I spotted this short paean to computer generated visual effects on Twitter earlier today. It’s premise is that CGI visual effects are actually good for movies, and that it’s only considered to be a bad thing, because we only tend to notice bad CGI, whilst most CGI, the good stuff, is invisible – there are some overdue nods to superlative digital environments in there, including those for TV.
I’ve been generating CGI since 1995, which is a bit like the time in the middle ages, at the cusp of the renaissance in the context of computer graphics history. Back then I was constantly having to argue the toss and justify whether what I was doing was art/design/creative/valid, and we are still fighting similar battles now. I too get frustrated with the bad and unnecessary CGI, but equally, I still love to see the good stuff – particularly so when I don’t spot it until it’s pointed out to me later on by the likes of Cinefex, or via VFX breakdowns on the web.
This visual essay makes the point that CGI is great for some things e.g. environments, crowds, vehicles, etc, but not (yet) great for others – digital characters are still something of a work in progress. It also rightly asserts that many films and TV shows wouldn’t have happened without superb, affordable CGI. A good example being Game of Thrones. All tools have their place and value, whether they are practical or digital. So, I’d like to say a huge thank you to Rocket Jump Film School for articulating what I believe, so passionately, and far more eloquently than I am able in this short video.
A short, behind the scenes piece on the design and VFX work done by Prime Focus to create Mega City One for Dredd 3D. The filmmakers chose to build their fictional city by adding to the existing fabric of Johannesburg. The realism appears grimier, lived in and more tangible as a result.
If I have one reservation about the designs in these digital set extensions, it would be that the blocks are treated purely as forms without reference to their function or environment. Specifically, the floor plates on the blocks are really massive, which would make the cores deep within these buildings oppressively dark in a way that would make Hong Kong’s Chung King Mansion seem generously light and airy in comparison. Even a slum needs light, and the struggle to introduce this light would lead to a different footprint and therefore an alternate form for the towers – time spent studying architecture does have its benefits.
As much as I like the look of these visuals, I would like to have seen the design extended further through the application of some real world constraints.
I have been lucky enough to design some grand architectural spaces for TV over the past few years, but I doubt that any will ever feel as cool as I imagine designing sets for a Bond movie would. To celebrate fifty years since the release of Dr No, the first of the Bond films, The Barbican is staging an exhibition of the designs behind the franchise.
Update: Just found a little more info on this exhibition over on the BBC website: Designing 007
After concluding that the footage from the HV20 just wasn’t going to be good enough, I decided to have a look at the footage my DSLR could produce. The poor mans HD (720p) spewed out by my D90 is awful so I was never considering using that, but I did take a look at the stills capability and that looked fantastic and provided a clean key. If I could rig something that would capture the camera move I was looking for using a combination of time-lapse and stop motion then that could be a great solution. The miniatures aren’t going to move so I would only need to animate the position of the camera.
First things first, I need to sort out the camera. I started out by testing the camera hooked up to Nikons Camera Control Pro 2. First thing I noticed is that a zoom lens just wouldn’t work because the lens components shuffle every time a shot is taken so I tried out a 35mm DX prime. The shuffle problem was solved but I started to get a flickering effect even with constant lighting. Thinking this might be due to the AC supply I then tried out long exposures of up to one second but this still resulted in an annoying and very obvious flicker. Investigation on the web revealed that DSLR cameras utilise automatic shutters in which the iris stops down with each shot, then opens back up again to allow for a clean preview through the viewfinder. This closing and opening of the aperture inevitably results in tiny inconsistencies that lead to variations in the exposure and cause the flicker. I tried partially unscrewing the lens to disconnect the contacts and override the stopping down but the lens would lose its aperture setting completely.
The next step, source an older Nikon lens on which I can set the aperture manually and test again…