Chapter 3 – the Explosion of Visual Effects in the 21st Century

Throughout the fifteen years, Visual Effects has exploded into playing an even bigger part in the film industry. Similar to the 20th century, there have ben key moments within the 21st century that have helped shape Visual Effects into what it is today and even more technological developments explaining why some filmmakers feel they cannot create a film without the assistance of Visual Effects.

Before the turn of the century, there was no real colour grading techniques. O Brother, Where Art Thou (2000), helped bring the colour grading technique into the industry by bringing the entire film into the computer and colour grading it as opposed to sections of the film. This technique is still plays a huge part in allowing the filmmaker to get the mood across to the audience.

The Lawnmower Man (1992) was the first film to record an actor’s movement, using a sensor-covered body, but in 2001, it was taken to a new height. Final Fantasy, The Spirits Within (2001), was he first film to be completely CGI. It used motion capture to create realistic digital humans. This technique would then go on to inspire other films such as The Lord of The Rings Trilogy (2001 – 2003), King Kong (2005) and The Polar Express (2004), only with the continuing growth of technology, these films would go on to develop motion capture further.

The Lord of the Rings trilogy is an interesting topic because the first film, The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), was highly acclaimed for not over-using Visual Effects and its use of originality. It did contain certain Visual Effect shots, such as Morder and Rivendell, but for the majority it stuck to live action. It had a natural feel to it. However, many people feel that Peter Jackson then began to over use Visual Effects in the second and third film. “The First was grandiose, and all that, but whatever was subtle in the first movie gradually got lost in the second and third” (Robey, 2014). This is a statement by actor Viggo Mortensen. Motion capture again continued to grow in The Two Towers (2002), where CGI imagery was combined with motion capture to create the character Gollum. They also created one of the most difficult and time consuming process, which is still used to the used, and it involved digitally painting out the actor’s (Andy Serkis) footage and replacing him with the fully CGI character Gollum.

Motion Capture has been one of the huge breakthroughs in the 21st century, with The Polar Express (2004), using motion capture to create a complete CGI film. As well, it was the first film to use painted marker facial technology, which, to this day, is one of the most important performance capture techniques within the digital era. This type of technique then went on to inspire films such as Bewolf (2007) and A Christmas Carol (2009), as well as almost every film that know uses performance capture such as The Hobbit Trilogy (2012 – 2014). This type of technology growth has allowed filmmakers to digitally create characters, however many people feel that it is taken away from it originality. The decision of create Azog (The White Orc) from the hobbit, completely CGI, was heavily criticised for not using a real life actor on set, similar to Lurtz (a Uruk-hai in The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)). This is a perfect example of where Peter Jackson used Visual Effects, when it would have been visually better to have a real-life Actor, with prosthetic make-up applied.

By 2004, Visual Effect Humans where well done, but Digital world where not. Sky Captain and The World of Tomorrow (2004), was the first film to create Digital worlds with the use of green/blue screens. All the locations in the film where created digitally. The created a completely new way of filmmaking, which is know used in almost every Visual Effect film created in todays industry.

Again though, this process can be argued that it is destroying the art of acting and therefore instead of the audience focussing on the acting and the story, then are focussing on the overly large Digital environments.

Visual Effects then began to create new technology, with ILM (Industrial light and magic), creating Imocap. This is a technique that was used heavily in Pirate of The Caribbean, Dead Man’s Chest (2006) for the creation of Davey Jones. It is a process, which is similar to motion, capture, only it attaches two-witness cameras to either side of the primary camera and they are used to capture the actor’s movements. It allows for onset motion capture as opposed to having to get the actors into a studio. This technology was so advanced and allowed Davey Jones to be so well done, that many film critics “mistakenly thought that Bill Nighy was wearing prosthetic make-up” (Visual and special effects film milestones, no date). This was a ground breaking discovery and has allowed for further technology to take it even further, as is evident in films such as Avatar (2009) and Gravity (2014).

All of these new technological advancements have enabled there to be no boundaries in what one can achieve with Visual Effects. Avatar (2009) was nothing short of an evolution when it comes to the term Visual Effects. The film was created using “only 40% live action and 60% CGI” (Visual and special effects film milestones, no date). Like many films before, motion capture was used to capture the performance of the actors. A new invention however, that James Cameron created involved attaching a small camera to a helmet, which the actors wore and this allowed for capturing the actors facial expressions. He then combined live performance capture innovations with a new live rendering technology which allowed “him to stage his actors and in real-time watch the CGI performances” (CineFix, 2015). James Camera wanted to create this film for years, but he had to wait for all the other Visual Effect technologies to be created.

Fast forward five years and the new ground-breaking Visual Effect piece, Gravity (2014) was created. Gravity followed more in the footsteps of Sky Captain and The World of Tomorrow (2004) in a sense that it composited the virtual world onto the Actors as opposed to compositing the actors onto the virtual world.

This process will no doubt go on to be a building block for future Visual Effect films to come.

From the turn of the century, Visual Effects has grown and developed to new heights and no doubt in future years will continue to evolve. However, some people feel that Visual Effects, without even more development, is already taking over the industry. But if it continues to evolve further, will it get to the stage where there is no need for other departments, such as the Art department and the SFX (Special Effects) department. Will it eventually get to the stage where there is no need for actors and they can all be created digitally?


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