Sunday, 6 March 2011

Cinemaniacal: When Did Special Effects Stop Being Special?

Welcome to the show folks...

I was born during what I call the Golden Age of Special Effects. When I was a kid I saw such groundbreaking work in films like
Star Wars and later Blade Runner that told me that if you put enough work and care into your film, any sight that you can imagine, can be put on the screen.

Audiences used to be like me and be amazed by quality special effects work. They'd see the spaceship battle and say: "Wow! That was really well done."

Nowadays, special effects seem boring. They
don't generate the chill down the spine that they used to, and I don't think it's caused by my jaded personality brought on by my rapidly advancing years. I will try to explain this blase reaction, and I think you'll agree with me on this issue, because I tend to right about everything.

1. EFFORT: When I was a wee shaver special effects impressed me because I knew the amount of sheer labor that was needed to create special effects. I knew this because I loved to read and watch stuff about how movies and special effects were made. I knew that what looked like simple FX shots involved talented designers, model makers, camera operators, editors and other technicians. FX took a combination of imagination, manual craftsmanship, and cunning trickery to get the job done. People used to look at some impossible sight or stunt and say: "How did they do that?" and really mean it.

Nowadays, folks look at a special effect or a stunt, and they say: "A computer did it." It degrades the work and imagination of CGI artists, but nobody really thinks about them. The computers get all the credit, and no one really thinks sitting up all night, buzzed on caffeine pointing and clicking is the same as building a large model or set, or doing what looked like a dangerous stunt while dangling from a great height.

2. OVEREXPOSURE: Back in the days of models and camera tricks effects shots were done pretty quickly. They had to be, because if you looked at it too long you'll see that 007's jet wasn't really flying through an enemy hangar, but was instead bolted to the roof of a car going 70 miles an hour. You got a quick glimpse, then off to the next shot. The monster had to be kept 90% in shadow, or you'll see the seam in the rubber suit and the wires keeping it upright.

With CGI there are literally no strings attached, so they can afford to linger on something long and lovingly to show off how well rendered the lizard monster's eyelashes are. That slows everything down.... a lot. Also the feeling of being impressed quickly shifts to one of tedium when they start thinking that this shot is not going to end.

3. PANACEA: Too many recent films have treated special effects as a cure-all for such problems as having a uninteresting storyline, weak acting/characters, and wooden dialogue. It's not. It's supposed to be a supplement to good movie elements, not a replacement.

That's how I feel, how do you all feel about special effects?

1 comment:

  1. Dirty McDingus Sezs:
    I was a fanatical lover of SFX and collected the premium trade magazine CINEFEX sold only by MAIL back in the day! I picked up some at a comic book store too~ I reveled in the articles of 'Indian Jones and the Temple of DOOM' when they had to MAKE a stop motion rig from scratch with a commercial Camera that was customized to hold Film Stock up to TEN seconds. The Awesome Bridge collapse scene where cops showed up because someone saw several people being THROWN OFF a cliff! The motorized dummies where the Best I've ever seen to this day~ You could feel the amazing Magic buried in those articles.. alas.
    The death of SFX began with Go Motion in 'DragonSlayer' and 'Young Sherlock Homes'. Automated models and realistic characters done did begin the fall.. 'Jurassic Park' nailed in the first to collapse the thrill I felt after the rush of watching it.. something nagged at me then and now I've seen it happen.
    I don't have a subscription with that magazine any longer, for it's buried in computer jargon and "Propriety" shaders, softwares and systemsTM. The honeymoon is over and now we have the limp flicks like 'TRON: here we go again' to "amaze" the jaded 6 year old and set into comatose the older "tweens"._____ The only things I'm looking forward too is when hollyweird starts buying the rights to use classic DEAD actors to CG resurrect them into new flicks.