Hiding In Plain Sight: Invisible VFX
You know something doesn’t look right, but you don’t know why. Ah, the death of a narrative. If you lose your audience to a hokey composite or destroy the suspension of disbelief with a clunky explosion or robot baby, you’ve messed up the cinematic experience.
We use our eyes to take in the world around us; taking what we see for granted. For visual effects artists, understanding how the mind and eye interact to impart information is an essential aspect of what we do. We stretch and bend, hide and reveal, alter and update in ways that sound fantastic but align to read as actual, normal, desired. If done right, the work is invisible. Silence from creative collaborators and audiences isn’t bad, silence is validation.
Ironically, working in a medium that is all about imagination, my job is to keep the audience grounded. Whether that’s fantastic effects that must blow the mind or removing distractions. They need to remain 'in it'. Done incorrectly, visual effects can rip you away from the narrative and cause utter distraction – it becomes that thing that you never forget. Done well, and they hide in plain sight, helping to usher forth the story, and allowing it to wash over and surround the viewer naturally.
People tend to call this kind of work 'fixes', but to me they are challenges in the best way possible. I’m talking about the majority of effects work we see - continuity changes, visual embellishments, sky replacements. They are fixes in the sense of providing the veneer of perfection, but are not always a product of a mistake. Like structural engineers to an architect, they are the evolution of a creative concept that allows a layering of ideas to make the final product more interesting.
I was fortunate to work with a nimble VFX team at Lucky Post on the critically-acclaimed feature 'The Old Man & The Gun'. David Lowery is a filmmaker who really cares about his craft from every angle. He knows the footage intimately and nothing he’s made is by mistake. Our collaboration on the film was a prime example of this idea building, adding depth of experience by eliminating distractions in one scene, and providing the flourishes to another. An ongoing conversation, a direct line of layering and cleaving, was guided by story and performances by Hollywood legends Robert Redford and Sissy Spacek at the forefront. And it was that open access from director to VFX artist that made it an incredible experience.
It was a reminder that anytime we can groom a project into a creative partnership as opposed to silos of artists, the results show on the screen. Whether you notice them... or not (wink).
Dan Margules is senior Flame artist at Lucky Post
Genre: Visual VFX