Our first episode of Coffee with Passionate Pro featured Vishnu Vimal, Visual Effects Compositor who is currently working at the renowned British motion picture visual effects company Double Negative Studio, Mumbai. This visual effects company has garnered 4 Oscar Awards for Best Visual Effects for their works on films Inception, Interstellar, Ex Machina & Blade Runner 2049. During Vishnu’s stint at DNEG, he has involved at digital composting works of Thor: Ragnaork, Justice League, Dunkirk, Mission Impossible: Fallout & various other Hollywood blockbusters.
‘Why do we need VFX?’ asked Vishnu. The students started pondering about the question. Some of them sat there clueless and looking at each other. Then someone yelled ‘To generate a computer imagery for which we cannot shoot live action’. ‘It’s right! But that’s not the only purpose’ he said. He added that Visual Effects is as crucial as Direction, Cinematography or Sound Design in a movie is. Visual Effects can enhance a visual and it can even give easy solutions to some of the exhausting shots. He further went on by quoting an example of a filmmaker who had the least idea of Visual Effects. All that the filmmaker wanted was a particular real life billboard to be seen through a window.
So in order to achieve that he and his crew build a whole set of a bedroom on top of the terrace of a building. But this could have been otherwise easily recreated by visual effects with the help of a Green Chroma Screen. Sounds right! VFX can save us a lot of troubles namely time, money and energy of hundreds.
A visual representation of a man being filmed on green Chroma screen (left). The final result of the keyed visual (right).
He narrated the brief history of visual effects which dates back as early as 1900’s when pioneers of film making such as George Melies forayed into film making. Now you might be wondering to have heard his name somewhere right? That’s probably because you have watched Hugo directed by Martin Scorsese. In that movie George Melies is a partly fictional but most of his character was truly depicted such as being a magician. Melies thought cinema was the greatest magic in the trick in the world. He is the first one to use extravagant set designs. He even cut film reels to skip some of the frames and a camera trick. Vishnu also told us how his film making tricks & techniques were path breaking and how he traveled beyond his contemporaries with his outstanding brilliance.
Then he showed us a super cut of films which have won Oscar Award for Best Visual Effects in their respective years. He also told us how each film broadened the scope of visual effects which were present at the time.
Star Wars was the space opera franchise film which was the brainchild of legendary filmmaker George Lucas that reinvented the concepts of visual effects during 1970’s. Light sabers, giant spaceships, Jedi, altogether Star Wars were a cinematic marvel that the audiences have never experienced until then.
But out of these filmmakers, the one filmmaker who Vishnu admired a lot for his use of VFX is David Fincher. Yes, his filmography goes like The Fight Club, Zodiac, Seven, Gone Girl, Girl with a Dragon Tattoo and all those amazing suspense thriller films. One fact that Vishnu told us and blew our mind was that The Social Network has used more number of VFX than Godzilla. Now you will be like ‘Whoa! Slow down. But I never noticed any of them’. Yes, that’s the point you see! Vishnu loves his films particularly because Visual Effects were used invisibly so as to satisfy the demands of the movie script rather than showing off the might of VFX. That’s true!
Vishnu then went on throw some light on VFX Pipeline such as Research & Development, Tests, Modeling, Pre-visualization, Lidar, Texturing, Rigging, Rotoscopying, Compositing, etc. These terms may sometimes sound like alien to you. Well, let us give you a vague idea about it. In pre-production, the first step is Reasearch & Development. It is during this phase the artist, scientists and programmers develop the software & tools necessary to create the VFX for the movie. Then comes Pre-Visualization, where the scenes of the movie are emulated on-screen for a preview. 3D Modeling happens along with it where the characters are modeled in software such as Z-Brush.
These are usually raw and grey in color. So they have to be given the texture of the skin through Texturing. Then movements to these modeled characters will be given by Rigging. It is process where joints such shoulder, ligament, etc. of the body are rigged in software. That’s how we get to see those giant dinosaurs, apes, pixies and fairies on the screen.
Another part that VFX artists deal with is the background visuals. Early method of creating a non-realistic background is by using Matte Painting. It is a technique where the background that is created is painted on a large canvas and the area that is to be is painted black. The background is then shot and exposed on the film of the camera. Then, the same film reel will go for reshoot again to expose the live action on the underexposed area of the film. But now the things have changed, technology has revolutionized in a way that you can create 3D Matte Painting through software.
Filmmakers shooting a matte painting shot (top extreme left)
Matte painting of the background and the part to be shot is painted black (top extreme right)
The underexposed part is shot on the same film reel (bottom extreme left).
The final output of the shot (bottom extreme right)
Even though the audience may enjoy watching an assortment of visual effects used in a movie, he explained us how sometimes a visual effects artist may get stressful while handling long hours of work with given deadline of submission. Sometimes a Visual Effect Artist has to handle numerous projects simultaneously. But nevertheless, a VFX Artist should not be swept away by that stress. However tiring a work may be, if the person sincerely devotes all his mighty passion into the work the ultimate result that person will witness on the big screen will make him or her extremely happy.