Shaping the Message of VFX

Visual Effects Stories Losing Their Fire?

I remember when something unusual happened while making Special Effects, it was bandied about in a good story, either in a magazine, or as an urban legend. When an artist had a particular view of his or her work, they would let it be known that they disagreed with the solution.  When a particular effect failed, you read about it in gory detail.  Now the message is more often shaped by press agents to make the VFX company, studio, or director look brilliant.  This is unfortunate, but a clear reflection of the changing gravity of VFX.

Whether this is merely my nostalgic memory of the past, or an actual fact is not clear.  But I do observe that at conventions there is better detail, funny stories, and images shown that will never make the light of day in print.

Cinefex is the magazine of record for our industry, and I own as many as I can resurrect on eBay.  I love reading the older magazines because they spent a lot more time dissecting the story, and telling us all the hairy details.  Partly they had the time because there were fewer visual effects shows to cover in the past, but also because the message was not clearly shaped by the company long before the Cinefex team got onsite to talk with the artists.  I miss the detail of the show, warts and all.

Gone are the days when the creator of the robots for Disney’s Black Hole will tell about the design process for the film in a Starlog Magazine — while uttering his disdain for the creative process he went through.  Doug Trumbull in Fantastic Films Magazine no longer languishes on the stories of E.T.s that were experimented with for 2001: A Space Odyssey and Silent Running, and the tell-all books for Major Motion Pictures generally choose not to call out the problems of the production like The Making of Starship Troopers did.

We mustn’t forget the gag orders that exist to protect trade secrets, or to get discounts in software or hardware, like ILM infamously had in the 1990s with Alias/Wavefront.  I remember when PLAY Inc. challenged the so-called JEDI agreement in the Hollywood Reporter for The Phantom Menace, trying to get George Lucas to admit to using their software, (which ended up in them getting all their hardware dongles returned — a detail only shared to me personally).  They obviously did not read their history of George Lucas and the DGA, nor have much clue who Rick McCallum is.  These gag orders further limit the interesting truth.

Lest we forget the ILM hot tubs and water slides from the 1970’s?  Perish the thought (you really want to click on that last link).

(or click the link above …  the YouTube imbed is flakey.)



They will never let you make home movies, as Dave Berry did for Galactica (thank you Dave).  Likely 48 lawyers would come over for dinner once the video camera watching you at your desk saw you point a camera at anything.

update:  More from Dave Berry

The details of VFX production are now shaped, like any other story.  We are no longer the crazy band of rebels working in a warehouse and avoiding scrutiny.  We are a multi-million dollar money maker, and any scandal will force someone to apologize, and the stories will be further scrubbed and scrutinized — everyone is so thin skinned.  It is a shame, because it is those off-kilter details that make us laugh, and remember what it used to be like.

We save the internet for that I guess.



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