Friday, June 29, 2007

More on VFX Time Crunch

has a follow up to the Variety article on the crushing post-production schedules for visual effects. This was touched on in my Wasting Time post.

The problem here is the studios are making very expensive movies and want to reduce the amount of time they’re paying interest on what is essentially a huge loan. Since they can’t shoot in any less time, especially with a lot of locations and stunts, the burden falls to post-production and primarily to visual effects.

This problem is exacerbated by the fact visual effects are now the fix-it step for the filmmakers. During the course of production it’s now common for those involved to pass their problems off to the visual effects team.

“We don’t have time to move that big crane in the background.”
“Do we have to move that 12 by 12 silk? Can’t you just paint it out?”
Speaking about a large object in the middle of the shot “Would it help if we painted it green?”
“We don’t have the right eye contacts. You’ll have to fix it.”
“We haven’t decided what location this scene plays in so we’ll have to shoot it bluescreen and figure it out later.”
“It’s not working so you guys will have to fix it later. We don’t have time to do fix it now.” (Referring to a stunt, prop or practical special effects)
“You guys can remove the (rain, snow, sun, shadows, etc) right?”
“We can’t afford to do that as planned. (alternate: We don’t have time to do that.) You’ll have to do in post.”
“Isn’t that easy to do? You have computers. It’s got to be a touch of a button now a days.”
“It was never built to do that. You guys will have to make that part move.”
“I know we promised to never to look that way but that’s how it goes.”
“You’ll have to extend the top and bottom of set since they didn’t get the larger stage.”

All of these would be funny if they weren’t real quotes from a shooting set. The VFX supervisor and producer raise the issues (cost, time, quality) frequently onto deaf ears.

Everyone from the production designer to the wig person to the production manager may pass their time or budget limitations to the visual effects people. In the end they come out looking like heroes for finishing on time and budget. Some of the production people even get bonuses for accomplishing this. Unfortunately the buck stops at the door to the visual effects team. There’s no one we can pass the problem on to. Also note that any budget or time savings production gets from doing this is not passed on the visual effects budget. Ultimately it comes out of the same overall budget but for accounting reasons their separate.

Months later when some of production people see the final shots they will have forgotten that they didn’t allow time to shoot that sequence correctly or that you saved their production schedule.

So at this point the visual effects supervisor has to explain to his vfx team and the studio vfx producer they now have another 100-200 shots to do and the pre-planning that was done for some sequences was tossed out and will now have to be done using plates that were shot in the worst conditions. (such as FG bluescreen with fictional lighting and angles to match BG plates done later) Personally I push for less shots done well than a lot of shots done poorly.

As long as the studios make money on the films under compressed time constraints and qulaity isn't the highest thing on the directo's list they will continue to compress the schedules more and more.
It won’t surprise me in the next 2 years if a big tentpole vfx film has to have its release date postponed or to be released with major vfx problems clearly evident to average the audience. And of course the visual effects people will be to blame.

Should the visual effects people be the ones to bare the brunt of the studio money and time issues and be forced to sacrifice their time and family life?

The reason most of us got into visual effects was to create great work and because it was fun. If that’s now boiling down to trying to crank out as much work as possible with lower quality the fun factor will certainly be gone.

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