Georgia Hollywood Review March 2020

PRODUCTION TALK

Visual Effects By Chr i s LeDoux

If film crews were ‘80s TV show characters, VFX artists would be MacGyver. T he trouble is, you think you have time.” - Buddha (It’s from the Internet, so maybe Mickey Mantle, Joan of Arc, or a 19th Century Irish Sous Chef might have said it. The who is not terribly important.) When I spotted this the other day, I paused for a moment and nodded to consider the seemingly endless Gmail task list that perpetually hover like an anvil over my head. Then I reminded myself that Miles had asked me to write an article for this issue of GHR, and I was nearly out of time. This is supposed to be an article about my only verified area of expertise outside of Seahawks football history: Visual Effects, or VFX for short. What could I possibly communicate in 700 words about VFX? I’m pretty sure I use 700 words just to order a number one at Wendys. I think I’ve already used up 200 words. Then again, Miles asked. I’m interpreting this request with a wide net. I’ll write as if this was a series of columns on VFX with each one a brick to stack upon the others. The mention of VFX conjures up images of giant screens made of green/blue, of dinosaurs, spaceships, explosions, lasers, and worlds that only exist at that brief moment between dreams and the alarm. It is all those things among numerous others. Like other film crew departments, the role of VFX is to create a seamless illusion that appears as a photographic reality. Ok, that’s how I see it. Ever since Marty McFly’s DeLorean disappeared into blazing skid-marks at the Twin Pines Mall that’s how I’ve thought of it. VFX is there to help realize a vision and NOT to be the vision itself. The brush cannot supersede the painting that it helps to create. If someone emerges from a theater and their opinion is “The effects were great” and offer little to no commentary on the final picture, then we have lost the plot. As a department, we exist as a tool in the filmmaker’s arsenal, largely to create what cannot be captured, or captured easily, in camera. Beyond that we solve problems in post-production that no one knew even existed until the crews have wrapped. Creative problem solving is where VFX artists truly shine.

Chris LeDoux

Which takes me back to time. Time is important because it is a parameter. It defines the edges of the sandbox we are allowed to play in. The older I get, the more I become convinced that creativity loves constraints. It is within these confines that innovation is born. Back when I was first directing music videos, I dreamed of situations where I could create anything I wanted with no parameters of any sort. I learned though that if a treatment request basically stated: “Do anything you want”, my mind would blank, and then revert to an endless list of cliché presets that probably read like the first answer of a Google search. When the label had a laundry list of ‘musts’ for the video however, I would sigh in annoyance but then my mind would start to wander, create, excite, and solve. Deadlines in VFX are a never-ending stressor that looms large above all projects. If deadlines are not met, I’ve been told that post supervisors are taken by a Cthulhu like creature to a hellish realm known as reality television. While I’ve never seen this place, the trepidation in their eyes at the mere mention of it has kept me from missing a deadline for their sake. I’ve worked on a couple of projects for myself and friends that had no deadlines. Those projects are still ongoing, with the longest now standing at only 14 years since we filmed it. Advances in technology have made some parts of VFX more efficient than in previous eras. Much of this gain is in repetitive tasks that can be performed much

faster than before as well as natural progress in computing power. None of this, however, has saved a moment of time in the VFX realm as the appetite for what is possible has increased exponentially since the birth of VFX. The deadlines have also become shorter and more extreme. Come to think of it, and counter to the opening quote, we never have time in VFX. This ultimately causes us to innovate. If film crews were ‘80s TV show characters, VFX artists would be MacGyver. While MacGyver spent little time at a computer and certainly averaged more than 2,700 steps a day, he was a supreme innovator known for shining brightest when given impossible parameters. Problem solving under seemingly impossible conditions is where we get most excited and earn our best stripes. You need to fill a football stadium with 60,000 fans, but you have 26 extras? We can solve that. You like the performances from two different actors in different takes, but it needs to play as one? Give us a call. You need Atlanta to look like NYC? Sure. Your spouse is angry because you’ve been on location for the last 3 months? I’ll buy you a drink. All in all, we can be a powerful brush in the filmmaker’s toolkit. Just give us a little time. But not too much.

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