kind ;) I hope you did find some useful things amongst what was said, and most importantly, if you like it - don't change it. This is your baby!

  • SimonKJonesSimonKJones Moderator Website User, HitFilm Beta Tester Posts: 4,450 Enthusiast
    The Hobbit is a particularly extreme case, and I think its problems are to do with the overall filmmaking style rather than the VFX specifically. Ever since King Kong (or perhaps even Return of the King, in some ways), Jackson has been an entirely unrestrained filmmaker, in my opinion to the detriment of his films.
    The Lord of the Rings, for all the fantasy stuff, and occasional swoopy camera move, always felt quite grounded and gritty and grimy. The reason they worked for so many people is that they felt rooted in a real world. The Hobbit has very little of this, instead feeling far too artificial and over-graded. Even the real landscape shots FEEL like CG shots due to what I can only assume is over-processing. It's one of the few times that the raw footage looks better than the finished, graded, composited shots. I did wonder whether it was a deliberate stylistic choice, as The Hobbit is specifically a tale being told by Bilbo, and thus potentially suffers from an unreliable narrator who is recounting his experiences with rose tinted glasses - but I think that's maybe giving the film too much credit.
    Overall, The Hobbit's problems are stylistic and art-based, rather than tech/VFX-based, I think.
    There are plenty of VFX-heavy films which use their VFX more artfully.
  • marblankomarblanko Website User Posts: 7
    Connor
    You did an amazing job, watched it all and enjoyed it. 
    Only things I could add to keep a note for the next one is that it just needs polishing on the acting. A bit more rehersal and setting the feel, more fear, desperation. The backpack character was just walking around while the siren was going off, but did not react to it. Is that on purpose? should he not be afraid or curious as to what it was?
    Also reckon the guy with the gun should have been more jittery and forceful. Looking around as he talks, he probably didn't stay alive as long as he did by taking it easy.
    Getting good acting is a problem that affects every starting film maker, as we can only get hold of friends or even ourselves as resources.
  • Triem23Triem23 Moderator Moderator, Website User, Ambassador, Imerge Beta Tester, HitFilm Beta Tester Posts: 18,262 Ambassador
    The different responses here certainly show our imaginations at work. To marblanko, above, he imagines your apocalypse happened some time ago, and he questions how the gunman has survived. I imagine it's only been a day or two and the gunman hasn't yet learned to live by the very arguments he makes. KristiT's imagination has the gunman jittery and unfocused, my imagination has him too focused on the bag, not enough on the man he's robbing.
    So, how did the contest turn out? You had a strong entry. :-)
  • Connor BondConnor Bond Website User Posts: 3
    I

    I don't really enjoy your critiques... People spent lots of time to do that and lots of work, no film can be flawless and you should learn just to enjoy them. A second hobby is being a magician. Even though I can see the way they did it sometimes that doesn't mean I should blurt it out. Furthermore their is much to learn from those professionals by looking at their teqniques and presentation.
    I'm pretty sure you're talking about me being hard on the Hobbit and not how kirstie said he comments being hard on me.
    First of all, I highly doubt Peter Jackson has a hit film account (anything's possible though, I guess) so I'm not going to try and spare his feelings. I say you have to learn how to critique other movies and put exactly into words what you like or don't like or what you would change so hat you can find your own style and be able to critique your own work. I'm not blurting out what they've done, for the most part the Hobbit worked.
    Now, Bilbo remembering through rose tinted glasses...that's an interesting thought.

    Another movie which I thought was very engaging (though not perfect) was gravity, and that's about as vfx heavy as it gets. But there are a few scenes where Sandra Bullock is telling George Clooney about her life back on earth. Instead of cutting to a flashback, we just get a wide shot of the two looking at the big, beautiful earth, as if Alfonso Cuaron is leaning back, like "I did my part of the work. Now its up to the audience." To me that got me thinking and imagining in an already imaginative movie.

    As for the acting in TRUST, Taylor, the main guy, just really wanted to act. He's never really done anything serious before so we really had to coach him to get him where he's at here. And besides, its the apocolypse. Do you think he's going to last long if he shows a lot of emotion? Fear is weakness. Sentimentality is weakness.
    Ibrahim, the guy with the gun, is a slightly professional actor (I think he just did a Spanish McDonald's commercial) so we could actually talk about his character. We decided the most interesting antagonist wouldn't be a straight up threatening physical force, but a normal, nice guy trying to do the right thing. Because if you think about it, an ultra threatening character would just shoot Taylor and take his stuff. Ibrahim gives him a chance, though. He never pulls the trigger. I doubt he ever would pull the trigger. He's just like Taylor, really. That's what makes the twist ending so impactful.
    About Ibrahim looking down, yeah, I dunno. When he saw the finished thing he said he didn't know why he was looking down. They were both in the scene together on a flat field. Honestly I didn't even notice. In reality he's a few inches shorter than Taylor, so at least he wasn't looking up.

    Uhm, what else. The dust snow and rain was just stock footage set to either screen or multiply and opacity at 50. I should've tracked it or something so it didn't look so attached to the camera, but I think it turned out alright.
    The contest is on Wednesday. We get to go to a real theatre and take pictures on the red carpet and everything. I'm so excited slash nervous.
  • Triem23Triem23 Moderator Moderator, Website User, Ambassador, Imerge Beta Tester, HitFilm Beta Tester Posts: 18,262 Ambassador
    So, how did the contest work out?
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