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June 7, 2011 11:16 AM   Subscribe


 
I love the one from The Gate.
posted by brundlefly at 11:22 AM on June 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


The gams on Angie Dickinson!
posted by zzazazz at 11:22 AM on June 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


Better days, in my opinion.
posted by codacorolla at 11:23 AM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Staypuff Marshmallow man = awesome
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:28 AM on June 7, 2011


Awesome.
posted by The World Famous at 11:29 AM on June 7, 2011


This is how real men and women made real movies which real character and plot. Now it's all T&A and explosions and worthless dialog.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 11:30 AM on June 7, 2011


I think we killed it.
posted by octothorpe at 11:33 AM on June 7, 2011


Yup. Fireballed.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:33 AM on June 7, 2011


Great photos, but I wish they'd included more information on the subjects and photographers. Would it have killed someone to name Richard Hunt, Jim Henson and Frank Oz in the Sesame Street photo?
posted by Faint of Butt at 11:34 AM on June 7, 2011


It's pretty weird that making the crawl for Empire involved actual photography.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:35 AM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's pretty weird that making the crawl for Empire involved actual photography.

I just learned that recently and was pretty amazed.

I don't get the fishlines on James Caan in the Godfather one. Someone please explain.
posted by not that girl at 11:38 AM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Took a while to load, but it was totally worth it. Fantastic pictures. Thanks so much for posting this.

(Also, that shot from Empire looked familiar.) :D
posted by zarq at 11:38 AM on June 7, 2011


Meanwhile, there's this previous thread about the opening of Blade Runner which might not be hammered...
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 11:39 AM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Those were some really terrific photos and reminded me of some classics I need to rewatch. The Empire Strikes Back text crawl was especially enlightening. Speaking of which, I can't think of the transition to CGI without remembering this pic.

Part of the reason I love Christopher Nolan is that he isn't afraid to use old-school SFX techniques to great effect in modern movies.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 11:39 AM on June 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


The fishlines are used to trip the fleshtoned "bullet" charges pasted to Caan's skin. In those pre-mini-transmitter days, it was necessary to use mechanical means to activate the small explosive charges that would also release a flash of blood. The effect was amazing but the lines often had to be touched out of the final product.
posted by kinnakeet at 11:40 AM on June 7, 2011


Whoops, no hotlinking. If you copy/paste the image URL into your browser you can see it.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 11:40 AM on June 7, 2011


Huhn, I always wondered what the SnorriCam thing was called.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 11:41 AM on June 7, 2011


Really fun post, BTW. I love this "how did they get that shot?" stuff. Movies are no fun now that the budgets go to CGI instead of decent writers and effects people.
posted by kinnakeet at 11:41 AM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Get off my painstakingly hand-mown lawn.
posted by fullerine at 11:41 AM on June 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


Requiem for a Dream is "pre-CGI filmmaking" huh?
posted by nathancaswell at 11:41 AM on June 7, 2011


I don't get the fishlines on James Caan in the Godfather one. Someone please explain.

Bulletwould/bloodspurts in movies are usually done with squibs, but at least in the early 70s I don't think there was a way to get squibs small enough to put them under layers of makeup. The scene in The Godfather when Sonny dies (spoiler!) has him getting shot an insane number of times everywhere, including in the face, and so the only way to get bullet eruptions on exposed flesh is to tie a little condom or something to some fishing line (which will be invisible on camera) and bury it under makeup to make it unseen. Then, while the camera is rolling, someone offscreen yanks the fishing line, which pulls the condom or whatever out through the makeup and makes a bullethole appear.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:41 AM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


kinnakeet: "The fishlines are used to trip the fleshtoned "bullet" charges pasted to Caan's skin. In those pre-mini-transmitter days, it was necessary to use mechanical means to activate the small explosive charges that would also release a flash of blood. The effect was amazing but the lines often had to be touched out of the final product."

Yes, exactly. fishing line is placed in a small, usually circular bit of makeup putty on the actor's skin or clothes. The area behind the putty is filled with blood, and may have a very tiny explosive charge inside.
posted by zarq at 11:42 AM on June 7, 2011


That Sesame Street one makes my arms ache just looking at it. I hope that Jim Henson used deodorant for his fellow puppeteer's sake.
posted by dhalgren at 11:42 AM on June 7, 2011


I didn't know fishing line was how they did entry wounds! Very cool!

Ohhhh man, Angie Dickinson, you are gorgeous.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 11:43 AM on June 7, 2011




I didn't think the sand worm could look more like a penis. I'm learning so much today!
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 11:45 AM on June 7, 2011


Thanks, folks, that's pretty much what I guessed but I am glad to hear details of the process.
posted by not that girl at 11:46 AM on June 7, 2011


That was Lynch's penis. He's notorious for peeing pretty much anywhere.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:46 AM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


kinnakeet:

As far as I know, no explosive squibs are used with the fishing line method. They hard to conceal on an actor's face if you want to make them safe. The string is attached to a blood pouch, the blood pouch is glues to the actor's skin and covered in latex. Makeup makes the latex match the skin. Pulling the strings with just the right force creates a great effect.

Specially for entry wounds, no explosion is needed. Exit wounds are harder to do without squibs.
posted by Dr. Curare at 11:46 AM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


On one hand we got Pixar, and on the other we got the prequels. I think it's a fair trade.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 11:47 AM on June 7, 2011


I used to love looking at magazines like Cinefex and Starlog to see how effects were done. Absolutely amazing stuff. Now it's just a bunch of dudes at computers and who cares?
posted by Legomancer at 11:50 AM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


On one hand we got Pixar, and on the other we got the prequels. I think it's a fair trade.

But by no means a necessary one.
posted by The World Famous at 11:50 AM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Here's a shot from Lynch's Dune.
posted by brundlefly


The throats of the sandworms were lined with thousands of condoms. Condoms are a staple of special effects.
posted by StickyCarpet at 11:51 AM on June 7, 2011


These are really amazing. The Hawks/Dickinson, Nicholson/Kubrick and Empire crawl are neato.
posted by eyeballkid at 11:52 AM on June 7, 2011


There were movies with terrible FX before CGI.

Most of the complaints here about "these days" have nothing to do with CGI as a special effects technique and everything to do with CGI as a money-saving technique. The problem with movies is the small number of large corporations producing them, not the mechanical techniques of production themselves.
posted by DU at 11:54 AM on June 7, 2011 [13 favorites]


It's neat how, even without CGI, they managed to capture a picture where it looked like Tippi Hedrin didn't absolutely despise Hitchcock for what he was doing to her. Acting!
posted by MCMikeNamara at 11:54 AM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Cinefex went downhill after they started covering too many movies in each issue.
posted by Trurl at 11:54 AM on June 7, 2011


Thanks for clarification, Dr. Curare. I got my information largely from taking the Universal Studio tour in the days when they actually took people through the sets and sound-stages; we spent some time in the makeup room for McMillan & Wife and watched The Sting being filmed, which should give you a time frame. The bullet effect demo went into some depth. Now I'm thinking the explosive charges were only used on body hits where heavy clothing interceded between charge and actor.
posted by kinnakeet at 11:55 AM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


On lack of preview: what zarq said.

How I know this? I was in a very low budget movie. We ran out of squibs, and they are expensive, so the fx guys spent a whole day improvising the fishing line method. It looked better than the squibs when the film was done.

For a very bloody gut shot they taped a blood filled condom to the actor's belly under his shirt and tied fishing line to the condom. The shirt was doctored so that pulling on the line would also rip out a hole in the shirt.

It was supposed to be an entry wound, but what you see is the actor's shirt tenting, morning wood style, until the shirt is ripped and a swollen blood filled condom shoots out of the hole and bursts in a shower of blood that got to the camera lens. The actor was left with this broken piece of limp bloody condom hanging out of his shirt.

It was the last shirt we had, so we just filmed the guy getting shot from behind and made it a super gory exit wound. It look awesome (for campy low budget gore movie values of awesome).
posted by Dr. Curare at 11:56 AM on June 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


This just reminds me that -- there was an entire craft, a discipline, around making this stuff, and it was a realistic career goal for those of an artistic bent, and now it's just...gone away. (Don't forget Mefi's own Adam Savage did this for a good while.) I remember reading with fascination about the special effects techinques for the different Star Wars movies in particular -- the model-making, the robotics, the matte painting for the backgrounds...and now, they've all been replaced by guys at computers doing CGI programming.

Don't get me wrong -- CGI can do amazing stuff. But I just wonder what happened to all the people who had been doing that before.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:56 AM on June 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


How much of Human Centipede was CGI?
posted by kmz at 11:56 AM on June 7, 2011


Love the shot from the set of Metropolis. I've never seen that one. Robots get thirsty, too.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:58 AM on June 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


On another note -- the picture of Dustin Hoffman and Sir Laurence Olivier tickles me in a place I can't reach.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:59 AM on June 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Second Metropolis. Great post, thanks!
posted by New England Cultist at 12:02 PM on June 7, 2011


"here was an entire craft, a discipline, around making this stuff, and it was a realistic career goal for those of an artistic bent, and now it's just...gone away"

Of course, it's been replaced by a new, realistic career goal for those with an artistic bent, CGI. You don't think that people who would have gone into SFX are somehow incapable of breaking into CGI design?
posted by oddman at 12:04 PM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


You don't think that people who would have gone into SFX are somehow incapable of breaking into CGI design?

There's a chance I'm just not understanding how CGI works, but -- aren't we talking the difference between sculpture on the one hand and computer programming on the other?

Again, I'll admit I'm not quite up on CGI, but to me that sounds like taking someone who's trained to be a chef and saying, "okay, now make toothpaste" or something.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:08 PM on June 7, 2011


Of course, it's been replaced by a new, realistic career goal for those with an artistic bent, CGI. You don't think that people who would have gone into SFX are somehow incapable of breaking into CGI design?

Actually, the technical/computer aspects of CGI absolutely does dissuade many from entering the field. I've spoken with more than one kid aspiring to the FX field who were thinking twice because they simply weren't interested in sitting in front of a computer all day. They really wanted to do something more tangible and real, with their hands.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:09 PM on June 7, 2011


3D cgi is very similar to sculpting actually. It requires modeling, posing, texturing, lighting etc. Very little scripting.
posted by nathancaswell at 12:13 PM on June 7, 2011


Practical FX are still done for movies.
posted by shakespeherian at 12:14 PM on June 7, 2011


That being said it is a very different skillet and requires a very different mentality from practical fx work. But it is artistic in nature. It just requires a lot of software expertise. Like Photoshop on mega mega steroids.
posted by nathancaswell at 12:15 PM on June 7, 2011


Now it's just a bunch of dudes at computers and who cares?

hey you know those awkward moments where you make a snarky comment about something and a person who is standing right beside you says "actually, I think that thing you just dismissed is really important" ...?

yea, so I do digital visual effects for a living. It's actually fascinating work. And we're not all dudes! The craft of physical effects is by no means dead, a good filmamker will chose the method of working that will get the best effect. Cronenberg uses the best prosthetics I have seen. A lot of the gory bits in his films are amazing lifelike detailed rigs that spout blood and tear realistically. it's amazing. There is a throat cutting shot in Eastern Promises that I had to do a little cleanup on (it's hard to predict where the blood will fly) and even though I knew it wasn't real, it looked so convincing it made me a kinda sick. I work on a lot of really gross horror films, too (saw? yuck.) and it never gets to me.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 12:15 PM on June 7, 2011 [19 favorites]


*Skillset
posted by nathancaswell at 12:15 PM on June 7, 2011


Nice. We used too used to eat up Starlog and Cinefex magazines to see how they did this stuff. I got a nice hole blown in my forehead once using the condom an fishing line trick during the shooting of a low low low budget now sadly lost zombie film.

Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings actually had a lot more miniatures in it than a lot of people realize.

Coppola's Dracula had all of the effects done in camera or in front of it with no post-production trickery.
posted by marxchivist at 12:18 PM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


aren't we talking the difference between sculpture on the one hand and computer programming

not at all, you have to learn to use the programs, but the skills and talents that make a good sculptor or painter are the same ones that make an excellent VFX artist. I studied art, but got into VFX to be able to make a living. The computer is just a tool. I actually know 2 girls that do animation and VFX who initially studied dance - timing movement and shape are also important
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 12:20 PM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


That being said it is a very different skillet and requires a very different mentality from practical fx work. But it is artistic in nature. It just requires a lot of software expertise. Like Photoshop on mega mega steroids.

Oh, no, I know it's artistic -- and I'm sorry if it sounded otherwise, that's not quite what I meant. I was more getting at the "I've been putting my kids through college by making 1/8 scale models out of balsa wood for 20 years, and now you want me to learn a software package instead?" aspect of things. Which admittedly only a narrow window of people are affected by.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:20 PM on June 7, 2011


I still would rather watch action movies made pre-CGI, there's just a hard physical look and feel that newer movies can't seem to capture. Go watch something like Sorcerer and imagine if it had been remade (I know it's a remake itself) in the last ten years. The weight and movement of the trucks would just look wrong. There's a reason that Nolan actually flipped a semi in Dark Knight instead of animating it.
posted by octothorpe at 12:26 PM on June 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


Yes, I imagine very few people are going to suddenly learn Maya at the age of 45 after making miniatures their entire lives. You are correct about this.

The sculpture comparison is very very flawed, however.

Every 3d object in a movie is "sculpted" by someone. They're just working with virtual clay.
posted by nathancaswell at 12:27 PM on June 7, 2011


I guess I'm thinking more like -- okay, back to my chef analogy. A chef who's been making meringue by beating the egg whites with a wooden spoon by hand, can grok how to switch to using an electric beater. But this just feels like someone saying, "okay, no wooden spoon and no beater -- you need to make meringue using this Koosh ball."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:33 PM on June 7, 2011


one thing to keep in mind when saying that CGI can't possibly be as good as physical effects is that the only time you really know for sure that something is GGI is when it's done wrong! It's likely that you've watched lots of impossible things on screen that you've just accepted as real without question because it looked real. Good visual effects are invisible.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 12:36 PM on June 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


okay, no wooden spoon and no beater -- you need to make meringue using this Koosh ball

yea, sort of, except that imagine the koosh ball is actually an amazing complex tool that once you learn how to use it, will not only beat eggs, but has thousands of other functions that will allow you to make crazy-fancy merangues, and lots more
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 12:40 PM on June 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


There's nothing wrong with CGI when it's used in the right way. The T-1000 in Terminator 2 is one of the great movie bad guys of all time because CGI allowed Cameron to do the whole liquid metal thing and he executed it perfectly. It's when directors use CGI to do shit that your brain knows is impossible, just because they can, like James Bond surfing down a glacier in Die Another Day, that it jars me out of the movie. The big elephant things in Return of the King look great, but when Legolas jumps onto the back of one of them, it's a massive false note.
posted by IanMorr at 12:42 PM on June 7, 2011


oliphaunts
posted by nathancaswell at 12:44 PM on June 7, 2011


yea, sort of, except that imagine the koosh ball is actually an amazing complex tool that once you learn how to use it, will not only beat eggs, but has thousands of other functions that will allow you to make crazy-fancy merangues, and lots more

But, see, it's the "once you learn how to use it" part I'm looking at. How long is that training gonna take? Especially for someone who's been doing it the old way for 20 or so years?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:44 PM on June 7, 2011


A selection of some of the most awesome Behind-the-scenes shots I’ve seen from some famous movies found at aintitcool.com.

I wish AICN was easier to navigate so you could dig up more of these
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 12:46 PM on June 7, 2011


In the interest of averting a derail, though, I submit two anecdotes, one from each school of special effect. These are things I've just heard and may be apocryphal.

1. In an X-Files episode, Scully is supposed to be attacked by a rabid cat. Couldn't have a live animal, though -- didn't want to risk having anyone get hurt -- so they made a cat puppet. One problem -- Gillan Anderson is allergic to cats. They used rabbit fur.

....It looked kind of stupid.

2. One of my favorite stories from the LORD OF THE RINGS special effects team concerns when they were programming the CGI for the big battle scenes. They decided to make some of the individual fighters run "independently" -- that is, the programming for those individual "fighters" consisted of "act in the most rational way possible."

Then when they ran the program, those "independent" fighters all ran like hell off the battlefield.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:48 PM on June 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


But, see, it's the "once you learn how to use it" part I'm looking at. How long is that training gonna take? Especially for someone who's been doing it the old way for 20 or so years?

Depends what your specialty is. You brought up matte-painters earlier. Matte paintings are still used all the time, just in a different way. The transition to matte-painting in Photoshop with a graphics tablet is not very difficult.

2. One of my favorite stories from the LORD OF THE RINGS special effects team concerns when they were programming the CGI for the big battle scenes.

In general you are vastly overestimating the amount of "programming" that goes into VFX. Crowd simulation like the example you gave is pretty much it. You do some dynamics like wind, hair, cloth and water but it's not like everyone's sitting around writing code to make these FX. You're posing 3d figures and key-framing "by hand." You're painting stuff digitally frame by frame. You "cut" mattes. It's a lot more hands on than you imagine, and a lot less scripting and coding.
posted by nathancaswell at 12:54 PM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


How long is that training gonna take

yea, you're totally right, it's not for everyone, and everyone picks it up at a different pace. I used to do training at the first company I worked at; at the time there were no colleges teaching digital compositing. We would select people on the basis of a portfolio of artwork, short films, whatnot, and only about half of the people who started the training would finish it.

sorry for the derail! This is a really great collection of pictures, thanks for posting it!
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 12:55 PM on June 7, 2011


These photographs are so amazing & evocative - thanks for posting this!
posted by PepperMax at 1:00 PM on June 7, 2011


Nathan: As I said, the story I told was probably apocryphal. I only told it because I thought it was amusing and I thought I was inadvertently leading everyone into a whole "CGI is teh evil" grudgematch, and I was trying to lighten the mood because I felt bad for starting a tangent.

I'll try to lighten it again by pointing out the photo of Dustin Hoffman and Sir Laurence Olivier in the article again. Funny!
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:01 PM on June 7, 2011


EmpressCallipygos: " 2. One of my favorite stories from the LORD OF THE RINGS special effects team concerns when they were programming the CGI for the big battle scenes. They decided to make some of the individual fighters run "independently" -- that is, the programming for those individual "fighters" consisted of "act in the most rational way possible."

Then when they ran the program, those "independent" fighters all ran like hell off the battlefield.
"

nathancaswell: " In general you are vastly overestimating the amount of "programming" that goes into VFX. Crowd simulation like the example you gave is pretty much it. You do some dynamics like wind, hair, cloth and water but it's not like everyone's sitting around writing code to make these FX. You're posing 3d figures and key-framing "by hand." You're painting stuff digitally frame by frame. You "cut" mattes. It's a lot more hands on than you imagine, and a lot less scripting and coding."

She's right, and it's not apocryphal.
Regelous created Massive, the special-effects program behind the colossal battles in The Lord of the Rings film trilogy. Using Massive, the Oscar-winning Weta Digital team pulled off anticipated scenes for the latest installment, The Two Towers -- such as the battle at Helm's Deep -- by digitally generating smart crowds to supplement the live action.

The computer-generated characters, called agents, have minds of their own.

"Every agent has its own choices and a complete brain," Regelous said. "The most important thing about making realistic crowds is making realistic individuals."

To bring J.R.R. Tolkien's books to life, gathering 70,000 or so tall, broad-shouldered extras, dressing them in elaborate armor and choreographing them slaughtering each other was out of the question. And that was just one scene from the prologue to The Fellowship of the Ring.

So in 1996, director Peter Jackson asked Regelous, who had worked on Jackson's film The Frighteners, to come up with a program that could handle the task.

In Massive, agents' brains -- which look like intricate flow charts -- define how they see and hear, how fast they run and how slowly they die. For the films, stunt actors' movements were recorded in the studio to enable the agents to wield weapons realistically, duck to avoid a sword, charge an enemy and fall off tower walls flailing.

Like real people, agents' body types, clothing and the weather influence their capabilities. Agents aren't robots, though. Each makes subtle responses to its surroundings with fuzzy logic rather than yes-no, on-off decisions. And every agent has thousands of brain nodes, such as their combat node, which has rules for their level of aggression.

When an animator places agents into a simulation, they're released to do what they will. It's not crowd control but anarchy. That's because each agent makes decisions from its point of view. Still, when properly genetically engineered, the right character will always win the fight.

"It's possible to rig fights, but it hasn't been done," Regelous said. "In the first test fight we had 1,000 silver guys and 1,000 golden guys. We set off the simulation, and in the distance you could see several guys running for the hills."

posted by zarq at 1:05 PM on June 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Fair enough, back to the issue at hand... I think we can all agree that practical effects are awesome and that there is still totally a place for them in movies.
posted by nathancaswell at 1:07 PM on June 7, 2011


*a note of panic creeping into her voice* Look! Dustin Hoffman! Standing behind Sir Laurence Olivier making a goofy face! funny!

Seriously: Zarq, I do appreciate it, but I'm also a little uncomfortable that I've Started A Thing and I'm trying to drop it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:07 PM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


nathancaswell: "In general you are vastly overestimating the amount of "programming" that goes into VFX. Crowd simulation like the example you gave is pretty much it."

If I recall correctly, the software they used for the crowds in LotR ("Massive") was originally coded for those specific films.

(I read the same story, EmpressCallipygos... and... I see zarq beat me to it. Funny stuff.)
posted by brundlefly at 1:08 PM on June 7, 2011


People.... I never said Massive didn't exist, or people don't use crowd simulators, or that VFX houses don't occasionally write their own tools from scratch. Just that the majority of FX work is done by hand.
posted by nathancaswell at 1:09 PM on June 7, 2011


I know. I wasn't really disagreeing with you.
posted by brundlefly at 1:10 PM on June 7, 2011


*Gets on top of soap box*

All Special Effects Of Any Kind Are Awesome!

*climbs down*

So I guess I'm the only one who thinks that face Dustin Hoffman is making is funny? 'kay.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:11 PM on June 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Coppola's Dracula had all of the effects done in camera or in front of it with no post-production trickery.

Likewise Jacob's Ladder, I believe.
posted by Trurl at 1:12 PM on June 7, 2011


My dad, who's now 78, worked in special effects for the film industry most of his life. He was a legacy; his father (whom I never met) did special effects too, including films like The Wizard of Oz.

We've never been crazy-close -- more so now that I'm older -- but I've always been proud of his job. All my life, it's evoked WHOA COOLs when I name some of his most famous films -- Harry and the Hendersons. Weird Science. North By Northwest (he built the cornfield! he was in the plane!). Magnolia (he made it rain frogs!). The Thornbirds (the wildfire!). Deep Blue Sea. Okay, maybe not that last one. Best of all, I liked to claim he was the real MacGyver, because he worked on the show for years, figuring out the best way to make things like Christmas ornaments explode.

He retired about 8 years ago, not by choice, but because of macular degeneration in his eyes. Bruce Almighty was his final film, for which he helped Red Sea-part a bowl of tomato soup. I imagine he'd still be working, if he could; but then again, I don't know if there's a place for old school guys like him anymore. It's astounding how CGI has transformed the industry since he left -- actual car crashes and explosions and model spaceships just aren't practical. I remember about five years ago, when he was invited to some kind of industry dinner, and he refused to go. When my mother pressed why, my dad (a man of a few words) burst out that didn't want those young guys looking at him like some old has-been.

It has to be brutal, watching technology move on, and your life's work and passion grow mostly obsolete. But whenever I think about it, I'm just so glad he was born when he was, and worked when he did -- that golden age when film was wholly hands-on, the explosions were real, and magicking ambulance crashes to life happened out in the sun, instead of at a desk.
posted by changeling at 1:13 PM on June 7, 2011 [15 favorites]


It is a pretty funny face.
posted by brundlefly at 1:13 PM on June 7, 2011


The effects in Coppola's Dracula are some of my favorite ever. Not a particularly good movie but the effects are incredible, particularly the intro.
posted by nathancaswell at 1:14 PM on June 7, 2011


Christ, the picture of Max Shreck lounging around on the set of Nosferatu is high-octane nightmare fuel.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 1:17 PM on June 7, 2011


EmpressCallipygos, it might make you feel better to check out how many special effects artists are involved in modern films. To pick a totally random example, because I happen to have just watched these credits, here's the full cast and crew for X-Men: First Class.

Check out the 70-odd people who worked on makeup effects ... the 100+ in the art department ... the two dozen special effects technicians ... the over 400 under Visual Effects, mostly with "artist" or "animator" or "painter" after their names ... the 16 more in the animation department ... the 40+ costume makers ...

It's no doubt true that the center of gravity in films has shifted from people who build and paint and sculpt things in real life to people who build and paint and sculpt things on computers. But it's still building and painting and sculpting, and there are still a heck of a lot of artists doing it on big films -- both digitally and by hand.

(Actually, it's interesting to think about all the other industries where computer skills are now essential. Car repair? Law? Architecture? Used book sales? Photography? Accounting? Cabinet making? Are there skilled industries where there's not a large advantage to learning computer tools?)
posted by jhc at 1:26 PM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Every 3d object in a movie is "sculpted" by someone. They're just working with virtual clay.

..Or sculpted the regular way and then scanned in.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:26 PM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Holy crap, changeling, your dad is Doug Hubbard?

Please tell him I said thank you.
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:28 PM on June 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


changeling: "Deep Blue Sea. Okay, maybe not that last one."

Don't you dare knock Deep Blue Sea!
posted by brundlefly at 1:38 PM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think what's happened here is Jar Jar Binks has almost single-handedly ruined digital effects for everybody, and Gollum can't cancel him out.
posted by Brocktoon at 1:40 PM on June 7, 2011


Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings actually had a lot more miniatures in it than a lot of people realize.

Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings actually had a lot more of everything both in it and not in it than a lot of people realize.

Shortly before Fellowship came out, there was an exhibition of the props and costumes in Toronto at Casa Loma. Why Toronto only, and why Casa Loma, I know not, but it was hard as a geek to pass up my chance to see The One Ring while it was in Professor Xavier's mansion. As well, in fall of 2001, the Lord of the Rings movies were in the hands of a guy who was known for The Frighteners and Heavenly Creatures, which were decent but lacked some of the, er, scale one might expect of LOTR. There was no way of knowing then if Fellowship might be a huge flop, and we would only get the other flicks as straight-to-video releases. And we had all been burned two years earlier with The Phantom Menace. It was hard to be confident then.

Anyway, the props and costumes are fantastically detailed. Bernard Hill mentioned in an interview that as Theoden, he wore several layers of clothing, all of it with intricate hand-stitching that would never be seen by a camera. He was not exaggerating: this stuff is intricate and detailed beyond your imaginations.

And more to the point, the level of care went into things we never saw onscreen at all: not just hidden layers of clothing or alternate versions of someone's helmet or whatever, but stuff that appears not at all. One thing that impressed me hugely at the time was Sauron's battle standard. The thing must have been twenty feet tall, formed of two or three huge branches spiked together. There were dark-coloured, torn and stained banners, rusted chains, and best of all, nine corroded crowns tangled up in the chains. Yes, the Nazguls' crowns.

I have seen all of the LOTR flicks on the big screen two or three times each, and have watched them that at least that many times on DVD on a sizable plasma TV. I have kept my eyes peeled in the Second Age prologue and the Pelennor Fields battles and I have still never seen that standard anywhere.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 1:43 PM on June 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


Turns out I really need to see Faust.
posted by villanelles at dawn at 1:44 PM on June 7, 2011


My take-away is that whether you do it digitally or not, there's absolutely no substitute for obsessive attention to detail. Whether you see the specific details or not, the concern for the details shows through, every time.
posted by mstokes650 at 1:47 PM on June 7, 2011


Jar Jar Binks would still have been shit if it was a dude in a rubber mask. CGI had nothing to do with it.
posted by IanMorr at 1:50 PM on June 7, 2011


Don't you dare knock Deep Blue Sea!

LOL. Okay, how about Jaws III: The Revenge?
posted by changeling at 1:59 PM on June 7, 2011


wait, oh lord, that was Jaws IV, wasn't it. not the fish's finest hour, that's for sure.
posted by changeling at 2:00 PM on June 7, 2011


Jar Jar Binks would still have been shit if it was a dude in a rubber mask. CGI had nothing to do with it.

If Lucas had no CGI, he or someone else in a position of influence might have realized way before it was too late that Jar Jar was going to be shit.
posted by The World Famous at 2:03 PM on June 7, 2011


changeling: "wait, oh lord, that was Jaws IV, wasn't it. not the fish's finest hour, that's for sure"

True, although according to Michael Caine it paid for a house that's very nice.
posted by brundlefly at 2:20 PM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ladies and gentlemen. I give you That is all
posted by Guish at 2:27 PM on June 7, 2011


Arse, I meant http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rel7NfI957A
posted by Guish at 2:27 PM on June 7, 2011


Oh just check out 'How to film the impossible' on Youtube. Lots of optical printing goodness. I'll shut up now :-(
posted by Guish at 2:30 PM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


ricochet: "I have kept my eyes peeled in the Second Age prologue and the Pelennor Fields battles and I have still never seen that standard anywhere"

Aragorn was filmed fighting Sauron in the final battle but in post-production he was replaced with the troll; possibly it accompanied him on the battlefield but got removed in the process?
posted by John Shaft at 2:43 PM on June 7, 2011


And more to the point, the level of care went into things we never saw onscreen at all

This is true of WETA's work in general.

When WETA Digital saw the pre-visualization of the biplane battle for King Kong, they knew that Jackson wanted to be able to fly the camera anywhere around the city. The only way to do that was digitally model the entire city.

They began by purchasing a commercially available dataset of modern New York that establishes to an accuracy of one meter the heights, shapes, and placements of the buidings in 3-dimensonal space. From another company, they obtained information on when and for what purpose each building had been built - allowing them to remove all buildings constructed after 1933.

This left empty spaces where tens of thousands of buildings needed to be added. By necessity, they wrote a computer program to generate them. The program selected from a library of architecural elements, tailoring its choices to the architectural styles of the respective neighborhoods.

60 to 100 recognizable buildings - like the Chrysler Building were modeled by hand. For the Empire State Building, they obtained the original blueprints. The digital building was then constructed in the same manner as the physical one - floor by floor. The actual Empire State Building was erected in 14 months. The digital model took 18 months.

And to make the city streets appropriately crowded, that Massive software developed for the battle scenes in The Lord of the Rings was used to create “agents” who perceive and react to their surroundings - i.e. the drivers are instructed in the rules of the road.

These people are heroes to me.
posted by Trurl at 2:44 PM on June 7, 2011 [8 favorites]


Also: Deep Blue Sea is great.
posted by Trurl at 2:45 PM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Seriously: Zarq, I do appreciate it, but I'm also a little uncomfortable that I've Started A Thing and I'm trying to drop it.

No worries. Wasn't trying to start an argument. :)

I own the Return of the King box set -- one of the many, many dvd extras included was that specific story, about how some of the programmed warriors (human) knew they were vastly outnumbered and couldn't win, so they ran away from the battle.

I thought that was pretty hilarious.
posted by zarq at 2:51 PM on June 7, 2011


I still would rather watch action movies made pre-CGI, there's just a hard physical look and feel that newer movies can't seem to capture. Go watch something like Sorcerer and imagine if it had been remade (I know it's a remake itself) in the last ten years. The weight and movement of the trucks would just look wrong. There's a reason that Nolan actually flipped a semi in Dark Knight instead of animating it.

The moment CGI became a negative thing for me, badly done CGI, anyway: Sam Raimi's Spiderman. I had problems with the script, too, but that's another topic. When Peter turns into Spidey, I think there's a few practical shots of Tobey McGuire swinging around, but for the most part it's a CGI Spidey, and it is awful. Watching CGI Spidey there is no sense of swinging, no sense of space, no sense of height, no sense of gravity. Spidey just swings around at impossible Gs, and it takes you right out of the movie. I wonder what a Richard Donner or Spielberg or Zemekis could've done with Spiderman back in the 80s.

I have been impressed with CGI since then, but I am wary now, very wary.
posted by zardoz at 2:55 PM on June 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


I stumbled into a practical effects job (mostly prop-building and costumes) for a little over a year in the 1990's. If the hours and pay hadn't been so predatory, I might still be doing it; it's a very engaging mix of practical problem solving, hackery, and craft. When you finish a project you have a physical thing you can hold in your hands, and even though it will probably beat to hell if not destroyed during shooting, it's a finished object that you have the satisfaction of having made.

I've never done anything with CGI effects and so I can't make a direct comparison, but I have spent every year since that job sitting in front of a computer and coding. Programming also involves problem solving, hackery, and craft but robs you of the satisfaction of having a thing you can hold in your hands and say "I made that!" That's not to say that there isn't an equal amount of skill and artistry required to be a good CGI artists, just to point out that it could be a hard adjustment for someone who likes running around a shop and working with their hands. I get a little wistful every time I watch Mythbusters!

I sometimes wonder why the digital effects in Terminator 2 and Jurassic Park, made almost 20 years ago, look better than so much of the crap made since. I'm not sure if it's because I remember how impressive they were at the time, or if they were just used more judiciously because every scene must have cost quite a bit more than it would now.
posted by usonian at 3:02 PM on June 7, 2011


zardoz - Ebert agrees with you about Spider-Man
The visuals here could have given an impression of the enormous weights and tensions involved, but instead the scene seems more like a bloodless storyboard of the idea. In other CGI scenes, Spidey swoops from great heights to street level and soars back up among the skyscrapers again with such dizzying speed that it seems less like a stunt than like a fast-forward version of a stunt.
I agree with him that Raimi redeemed himself with and Spider-Man 2
In the first movie I thought Spider-Man seemed to move with all the realism of a character in a cartoon. This time, as he swings from one skyscraper to another, he has more weight and dimension, and Raimi is able to seamlessly match the CGI and the human actors.
The first movie came out in 2002, the sequel in 2004. Did CGI change dramatically in two years? I doubt it. Like always, it comes down to having a solid script, director, and cast. When you have all three, you get Iron Man. When you don't, all the money in the world gets you Transformers 2.
posted by djb at 3:15 PM on June 7, 2011


I'd have loved to see a behind the scenes shot of the opening wireframe graphics from Escape from New York which were actually just green tape and a black-light on the model of New York they were using.

The cost of any kind of actual CG at the time was prohibitively expensive, and faking it was the only way to get the shot. Which I kind of love, because it turns the idea on its head: a practical model pretending to be CG instead of the other way around.
posted by quin at 3:20 PM on June 7, 2011 [7 favorites]


Metafilter: Now it's just a bunch of dudes at computers and who cares?
posted by fire&wings at 3:22 PM on June 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


there was an exhibition of the props and costumes in Toronto at Casa Loma

ooh I missed that one, but I got to see the one a year or so later at the planetarium, and wow, the costumes and props and everything were so lavish, just amazing
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 3:30 PM on June 7, 2011


I love the hairdryer in the Metropolis shot.

Since this is turning into a love-in for old movies, I may as well post these links here. I'd stick them on the front page, but I don't think I've got quite enough to make a really deep, best-of-the-web thread.

An organization is looking for help identifying old movies -- many of them silent and European. Write-up about the project here and link to the project here.
posted by sardonyx at 3:34 PM on June 7, 2011


Old-fashioned effects often amuse me when shots like these pull back to show how simply it was done. It's all done with camera angles and string! It's amazing that so much can be done with simple materials.

CG artists impress me in that they have so little access to their own work. They have to get the textures right without being able to feel what they're doing.

Sometimes the trick is that there is no trick, and that's potentially disturbing. According to those pictures, they actually built the navigator's room in Alien full scale, or discovered it.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 3:42 PM on June 7, 2011


Deep Blue Sea. Okay, maybe not that last one.

Deep Blue Sea : sharks :: Dragonslayer : dragons. The robo-sharks were just... yay! Bitey!
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:52 PM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


quin, that's a great anecdote about the Escape from New York wireframe.
posted by nathancaswell at 3:56 PM on June 7, 2011


Deep Blue Sea - in addition to its other pleasures - offers one of the classic "soundtrack raps from the rapper who acted in the movie".

This song shows LL hollaring over a cool, fast up-tempo beat that seems to give a real sense of the underwater terrors in which he raps about.
posted by Trurl at 4:01 PM on June 7, 2011


Try Acting Dear Boy...scroll down for hoffman pics and more!
posted by clavdivs at 4:42 PM on June 7, 2011


The first movie came out in 2002, the sequel in 2004. Did CGI change dramatically in two years? I doubt it. Like always, it comes down to having a solid script, director, and cast.

I was just listening to an interview with the director of Pixar's UP, who was talking the difference between the original Toy Story and Toy Story 3. The interviewer assumed the difference was the computing power available in 1995 and in 2010 must be very different. The director said that computing power didn't really make a big difference. The difference, the reason the CGI in Toy Story 3 looks so much better is that Pixar animators have had 15 years' experience in making these movies, and their technique just keeps getting better. Computers are faster now, to be sure, but the artistry is still the key thing.
posted by zardoz at 5:02 PM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


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posted by dunkadunc at 5:30 PM on June 7, 2011


"Deep Blue Sea. Okay, maybe not that last one."

I will always remember one scene with Samuel L. Jackson in that movie that had...very memorable special effects.
posted by A dead Quaker at 5:31 PM on June 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Me too, dunkadunc.
posted by waitangi at 5:39 PM on June 7, 2011


I love reading about old-school effects.
I was in a no-budget music video and I spend about 3 hours with a bunch of Jello stuck to the back of my head with hairclips.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 5:53 PM on June 7, 2011


The webpage doesn't show up now, but wait til you see it in post-production.
posted by maryr at 7:28 PM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


the opening wireframe graphics from Escape from New York

New York was cardboard boxes painted black, and that special effect was done by James Cameron. He told the story somewhere. I could have sworn he said he painted all the edges of the boxes, but reflective tape (mentioned in that wikipedia link) makes more sense.

Also, as I understand it, the picture is not from the opening of the movie, but the display on Snake's glider as he approaches the island.
posted by CarlRossi at 8:52 PM on June 7, 2011


A behind the scenes photo from Pan's Labyrinth.

Also, beyond the "fake CG" in Escape From NY, there's some generally great miniature work elsewhere in the film, especially for its budget. What springs to mind is the POV of Air Force One as it approaches New York. Those shots hold up really well.
posted by brundlefly at 8:44 AM on June 8, 2011


It's back up and there are some great shots. The one with Max Schreck is my favorite.
posted by 6550 at 7:37 PM on June 8, 2011


"It's only a model."
posted by banshee at 2:25 PM on June 9, 2011


SHHH!
posted by shakespeherian at 2:29 PM on June 9, 2011


The poster-child for 'fake CG' is 2001: A Space Odyssey. The wireframes you see on the little screens? Actual models made of wire, animated in stop-motion. The little screens? Not TVs, which would have flickered, but each one a separate 16mm film projector built into the set, their shutters synced electronically to the camera. Count the number of screens in the shuttle cabin. Imagine the heat build-up from that many projectors. Apparently the set caught fire more than once.

It's been said before, but Kubrick was insane.

The special issue of Cinefex devoted to a 2001 retrospective has a similar jaw-dropper on every page. Well worth tracking down.
posted by Hogshead at 6:45 PM on June 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


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