Digital Visual Effects in Cinema: The Seduction of Reality
Through screenings, lectures, and readings the course offers students the opportunity to learn the historical development of digital visual effects, engage with key theoretical debates that arise due to the digital turn, and to explore critical approaches and concepts that respond directly to the ongoing digitization of the cinematic medium. Beginning with an introduction to the history of visual effects up to the digital turn, the course will familiarize students with important developments in pre-digital film technologies.
This introduction to pre-digital effects will provide students with the background required to distinguish between practical and digital effects while gaining insight into the development of effects strategies used to create illusions, to animate fictional or extinct creatures, and to simulate environments.
From this foundation, the course will transition to an examination of digital visual effects by highlighting the emergence of digital technologies in Hollywood during the s. The initial unit will establish that digital visual effects do not simply create fantastical creatures and science fiction universes. The unit will introduce students to key visual effects strategies, such as digital backlots, digital matte paintings, and digital color correction. Moving beyond this introduction to digital visual effects, the course will examine competing theoretical discourses on realism and digital cinema that confront the anxiety that the digital turn creates surrounding the future of the cinematic medium.
The Digital Visual Effects in the Matrix – Bullet time
This examination will familiarize students with the important debates within digital film theory as well the readings will serve as a model for future theoretical research. This exploration will give students the opportunity to apply these concepts and debate their applicability to digital cinema as well the readings will serve as a model for their future film criticism. Recommended references: - Gress, Jon. The Language of New Media. London, UK: Wallflower Press, Special Effects: Still in Search of Wonder. Digital Imaging in Popular Cinema. Special Effects: History and Technique.
Digital Encounters. New York, NY: Routledge, Please speak to me, the instructor, if you miss a lecture, lab, or seminar — or if you anticipate missing one — and explain the circumstances. There will be lectures and screenings throughout the semester where attendance will be taken and this will be used to as one component of the participation grade. In addition, students will have the opportunity to submit short reflections or statements in some lectures where there is discussion.
This is to ensure everyone has the ability to gain marks that count towards the participation grade regardless of any difficulties students may have with public speaking. There is a film analysis due in week 4, 8, and 12, but students may submit their film analysis assignments earlier if they wish. In the written assignment students will analyze one 1 film from the recommend films from a particular week in that unit and use the required reading from that particular week to inform their analysis.
This will be discussed in greater detail throughout the semester, with specific suggestions for each unit. In addition, students are asked to list 5 references with a rationale for using each reference one sentence explaining the relevance for the paper. Students MUST submit a research proposal in order to submit a final essay. If a student receives a FAIL on the research proposal then they will be asked to resubmit a revised proposal within 2 weeks that takes into account the feedback they received from the seminar leader. However, the student will still need to have an approved proposal in order to submit the research paper — arrangements with the instructor must be made by the student to facilitate this.
The research paper will require students to conduct research on their selected subject and incorporate at least 5 secondary sources into their paper. Students will also need to include analysis of film style in one or more films in order to demonstrate, support, or clarify their argument.
More detail about the research paper and potential topics will be given in lecture during week four 4. Also discussed in this chapter is the persistent phenomenon of the uncanny valleythe unease in viewers provoked by failures of photorealism in digital characters. Film scholars have tended to discuss the uncanny in terms of Freuds essay and associated psychoanalytic concepts. Marker-based motion-capture systems do not generate enough facial data to satisfy this deep-level, hard-wired impulse in viewers.
The digital faces generated using such methods have been found wanting. Chapter 4 examines digital visual environmentssets, locations, and landscapesand the ways these can be orchestrated to convey narrative meaning. Digital environments blend such disparate image sources as live action and animation, still and moving photographic images, paintings in 2D and 3D, and objects modeled in computer space and textured with photographic or painted details.
Fashioning screen environments is the work of production design, employing a blend of miniature models, full- and partial-scale sets, matte paintings, real locations, and other sources for image compositing such as rear-screen projection during the classical studio era or front-screen projection in more recent years. In that period, the studio backlot furnished sets, streets, props, and locales needed for simulating story situations. These substituted for on-location lming. The digital era has established several areas of continuity with existing traditions of production design.
The digital backlot today sees computer-designed environments substituting for on-location lming and is a clear successor to the studio-crafted locales of previous decades.
Miniatures and matte paintings remain essential ingredients of production design, although today miniatures may be previsualized in digital terms before construction. Matte paintings exist in 2D, 2D, and 3D formats, depending on whether they are planar, a texture wrapping on digital geometry, or painted and animated. The chapter explores the areas of continuity and convergence between production design in the analog and digital eras. Case studies include comparison of the methods used to create nautical environments in two adventure lms about naval warfare, The Sea Hawk and Master and Commander Both are dry-dock movies, shot in the studio and not on location at sea, and the differences in their ability to create a virtual environment on screen tell us much about the expressive capabilities of the analog and digital tools used in creating them.
A continuing theme across the chapters is the idea that the digital toolbox affords lmmakers ways of crafting more persuasive and convincing effects, blending live action and synthetic image elements into scenes that have greater perceptual credibility than what optical printing in the analog era permitted. Thus digital effects are more sensually immersive than their analog counterparts; lighting is organic and consistent across the layers of an image blend, and scene action can be staged with much greater Z-axis articulation than in the analog era, when the image planes on which live action, miniatures, and stop-motion puppetry were lmed remained visibly separate.
Chapter 5 explores the immersive appeals of digital effects, not by the familiar route of connecting them to notions of spectacle or spectacular entertainment, but in terms of the ways that digital tools expand the amount of visual information that can be obtained and then manipulated inside the image.
I show how methods of photogrammetry, image-based lighting, and HDRi high dynamic range images create new forms of indexicality within cinema. Image-based lighting, for example, enables lmmakers to light a digital environment or character with the same light sources and values as found in a real location or set with live actors. It provides a means of bridging the two domains, an ongoing requisite of effects work. The shift from planar cinema, with its image projected onto a at viewing surface, to stereoscopic cinema represents a signicant move toward greater visual immersion for the viewer.
Although stereoscopic cinema has existed in one form or another from the inception of the medium, celluloid lm provided a awed basis on which to construct it, and stereoscopy never established itself as an accepted feature of popular lm. Digital stereoscopic projection solved the key problems that beset celluloid, and today 3D cinema is a ourishing medium. It is also potentially the most far-reaching of the digital effects technologies examined in this book because, properly used, it elicits a different aesthetic conguration of the medium.
Shooting and editing for stereoscopy requires a distinct approach from lmmakers to what is needed in planar cinema. The chapter concludes by examining the aesthetics of stereoscopic cinema. Digital methods have given lmmakers a new set of tools to manipulate images. Filmmakers have been manipulating images for more than a century, and in this respect little in cinema has changed. Although I use the terms CG and CGI for computer-generated and computer-generated images because these have become standard descriptors, they remain very poor designators.
Computer-generated implies that a computer created the image, which clearly is a false condition. Computers carry out the tasks they are given, and images are crafted as always by users, many of whom are disciplined and keenly imaginative artists. When I use the term CG, therefore, it should not be taken as a descriptor of coldly manipulative, soulless, mechanical imaging processes, which is one of the contexts in which digital imaging is sometimes understood. My intent is not to practice extensive critical exegesis of themes in movies that employ digital effects.
Much ne work is being done in that regard. Kristen Whissels account of the use of Massive software to generate hordes of thousands in movies such as The Lord of the Rings, Troy , and I, Robot is a compelling interpretation of this visual trope. While I engage in an extensive amount of aesthetic analysis in this book, I am less interested in extrapolating social or psychological themes from groups of movies that employ visual effects than in providing an account of what lmmakers are doing, what toolsets they have available, how these relate to earlier traditions of visual effects, and how the era of digital imaging in cinema connects with and departs from the photochemical medium that has been the traditional format.
My work is thus a formalist and aesthetic and theoretical analysis of imaging tools rather than an exegesis of macroscopic thematic issues. What the digital era has altered and brought forth in new forms are imaging tools. A rst task for scholars is to contemplate these tools, understand them, and connect them with lmmaking across the century and beyond, during which moviemakers have crafted synthetic image blends to stand in for worlds, characters, and story situations.
James Cameron described his efforts on Avatar as the seduction of reality, meaning that he wanted to create an experience so detailed and textured that audiences could surrender completely to it. This seduction is not predicated upon an impulse to betray or abandon reality but rather to beguile it so as to draw close, study and emulate it, and even transcend it. Examining cinemas landscapes through the digital.
Numbers have transformed and enlivened pictures. Digital methods bridge the analog era while taking viewers to new thresholds of optical experience. The themes enunciated by digital effects movies are perhaps less important in drawing viewers to them than are the new optical domains on display. These new visual designs are the subject of this book, along with a fans speculations about their appeal. The digital era in cinema challenges our understanding of the medium and not simply because of the shift to electronics from celluloid. It challenges us to think anew about the nature of realism in cinema and about the conjunction between art and science, as these domains collaborate in the design and use of technologies that make possible the creation of a new class of images, ones that have a transformative effect on existing media and offer viewers opportunities to enter new optical domains.
As Barbara Maria Stafford points out, visual technologies are tools for transformation and revelation [and] expand human consciousness. As Scott Bukatman notes, The special effects of contemporary cinema are. Digital visual effects come to us by way of the phenakistiscope. Nothing ever happens for the rst time in lm history, and we can learn about contemporary imaging modes by keeping in mind the bridge between art and science that gave birth to the movies.
This will enable us to chart a different investigative direction into digital cinema than more familiar ones that equate visual effects with the provision of spectacle and that regard effects as being mostly incompatible with realism. Before taking up these topics, I offer in this chapter some necessary historical and theoretical background. I begin by examining the arrival of cinemas digital era by tracing the development of computer graphics and their application to cinema, paying particular attention to the achievements Visual effects often are equated with eye-popping spectacle, but digital tools have enlarged domains in which effects operate and have enabled lmmakers to achieve greater levels of realism in representing a world on screen.
The Mask , New Line Cinema. Frame enlargement. I then explore the union of art and science in cinemas prehistory and its relevance for understanding digital visual effects as more than spectacle. I conclude by examining the complexity of viewer response to pictorial illusion in ways that inect the construction of visual effects. The period saw a burgeoning interest among academics and industry professionals in engineering, electronics, and computer science to extend the computers capabilities, using them to draw, paint, model solid objects, and even make lms.
As many of the algorithms and procedures basic to computer imaging were developed, the available computer memory and its prohibitive cost meant that implementing these breakthroughs in a high-resolution medium like cinema remained years away. Computational power, however, was not the only constraint.
The behavior of natural phenomena needed research and study from the standpoint of computer modeling. As a SIGGRAPH roundtable on the simulation of natural phenomena noted, Most items in nature, trees, clouds, re and comets being some examples, have not been displayed realistically in computer graphics. Previous attempts at realism have dealt with the appearance of the surfaces being modeled, in terms of their illumination or relief. However, it appears that natural phenomena will require more research into the fundamental way things occur in nature, and in terms of computer graphics, their representation will build on previous work, but will still require new modeling techniques.
The high cost of computing and such lack of understanding of the intricacies of the picture-generating software that would be needed for an effective computer graphics system impeded progress. Thus it is in the early s that computer graphics and feature lmmaking begin to intersect in major and substantial ways, although Hollywood was slow to adopt digital imagery in this period. By contrast, computer-generated imagery was more plentiful on broadcast television, where it appeared in advertising and as corporate logos.
Corporate advertising budgets could afford the cost-per-minute expenditures that made short CGI effects feasible; Hollywood as yet could not. Moreover, lm was more unforgiving of digital artifacts than the low-resolution medium of television. Digitally animated artwork graced the opening of Entertainment Tonight in and ABCs Winter Olympics coverage the following year, and ying logos appeared on the nightly network newscasts and broadcasts of National Football League games. Army during World War II for use in ballistics research.
Military contracting provided a powerful incentive for the initial research on digital. The Whirlwind, developed for the U. Navy in and adopted in a later version by the Air Force in its SAGE air defense program, was the rst digital computer that displayed real-time graphics on an oscilloscope screen. Data entry was interactive. Using a light pen, Air Force personnel could input instructions to the computer to track specic aircraft, making it the rst interactive computer graphics system.
Although the initial developments in high-power computing occurred in a military and industrial context, the potential to use computers for aesthetic ends swiftly emerged. As programming languages such as FORTRAN and BASIC enabled computers to perform an increasing variety of tasks, artists as well as mathematicians and engineers were drawn to the idea of creating graphics via computer. Charles Csuri, a computer scientist at Ohio State University, predicted that art and science would draw closer together.
The frontiers of knowledge in computer research offer a glimpse into the future role of the artist. The computer, which handles fantastic amounts of data for processing, brings the artist close to the scientist. Both can now use the same disciplines and knowledge in different ways. Bell Labs developed a computer animation system in and used it to produce lms by avant-garde lmmaker Stan VanDerBeek. John Whitney, another cinema artist, embraced digital imaging. After making a series of experimental lms in the s, Whitney began to build what he termed mechanical drawing machines, assembled from discarded military hardware, to create and photograph abstract patterns of motion.
In he rebuilt an army surplus mechanical nondigital computer that had been used in an anti-aircraft gun system so that he could use it to control a camera thus taking a major step along the path to motion-control cinematography. He used it to mechanically orbit a strip of lm negative displaying the number and lmed these orbits frame by frame, graphically transforming the numbers into abstract shapes and creating streaks of colored light in a lm entitled Catalog Whitney believed that computers offered a revolution in the visual arts, the possibility of creating a liquid architecture, one in which computer manipulation of motion patterns could enable him to nd visual equivalents.
He wrote about this objective in his book Digital Harmony, where he observed that the graphic domain enabled by computers would be of historic proportions. Before us lies an optical domain which may prove to be quite as vast as the historic world of music. The introduction of photographythe new medium of the last centuryhelped to drive painting away from representation, but it did not drive out painting. What the new creative computer medium will do to all of the art formspainting, writing, dance, music, moviesshould be exciting to observe. It employed a graphical user interface GUI and a light pen to enable simple line drawing on a cathode ray tube.
In his paper Sketchpad: A Man-Machine Graphical Communication System, Sutherland wrote, The Sketchpad system makes it possible for a man and a computer to converse rapidly through the medium of line drawings. Heretofore, most interaction between man and computers has been slowed down by the need to reduce all communication to written statements that can be typed. The Sketchpad system, by eliminating typed statements except for legends in favor of line drawings, opens up a new area of man-machine communication. Vector systems draw simple lines rather than carrying out complex operations directly on pixels the smallest picture unit of a digital image or display , as do raster displays.
Sutherland aimed to move toward a raster-based graphics system where. Raster scanning was the technology employed on standard television CRTs. The barrier it presented to computer imaging was the memory necessary for storing an entire screens worth of pixel information. ARPA wanted them to develop a ight simulator for pilot training, but this required raster graphics in order to represent landscape surfaces.
The primitive lines supplied by vector graphics were insufcient for displaying the tonal and textural detail needed for landscape representation. A raster system required both enough memory what soon would be called a frame buffer to store the pixel information and also programs for manipulating it, which didnt yet exist.
Research at Utah, therefore, went into working toward raster graphics with a usable frame buffer and into creating, modeling, and lighting 3D objects in computer space.
By the end of the s, it was possible to build wireframe models in the computer and subject them to transformations and rotations. Subsequent research in the s went toward developing the surface-level algorithms necessary for representing textures, tones, shadows, and highlights. Initial computer paint systems also developed in this period, enabling artists to work directly on pixels. At Xerox, Shoup created Superpaint, the rst 8-bit paint system. Bit depth measures the amount of color resolution contained in a computer image according to the number of bits assigned to each component. A bit comprises the binary distinction 0 or 1.
An 8-bit system can display colors. Breakthroughs at MIT in the s included Steven Coonss work on surface patches, a formulation for representing curved surfaces as found on the hull of a ship or fuselage of an airplane. Curves were a problem for wireframe models of objects because these were built in the computer using polygons, simple, closed plane shapes that had hard edges and vertices. Polygons were not very accurate in representing curved surfaces.
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Coonss formulation of surface patches enabled the representation of more complex shapes than polygons afforded, and he envisioned his mathematical. The computer would assume the geometric calculations and number crunching and leave the user free to be a sculptor assisted by an exquisitely skillful mechanical slave. His program enabled a computer to process a photograph into a line drawing, transform the line drawing into a three-dimensional representation and, nally, display the three-dimensional structure with all the hidden lines removed, from any point of view.
Developments like hiding occluded surfaces required the accumulation of complex knowledge about dimensional transformation; to appreciate this, one needs to consider the differences between painting on a 2D surface and computer modeling. The painter creates an illusion of depth, but the suggested recession of objects doesnt truly exist because the canvas is a at surface. The painter creates an impression of 3D space, but the computer artist must create that space.
The computer artist must de ne and then control true three-dimensional relationships and be able to translate that information accurately to the terms of a 2D viewing surface. This is no simple task, and its challenges help explain why the algorithms for a realistic representation of space in computer images were relatively slow in coming. Robert Rivlin perceptively expressed the problem this way: For the artist, a three-dimensional object or landscape portrayed on a twodimensional surface merely has to look real.
But a model in the computer database must, for all intents and purposes, actually simulate the properties of a three-dimensional object in nature. The single view of an object in a painting or drawing is not enough for an interactive three-dimensional computer-graphics display. Interested in making animated movies, Shure wanted to nd ways of using computers to ameliorate problems that existed in traditional cel animation, such as the labor-intensive process of animating all frames instead of simply the keyframes with a computer handling the rest.
Schure recruited a team of computer graphics specialists, some from the program at Utah, to research methods of digital animation that could be employed to produce a feature-length film. One of the Utah graduates, Edwin Catmull, had already created a short 3D animationHand by using his own hand as a source for 3D modeling. As noted, solid objects in computers were beset by the hard edges and sharp corners that derived from the underlying polygons used to make them, and Catmulls research extended Coonss methods for smoothing edges and surfaces.
Catmull developed algorithms generating curved parallelograms assembled in patches or clusters to quickly build smooth, curved surfaces on an object, and he also helped implement the process of wrapping textures onto a geometric model texture mapping. Catmulls work and career exemplify the intersection of science and art manifest by the research in computer graphics. He went on to become president of Pixar Animation Studios. The NYIT researchers examined basic problems of lighting and texturing that needed solving in order to produce real-looking images from objects modeled in the computer.
Recognizing that computer imaging needed the ability to capture translucent surfaces, Catmull and Alvy Ray Smith, another researcher at NYIT, developed the alpha channel, which species an objects degree of opacity. In addition to the red, blue, and green channels, the fourth, alpha, channel describes not how colorful a pixel is but how transparent it is. In , Smith had designed the rst bit paint system, capable of generating 16 million colors. Adding a fourth component or channel raised a bit image to a 32bit image. Although this required more computing power, manipulations of opacity or translucence enabled animators to make huge strides forward in their abilities to mimic the behavior of light and its interactions with solid, gaseous, and liquid objects.
The alpha channel, for example, helped make possible the convincing interactions of actress Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio with the liquid pseudopod in The Abyss , especially during that moment when her character pokes the liquid creature with a nger. Made of seawater, the pseudopod is translucent, and the viewer sees the characters finger inside the creature, whose pixels have been rendered as semitransparent. Beyond giving computer graphics a stronger perceptual anchoring in the physical behavior of light, the alpha channel gave lmmakers another benet.
It provided an effective mechanism for matte extraction since it can be used to generate high-contrast images. Matte extraction has been an essential element of optical and now digital compositing throughout the history of cinema, and the alpha channel provided a new tool to augment existing means of pulling mattes. At mid-decade the research developing around computer animation intersected with feature lmmaking.
The footage appeared on a monitor in the background of a shot. These debuts did not jolt Hollywood. Few even seemed to notice. But two powerful Hollywood guresGeorge Lucas and Francis Coppolahad a keen interest in using digital tools to simplify the labor and extend the creative possibilities of lmmaking, and, as Mark Rubin shows in Droidmaker, his history of Lucass role in digitizing Hollywood, they pursued their interests in ways that altered the industry.
Coppolas visions were grander and more epic than Lucass, but his methods also were more scattershot and left less of a legacy. Lucas funded the systematic research that led to the eye-popping CGI with which he became forever after associated, an ironic outcome given his original intentions. Instead of funding research with its delayed gratications, Coppola wanted to explore immediate applications of video and computers to lmmaking. He edited Apocalypse Now on videotape, for example, but then found he had no reliable way of translating his edits to lm because of the different frame rates that operated in each medium.
Lucas was uninterested in digital tools as a means to create special effects; he wanted to streamline lm editing by removing the tedium of recording and tracking edge numbers in order to nd shots. A computer could keep track of edge numbers more efciently, and the random access permitted by a nonlinear system could speed the process of nding shots in the mass of footage. Coppolas approach was freewheeling. While it generated useful tools, such as the process of video assist that he used on One from the Heart , it didnt have the lasting power that an institutional presence can achieve.
Lucas, by contrast, had a company, and he was willing to fund a program of pure research focusing on digital applications in lm production. Lucas had three objectives in funding the research. These were to develop a nonlinear editing system, a complementary system for digitally processing and mixing sound, and a digital film printer to replace existing optical printers. There was no point in developing computer graphics for lm unless.
This was the objective that a digital lm printer would achieve. Lucass pursuit of nonlinear editing eventually yielded the EditDroid at mid-decade, a random access but analog, not digital method using laserdiscs as the storage medium for raw footage. It was similar to the CMX , which had been marketed in the early s to broadcasters, employing a computer interface and stacks of videodiscs containing dubs of videotape. But EditDroid never had a commercial future because by Avid and EMC2 digital nonlinear editing systems came on the market, followed by Lightworks.
In Adobe released its Premiere digital editor to the consumer market. In just a few more years digital editing held a signicant and established place in Hollywoods postproduction processes, making editing the rst domain to go digital and be accepted by the industry as a professional standard. Lucasfilm had a working ASP Audio Signal Processor by , and although lm sound remained analog until when Dick Tracy became the rst lm released with a digital soundtrack , Lucaslm used the ASP to create multichannel effects for Return of the Jedi and to mix sound digitally.
The digital lm printer and its associated computer and graphics projects evolved into Pixar a name coined as a sexy version of pixel. Pixar ofcials wanted to pursue animated lms, but Lucas did not. The chief graphics personnel left Lucaslm to go with the new company, where they pioneered digitally animated feature lms beginning with Toy Story It premiered at that years SIGGRAPH conference and was notable for containing a convincing rendition of motion blur, an element of photorealism that digital animators had long sought.
Shortly after the break with Lucaslm, Pixar released a software package that became widely used throughout the computer graphics industry. RenderMan performed a comprehensive set of calculations that were needed in renderinglighting, texturing, and adding other 3D effectsto wireframe models. The software calculated the physical properties of the digital set, its distances and layout, the positioning of digital characters, and the virtual camera along with its focal length, and then added appropriate lighting effects and shadows.
RenderMan helped create the shimmery T robot in Terminator 2, penguins in Batman Returns , the ballroom in Beauty and the Beast , and dinosaurs in Jurassic Park. The Phantom Menace was shot partly on lm because high-speed HD video needed for effects work wasnt yet viable. He used an improved version of Sonys camera on the next installment, Revenge of the Sith Panavision introduced its own digital camera in , the Genesis, capable of accommodating Panavisions standard line of 35mm lm lenses. Superman Returns , Flyboys , Apocalypto , and many other lms have been shot with the Genesis.
Lucas did not singlehandedly move feature cinematography into a digital realm, however. Cinematographer John Bailey had already shot The Anniversary Party on digital video, and methods of digitally grading lm images to adjust color and other tonal values were employed on Pleasantville and O Brother, Where Art Thou? But Lucas and his company were the powerhouse, and his efforts in taking cinematography in a digital direction helped to establish digital image capture as a professional industry standard. Other major filmmakers swiftly identified themselves with digital image capture.
Although digital effects were not part of George Lucass original vision, the effects created by the artists at ILM became widely identied with the lmmaker and his company as its primary product and inuence on cinema at large. In light of this popular legacy, interestingly, Lucas was relatively slow to incorporate digital effects into his own lms.
Star Wars included a brief 3D computer graphic visualizing the planned attack on the Death Star. Other computer screens in the lm displaying graphics were animated by hand. The innovative computer work on Star Wars lay not in digital effects but in motion-control cinematography. A computer-controlled camera made multiple, exactly repeatable passes, photographing a model numerous times to create the layers of elements needed for an effects shot.
But ILM demurred, the effects shot was never used, and the film contained no computer graphics. The sequel, Return of the Jedi, used only a small amount of digital animation to simulate graphics displays. By contrast, during this period the major digital effects showcases were in lms made by other production companies, some of which ILM worked on as a contractor. It contained the rst application in a theatrical lm of a digital paint system, a newly created bit four channel program.
A wave of re sweeps across the planet, leading to a lush rebirthing process on a global scale. Previous instances of digital graphics, as used in Star Wars, Future World, or s Looker, did not aim to simulate a photographic or an organic reality. They looked like what they wereschematic computer imagesand functioned in the scenes as what they wereprimitive images displayed on computer monitors that the characters in the scene were viewing. The Genesis sequence is also viewed by characters in the scene on a monitor, but it does not resemble primitive vector graphics.
The Genesis sequence is cinemas first attempt to simulate properties of organic matter in a photographically convincing manner, one not intended to look like a computer graphic, as did the applications in earlier films. The sequence broke ground by using two relatively new modeling proceduresparticle systems and fractal geometry. The sequence included such difficult-to-animate objects as fire, sparks, smoke, and clouds, and these were treated as particle systems, dynamic aggregates manifesting their own behavioral laws, spawning or spreading in the case of re at a known rate and subject to the inuence of wind and gravity.
This was a different approach than the standard used to animate solid objects, which involved building polygon models and then texturing them. William Reeves, the Lucaslm animator who created the wave of re, explained the concept of particle systems in a paper prepared for the Association of Computing Machinery. He noted that fuzzy objectsclouds, smoke, water, rehad proven difcult to model using existing techniques.
These fuzzy objects do not have smooth, well-dened, and shiny surfaces; instead their surfaces are irregular, complex, and ill dened. We are interested in their dynamic and uid changes in shape and appearance. The particle system is uid, not static, with new particles born and old ones dying. The laws governing an objects shape and behavior are not xed and deterministic. They are stochastic, that is, a degree of randomness is included.
This gives the particle system the appearance of being alive, dynamic. Treating the particles as point light sources enabled elaborate painting effects. When many particles covered a pixel, as was the case near the center and base of each explosion, the red component was quickly clamped at full intensity and the green component increased to.
Thus, the heart of the explosion had a hot yellow-orange glow which faded off to shades of red elsewhere. The rate at which a particles color changed simulated the cooling of a glowing piece of some hypothetical material. These were built as fractals using stochastic processes, drawing on the skills of Loren Carpenter, a member of Lucaslms computer group working on the sequence but formerly a Boeing employee who had used computers to make aircraft drawings and graphics for ight simulators. Entitled Vol Libre, Carpenters lm showed traveling aerial views of mountains and valleys, with appropriately scaled object resolutions changing according to camera distance.
As Carpenter wrote in his SIGGRAPH paper, Fractals are a class of highly irregular shapes that have myriad counterparts in the real world, such as islands, river networks, turbulence, and snowakes. Selfsimilarity refers to the property of a form that remains unaltered through changes in scale. Because each part of a fractal is structurally like the others, they can be recursively subdivided to change scale or to create new objects.
Introducing a degree of randomness into the structures enables the artist to simulate an organic look by making edges and shapes appear rough and irregular. Carpenter had been inspired by Benoit Mandelbrots book The Fractal Geometry of Nature, in which the mathematician argued that these formulas organized many organic, natural forms. Cinefex writer Joe Fordham points out that when Mandelbrot passed away, computer graphics artists mourned him as one of their founding fathers.
The Genesis sequence brought this application to a much wider audience than had Vol Libre, and it was the rst stand-alone, all-digital sequence to appear in a feature lm. A few months after The Wrath of Khan opened, Disney released Tron, the second prominent industry feature to showcase computer graphics. The lm portrays a computer specialist who is bodily transported into the digital world of a mainframe computer, where he has a series of adventures in a tyrannical electronic world.
The cleverest sequence in the lm occurs during this transporting. As Kevin Flynn Jeff Bridges is scanned into the computer, he is converted into a wireframe model composed of a series of polygons,. Triple-I and several other companies not including Lucasfilm created the digital effects, which were more plentiful than in any previous lmfteen minutes of all-digital imagery and an additional twenty-ve minutes composited with live action. Unlike the Genesis sequence in The Wrath of Khan, however, the effects do not emulate photorealism or an organic world. Because the narrative premise is that the hero is inside a computer, the landscapes are meant to look electronic rather than natural.
The viewer is intended to see that they are not real. Thus, they lack texturing and modeled lighting and look like vector graphics, composed of hard, clear, geometrically simple lines instead of analog surfaces. This look was probably unappealing to a wide audience in comparison with the kind of photorealism that computer graphics in cinema have generally aimed to emulate.
Although the lms box ofce performance was not poor, critical reviews were tepid and the industry perceived the film as a failure. At least, that is, initially. Tron gained a cult following in the decades after its release, one sufciently devoted to the lm that Disney produced a sequel, Tron: Legacy , whose 3D digital design softened the hard and unappealing vector graphics-look of the original and used the art of motion capture that had matured during the intervening years.
Hollywood continued exploring digital effects in feature lms but without the boxofce success that could be galvanizing and industry-changing. The level of image control achieved in the watery pseudopod crossed thresholds in digital animation, but The Abyss performed poorly at the domestic box ofce. Digital effects remained expensive, and no lm had yet demonstrated conclusively that the artistic results of such expense could in themselves command wide popular appeal.
Spielbergs Dinosaurs. Terminator 2 was the rst blockbuster to carry extensive digital effects. Sometimes this was for showy ends, as in the outr contortions a turned-around head, a giant hole in the chest visited upon Meryl Streeps character in Death Becomes Her , but in other cases, such as the Clint Eastwood thriller In the Line of Fire , crowdaugmentation effects were unobtrusive and dramatically realistic.
While the early s saw an uptick in the use of computer graphics in feature lms,. Terminator 2 , Carolco Pictures was the rst blockbuster to feature extensive digital effects, but it was Steven Spielbergs Jurassic Park that galvanized the industry.
It met with a smashing box ofce reception. Partly this was attributable to the enduring popularity of dinosaurs, which have a long history in fantasy lms, going back at least to Willis OBriens work on The Lost World , where stop-motion animation brought miniature puppets to life. With his unerring commercial instincts, Steven Spielberg tapped into this enduring fascination. But the lms digital aura also worked in its favor. A carefully orchestrated marketing campaign promoted the lms use of digital images and promised viewers they would see dinosaurs that were more vivid and lifelike than any they had seen before in the movies.
This aura was enticing, alluringit promised viewers a radically new experience, and dinosaurs were the perfect vehicle for launching an era of unprecedentedly vivid visual effects.
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Such promises, of course, can backfire if a film does not follow through. But Jurassic Park did honor its claim to give audiences a radically new experience. Its dinosaurs were remarkably vivid, and if the storyline in the lm seemed a bit mechanical and the characters relatively lacking in psychological depth, the main objective held just ne, which was to engineer a series of narrative situations that would place the characters in jeopardy from prehistoric beasts. Movies like this tend to be about one thingrun from the dinosaurs!
Its mix of visual effects technologies made Jurassic Park a perfect lm to usher in a new era of electronic imaging capabilities.
It is an appropriately transitional lm because it mixes old and new in expert and exhilarating. Although it is now and forever branded as a CGI lm, there are only about fty computer graphics shots in the movie. Critics and scholars tend to describe the lm as if every dinosaur seen on screen came out of a computer, but most scenes involving dinosaurs feature a blend of traditional effects elements and digital ones.
In this respect, the lm runs counter to claims that digital technology will drive out more traditional effects tools. Voicing anxieties in the lm industry that were prevalent in the period of the early s, Michelle Pierson wrote that the techniques of visual effects animation are being lost to CGI. CGI happily coexists with the traditional techniques of cinemamodels, stop motion, animatronics, location lmingas Coraline ,The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and Inception demonstrate.
Designing Inception, director Christopher Nolan stressed the value of on-location lming and practical effects accomplished in-camera and with physical sets and props. These were extended with digital tools. Real locations with actors Leonardo DiCaprio and Ellen Page included Paris streets, which were then treated digitally for a spectacular scene in which the urban environment folds up into a cube containing the actors.
Nolan wanted to achieve a tactile realism and felt that only by blending physical stunts and effects with digital ones could he attain this objective. The emotional connection in E. Cinefex writer Fordham points to another example: I think Teddy in A. Articial Intelligence is a more recent candidate to prove that there is still a place for practical puppets on a movie set. They made a couple of full CG versions for wide ambulatory shots, but he was brilliantly and perfectly realized by the Stan Winston team, and I would not conceive of him being done any other way todayhe was supposed to be a ratty-looking but supersophisticated mechanical bear, and I think it would have just felt wrong if hed been done entirely as CG.
Indeed, a signicant measure of the lms artistry is its canny and often imperceptible blend of diverse effects technologies. Digital tools have not replaced physical props and models in the creation of effects images. Christopher Nolan used digital tools as extensions of real locations and physical stunts throughout Inception , Warner Bros. That scene ends with the giant T-Rex gobbling up a gallimimus. An extended sequence of digital animation comes at the end of the lm when the T-Rex attacks two velociraptors in the parks Visitors Center, but it is preceded by shots of the raptors menacing Grant, Sattler, and the kids that are done with animatronic models.
Every other dinosaur scene in the lm is done either with animatronics only or as a blend of shots featuring animatronics and CGI. Spielberg originally planned for the lm to be done with full-size robotic dinosaurs and stop-motion puppets, but this proved unfeasible. Animatronic models are built with motors and cables and pulleys so they can simulate character behavior. One of the most striking of these models is the ailing triceratops that Grant and Sattler nd lying on its side.
The model was twenty-ve feet long and constructed of plywood, covered with clay and foam latex skin modeled to simulate the detailing and texturing of actual triceratops skin. The model was built with eyes that blinked, a jaw and tongue that moved, and an expandable rib cage to simulate breathing. The artistry is extraordinary, and the illusion that it creates of an ailing triceratops is overwhelmingly persuasive, so much so that many of the lms viewers may have believed it to be a digital effect.
By contrast, the animatronic T-Rex was modeled in sectionsseparate. A huge twenty-foot-tall model was constructed for a few shots used in a nighttime attack sequence. For a long while, Phil Tippett and other animators at ILM had been experimenting with methods of introducing motion blur into stop-motion puppetry.
These methods eventually earned the name Go-Motion. Motion blur is an artifact of the cameras way of seeing. Motion pictures capture a moving subject as a series of still frame photographs, each of which freezes the action, blurring the image to a degree that depends on the cameras shutter speed. As used in lms like King Kong , stop-motion animation lacked motion blur because puppets were filmed in stationary positions, then reanimated and lmed again in a stationary position. The absence of motion blur was a giveaway that the animated puppets and the live actors in a composited shot had not been lmed at the same time or inhabited the same space.
ILMs interest in correcting this facet of stop-motion animation was sustained and intense. On Star Wars, computer-driven motion control cameras executed moves around stationary models of spaceships and lmed them a frame at a time, capturing motion blur because the camera was moving when its shutter was open. On The Empire Strikes Back, the wooly tauntans were lmed as miniature puppets that were moved slightly during stop-frame filming to produce a simulation of motion blur.
Phil Tippett worked on these scenes and also on those in Dragonslayer , where a more elaborate, computer-controlled mechanism was used to move the puppet during lming. Spielberg had planned to use Go-Motion puppetry for Jurassic Park, but ILM, which had been retained by the production to create and animate the gallimimus sequence, ran tests indicating that digital motion blur could be effectively applied to standard stop-motion animation; further tests suggested that a full-scale CG dinosaur could be built in the computer with the requisite personality and behavioral nuances to give a compelling performance.
Spielberg put the line in his lm and recruited Phil to oversee the performance of CGI dinosaurs. But a digital character, made of skin and bone and blood, giving a performance as the T-Rex and the raptors do was another thing entirely. An organic character performance digitally created was something new, but Spielberg was impressed with the ILM tests and boldly decided to dispense with plans for Go-Motion and instead do. Tippett remained on the production to oversee the animated performances of the CG dinosaurs.
His animators used a digital input device that translated handanimated puppet moves to a computer model that would be used for a CG creature. The digital input device or dino-input-device was a robust way of connecting traditional effects techniques with CGI. Anything that could not be done live on the set using the animatronics would be done digitally. In practice, this often meant that elaborate, complicated, or fast full-body dinosaur movements would be digital, while the models would be used for partial views of a creature, as when the T-Rex head comes into frame or the raptor feet come down in close-up on the parks kitchen oor.
The lms blending of these methods is extraordinary and subtle, even across back-to-back shots that switch from a sculpted model to a digital creature. The T-Rex attack on two park vehicles is one of the lms major set-pieces, and Spielberg films much of the action from the viewpoint of characters trapped in the vehicles as the monster threatens them. The T-Rex appears rst as a Stan Winston animatronic, a partial body model. The head rises into view above the foliage surrounding the parks electrified fence.
Then it vanishes back into the jungle, and when the T-Rex next appears, it does so as a digital creature seen full body, breaking through the fence and striding between the two vehicles. Spielberg cuts to a close-up of Grant and Ian Malcolm Jeff Goldblum in one vehicle looking off-frame, then cuts to another view inside the vehicle as the digital T-Rex stalks past the front of the. The dinosaurs in Jurassic Park , Universal Pictures are a brilliant blend of animatronic models and digital animation. When it next appears, we again see it outside the windows of Grant and Malcolms vehicle, but this time in a single shot that blends an animatronic model and a digital rendition of the character.
Its head looms into viewthe animatronic modeland as its attention is drawn to a ashlight in the other, distant vehicle, Spielberg moves the camera closer to the windshield. The camera move accomplishes two things. It draws our attention to the ashlight in the distant vehicle where Lex in a panic has turned it on, and it causes the animatronic to move off-frame, making possible the switch. After a beat, the digital dinosaur stalks into frame as a full-body creature and moves toward the other vehicle.
Spielberg cuts to Lex in terror holding her ashlight and then to a low-angle framing of her as the animatronic T-Rex head looms outside her car. In the space of three shots, Spielberg has introduced an animatronic model, then gone to a digital version of the creature, and then returned to the animatronic. Later in the sequence, Malcolm distracts the T-Rex with a are, and as Spielberg tracks backward, Malcolm runs toward the moving camera with an enraged digital dinosaur thundering after him.
Spielberg cuts to a park employee, Martin Donald Gennaro , who has taken refuge from the attack in a restroom. A reverseangle cut shows the animatronic head bursting into the restroom, and then a wider framing shows Martin seated on a toilet with the full-body digital T-Rex snarling at him. As this shot continues without a cutaway, the T-Rex snatches him off the toilet and gobbles him up. The action doesnt just blend live action and digital, as did the earlier shot where Spielberg switches from an animatronic model to a digital T-Rex within the same frame. They connectthe digital creature eats the live actor.
The illusion was created by painting the actor out of the frame and replacing him with a digital character as the dinosaurs jaws engulf him. Subliminal transitions between effects modes also distinguish a subsequent scene where two raptors stalk the children in one of the parks kitchens. The complexities of operating the animatronic puppets meant that whenever the two raptors appeared together in a shot, they couldnt both be models. As Winston observed, We were always using either one puppet and one man in a suit, or two men in suits.
We never had two puppets working simultaneously. That would have been too complicated because of the number of puppeteers it took to operate them. After a cutaway to the children, a second raptor appears in the doorway and both enter the kitchen. These were digital dinosaurs, and here as elsewhere key differences in the representation enable a viewer who wishes to do so to distinguish the. The digital raptors, and the digital T-Rex in his shots, move more uidly, have a more extensive bodily articulation through movement, show a more complicated repertoire of responses, and react to stimuli faster than do the animatronic puppets or the actors in monster suits.
The digital dinosaurs move in full-body shots, unlike the puppets, which are glimpsed in partial views, and the staging is composed more aggressively along the Z-axis toward or away from the camera , as when the T-Rex chases Malcolm or kills a raptor in the last scene by thrashing it toward the camera. The sequel, The Lost World: Jurassic Park , shows greater and more aggressive interactions between humans and dinosaurs because digital tools had advanced during the intervening years along with ILMs artistry. ILMs Dennis Muran commented that the shot designs and camera movements were conservative on the rst lm because everyone was a little unsure about the capabilities of the technology.
The round-up sequence provides vivid examples, as the camera follows dino-hunters on jeeps and motorcycles riding between, under, and through the legs of giant, galloping mamenchisaurs. The digital action is far more dynamic and visceral than what could be achieved with animatronics. Action staging occurs in and through a volume of space rather than on a plane. Perceptual Realism. The digital animals exist only in 3D computer space and not in the world that was before the camera.
The puppets, by contrast, do exist in the actual space before the camera, but they do not interact as dynamically with the actors. Nevertheless, as noted earlier, positive benets derive from using puppets on set with actors, chief among them being actors delivering stronger performances.