Sunday, February 04, 2007

All Work And No Play

I have very little news to tell you, if I'm honest. It's now Sunday morning and I'm back in work. Worked some crazy hours in the week and was in the office till a quarter to eight last night. Tinseltroos is also putting in the hours at the moment too so I have a kindred spirit at least. I really hope it's all going to be worth it, because it's really hard going at the moment. It is one the aspects of visual effects that I think very few people outside the industry appreciate; the whole amount of effort it takes to do anything worthwhile is huge.

I suppose the best way I can explain is to take the current movie I'm on as an example. It is going to be released on 13th July worldwide (that date should tell you what it is if you care about such things). By the time we finish we'll have been working for 18 months on the film. Non stop. For eighteen months of effort my little team will have produced perhaps two minutes of footage, if that. And we've been working pretty damn hard for all that time, ramping up to 10-12 hour days for 5-6 months and now we're in the 12-14 hour, 6 or 7 day week working pattern which will continue until we finish. I'll reiterate, all for two minutes of screen time. There are other teams here and at other studios doing the same thing to produce the rest of the effects for the film. The belief that "it's all done with computers nowadays" is largely true, we're all CG visual effects artists but the notion that the machines do the work and it's now easy to create these effects is utterly untrue. And the very tired bunch of people who surround me will back me up on that.

It's a psychologically strange profession; we utterly obsess over something, in the current instance a fully CG giant for many many months to the point where all critical facility is gone as we are so immersed in the finest and tiniest detail that we cannot see beyond it and therefore rely on those with fresher eyes to tell us where we're going right or wrong in a more general way.

I remember when I created the squirrels for "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory", which were mostly digital whatever spin Warner's press office put out about the hordes of trained squirrels they had for the sequence. The fact is squirrels are skittish rodents who will not perform to order and so our workoad went through the roof. I worked on that film for a year and everytime I walked through a park, there would be one of the furry little bastards staring back at me, as if it were personally defying me.

That project was a massive undertaking because everyone has their own idea of what a squirrel looks like and I have to tell you, you're probably wrong. I realised this when we went up to Pinewood, where the film was shot, to see the squirrels who were being trained and we going to make digital versions of. I had an image in my mind's eye of what to expect, everyone does. The human brain is an amazing thing, it reconstructs almost everything that our eyes take in to the point where 90% of what you see at any one time is what your brain believes you are seeing on the basis of past experience rather than unfiltered input from your eyes as you might expect. That's why we don't notice when people get new glasses or change a haircut, even if the effect is startlingly different; our brains make huge assumptions about what we see.

The one way I have found to get around this is when I need to study something as it actually is, rather than how I think it is, I draw it. If you have to construct the image yourself you can break the brain's desire to do the work for you. Photography doesn't work so well because your brain tries to make the same preconceived reconstruction of the image when you look at the print, that's why I prefer drawing. Drawing those squirrels totally changed how I saw them and understood them to look. Then there was a year of hell to build animate and produce the images for the film. This current project is about ten times as complicated. Wish us luck.

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Blogger Ondine said...

The squirrel scene was my favorite part of the movie.

And thank you for the Stephen Shore link.

11:57 pm  

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