Saturday, May 01, 2010

How VFX is perceived by at least one DP

The International Cinematographers Guild magazine has an interview with a DP regarding visual effects:

"It's definitely true that the technology is improving constantly.  But I don't understand why it still costs so much. I don't know why so often we are at the mercy of shots being delivered late when we are trying to make a deadline or timing an answer print or DI."

Yeah, it's those darn VFX people!  Don't we know that they're trying to make a deadline?  Gesh.

Cameras continue to improve as well but you don't see us wondering why it costs $70-100 million to make an average film.  We know better.  Time * people = money.  Add creative complexity, changes and compressed schedules to explain not only the money issue but the running late part of the quote.  There's no magic involved. As much as we provide the illusions for a film, in the end we can't defy time and the reality of costs, despite what some studios think.

In VFX it's not unusual to have as many or more people than on the live action shoot. A VFX company is like a mini-studio with all the departments - props, set construction, scenic painters, wardrobe, stages, acting, cameras, etc. It may involve the computer but it still takes a lot of people skilled in all of those areas. The VFX may take 6 months to a year to do. Yet many in the film business assume that the computers are getting cheaper and faster so the costs and times should now be lower.  Oddly they don't hold this same view of writers or DPs when their tools get faster.  There's no magic buttons for us to press just like there's no magic button in Final Draft to create a blockbuster automatically for the the writer.  And of course on each project we're required to create something new and different, never before seen.

I do think it would be an eye opener for most in the film industry to spend a real day or week at a VFX company.


  1. I'd like to say I'm surprised by that quote, but I suppose most people in the VFX industry won't be. Someone once said, "You have to know something before you realise how much you don't know".

    Surely the solution is education and inclusion of the traditional film roles into the VFX process? Isn't part of the problem the fact that (as you pointed out) the VFX studios are so removed from the on-set crew?

  2. The VES is trying to do some educational events specifically for directors (although DPs and producers should be added to the list.)

    The VFX supervisor and team are very much involved with the other creatives and crew in pre-production and production but once filming wraps the DP and everyone else goes on to other projects. 6-12 months later the DP shows up at the DI session. To them it seems like a long time since they shot another project while you were working on that 'old' project. Production scheduled the DI for specific dates but didn't bother to tell the DP that they added 100 shots or that they wanted a green hat to be changed to a red purse in all shots.

    The studio doesn't want to pay the DP to be available in post and the DP doesn't want to work for free. Some studios are reluctant to include them in the DI.

  3. It baffles me how people still believe in the "Magic Button" theory of computers. Computers have been around and been used for visual effects for long enough now that there is just no excuse for that level of ignorance.

    Yes it's easy to point out that computers are getting faster and more powerful all the time, but don't they realise that visual effects are getting more and more complex too.

    It can be frustrating.

    However, I think you may have it wrong about the screenplays. Surely there must be a magic button that is producing the same old rehashed scripts over and over.

  4. "Surely there must be a magic button that is producing the same old rehashed scripts over and over."

    Thats' the only button on the executive keyboard.

  5. Great post!
    Thank you very much, Scott!

    Here, in Russia, we've thought that it is only our domestic problem...
    And I was surprised, that you have the same problems, besides of your 33 years old history of thousands of VFX movies.

    Scott, could I put the translation of this post to the russian VFX community web site?

    Arkady "renderfox" Dubinin
    VFX Supervisor
    Moscow, Russia

  6. Sure you can report with translation. Please include a link back here as well so they can check the original if need be.

  7. On set, the DP or director at least see the majority of the crew working on the show at any given point. They see the sound guys, the stunt guys, the art department, the camera crew, the prop guys, and even the production office staff on a daily basis throughout the shoot. They are a quantifiable, physical entity.

    When it comes to the VFX, the DP or director are generally only exposed to the VFX super and maybe a few other VFX leads. To them, it only seems like there is a small crew working even if they should know otherwise.

    There's a physical disconnect between the DP/Director/producer and the majority of the VFX crew who are toiling away in some building in an industrial park somewhere and even more so if that crew is off in Singapore or some far flung place. As a result, there is a bit of a psychological disconnect as well... "I don't see you, you don't exist." It's easy to forget that there are hundreds of VFX artists working long hours on your project if you never see them.

  8. Once a month, someone should take a group shot of everyone at the VFX house working on a given show... and pair those people shots with a few cool shots that were in the works... and send a Calendar at the end of the year to productions as a reminder of the army that made the magic... with the make it "cool" button.


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