Practical Effects <- A VFX Artist's friend

MichaelJames
MichaelJames Website User Posts: 2,038 Enthusiast

Practical Effects are sometimes over looked these days because it seems as VFX can do everything.  With enough computer power and work you pretty much can accomplish anything.  That is great if you have the budget or resources to do everything with VFX but not if you are a indie filmmaker.  That is where practical effects come in.  If you can have a fair amount of practical effects that you enhance with VFX you can create scenes that take less belief to seem real.  Yes, you can film fire seperately and then add it to a video, or create a particle simulator that replicates fire, but what if you had some real fire in the scene(where safe)?  You can add stock elements or simulators to the real fire to.  Like you really make a torch and you light and then go back after the  fact and add some elements to make it look magical or more intense.

 

Comments

  • AxelWilkinson
    AxelWilkinson Staff Administrator, Imerge Beta Tester, HitFilm Beta Tester Posts: 5,247 Staff

    I agree, there seems to be a broad assumption that is often made by film viewers that computers are used for everything these days.  And its really not the case.  In fact I would argue that even on major blockbusters, practical effects are used much more often than people think, though perhaps not as much as they should be.  

    I recently watched Transformers: Age of Extinction, and there are numerous scens where the actor's reactions don't fit at all with the scene surrounding them, and its obvious that the actors did not have a clear idea in their heads of what the final scene would be.  Compare that to something like Real Steel, where they built 13 full-size animatronic robots for the actors to interact with, and the performances and your willingness to believe what you are seeing are on an entirely different level.  Obviously the fights and some scenes are still CG, but you believe the robots are there because for a large number of the shots, they actually were there.

    Or, compare The Lord of The Rings, where loads of practical techniques were mixed with cg for nearly all the effects, with The Hobbit, which is obviously more reliant on digital, and it suffers massively for it, despite having the budget and resources.

    But the best effects tend to usually be a blend of different techniques.  Especially for an effect that is used often throughout a film, switching up the techniques used for various scenes makes it harder for the audience to catch on to the trick, thus enhancing the verissimilitude.

  • MichaelJames
    MichaelJames Website User Posts: 2,038 Enthusiast

    With the advent of 3d printers and some retail stores including them for easy access it would be easy for a indie filmmaker to have someone make a 3d model of a spaceship that is scaled down to 1 foot long and take it in and have it printed out.  Then you could have a real ship and do blue screen work.

  • StormyKnight
    StormyKnight Moderator, Website User, Ambassador, Imerge Beta Tester, HitFilm Beta Tester Posts: 2,728 Ambassador
    edited October 2014

    I wish I still had my Star Wars models from years ago. Star destroyer, X-wing, TIE fighter, a Millenium Falcon that had lights I had to wire up to a battery pack. It would be so cool to try these with a green screen now that I have that capablilty.

    I have a few Star Trek models now- maybe I'll give those a try. Hadn't really thought about it 'til now. Thanks for this topic MJ!

    I do think practical effects are the best way to go but low budgets constrict a lot of people from trying that.

  • SimonKJones
    SimonKJones Moderator Website User, HitFilm Beta Tester Posts: 4,450 Enthusiast
    edited October 2014

    In terms of spaceship stuff, in an ideal world I'd mix and match a bit. CG for anything involving complex movement, but perhaps a model for any lingering close-ups. You have to have very talented CG modellers and compositors to get long, lingering close-ups of CG stuff to work as well as a decent miniature.

    The way I tend to view practical-vs-CG is that if you have perfect CG, it will almost always be better and provide more creative flexibility than practical stuff. However, if you have to settle for less-than-perfect (due to time/budget/skill reasons), a less-than-perfect miniature will hold up better than a less-than-perfect CG creation, simply because it has the bonus of being a real thing. That real thing aspect gives a bit of a boost to believability, even if it's clearly a miniature real thing.

  • KirstieT
    KirstieT Staff Administrator, Moderator, Website User Posts: 1,069 Staff

    I agree with @Axel that practical effects are so important in helping an actor produce realistic responses and "good acting" in relation to their surroundings. 
    Even if it's going to look better created in post, there is no substitute for explosions and fire (as opposed to cues and instructions) when it comes to bringing out the best in your actors. And while they should really be able to respond to most scenes, hence the term 'actor', you're always going to get better scenes when there is something tangible for them to react to. 

  • MichaelJames
    MichaelJames Website User Posts: 2,038 Enthusiast

    At Simon, i like when it is a combination of both.  On some recent movies like thor 2 they built sets and then added to them with CG.

  • SimonKJones
    SimonKJones Moderator Website User, HitFilm Beta Tester Posts: 4,450 Enthusiast

    I'm finding it increasingly difficult to tell what is CG or practical these days, at least on top tier movies. I was surprised to find out that the Jaeger-fist-in-office shot in Pacific Rim was largely a practical miniature, for example.

    When you've got the best people in the world working on your movie, the end results are likely to be stunning regardless of technique. So it's then simply a matter of choosing the most efficient route.

  • SimonKJones
    SimonKJones Moderator Website User, HitFilm Beta Tester Posts: 4,450 Enthusiast

    I didn't mean poor miniatures/CG - only 'less-than-perfect'. ie, still generally good work, but maybe not top-tier.  But for that just-below-perfect area, I think miniatures/practical stuff can hold up better than just-below-perfect CG, for the aforementioned 'physicality' reason.

    If either of them are poor then, yes, they're just rubbish. :)

    VFX acting does seem to depend upon actors extensively. Some are good at it, some aren't. It also requires the director to be good at explaining what's going on. Throw in some decent and accurate concept art and you're good to go.

    While VFX are off the scale these days, it's not like VFX are new. Actors have been interacting with nothing from the very start of cinema (and theatre). If an actor can't act convincingly to VFX, it's probably because they're just not very good actors...

  • SimonKJones
    SimonKJones Moderator Website User, HitFilm Beta Tester Posts: 4,450 Enthusiast

    Very true. It's not like making a decent miniature is magically simpler than a decent CG model. Although in the case of fanfilms, you CAN get pretty awesome miniatures of spaceships. But you're right - if you're creating fresh material, it's tricky regardless.

  • Triem23
    Triem23 Moderator Moderator, Website User, Ambassador, Imerge Beta Tester, HitFilm Beta Tester Posts: 18,956 Ambassador

    Interesting that this discussion comes up as I am reading "The Art of Ray Harryhausen." Besides the man's observations, his concept art and sculpture, not to mention hand-animating on all-practical sets... Eventually another mad genius will surface who will learn the skills to do that again, but the rest of us just... Aren't. 

    Ray Harryhause, Willis O' Brian, and Phil Tippit are pretty much the Holy Trinity of stop-motion. 

  • KirstieT
    KirstieT Staff Administrator, Moderator, Website User Posts: 1,069 Staff

    Hmmmm @TooshkaWinConway - that's really interesting as I wouldn't have guessed that at all. 
    I don't know if that's a good or a bad thing really!

  • NullUnit
    NullUnit Website User Posts: 791 Just Starting Out

    Film Riot actually has an episode about this topic (of course), it gets into what, I think, is a great technique of combining practical and CG elements to sell a shot. 

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