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The requirements for this essay was to select a visual effects company in Montreal, Quebec and examine their involvement in the world of film. I chose Oblique FX! http://www.obliquefx.com/
Author: Alberto D’Onofrio
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Three key words are often used in a company’s description: experienced, mission, and professionalism. Of course, companies embrace each word differently in relation to the type of service they provide. As part of this main thesis, a visual effects service will be referring to an experienced team of skilled and professional artists with a mission to create stunning, photo-real visual effects that integrate seamlessly into a film (Oblique, 1). Oblique FX, a visual effects company based in Quebec, realizes this description and subsequently enables an analytical study on issues in contemporary cinema specifically raised by Professor Stephen Prince. As debated by Prince, the importance of achieving photorealism with visual effects in modern cinema include 2D compositing, matte paintings and simulations: techniques used by Oblique FX in selected films such as The Aviator (Martin Scorsese, 2004), Source Code (Duncan Jones, 2011), 300 (Zack Snyder, 2006), and Brokeback Mountain (And Lee, 2005).
2D compositing is the process of layering multiple images from separate sources as one (Prince, 59). Oblique FX adopted this technique for three shots in The Aviator where Leonardo DiCaprio’s portrayal of Howard Hughes required the visual effects company to integrate the actor into archival footage. Capturing DiCaprio’s accurate facial movements and expressions in front of a green screen, Oblique FX layered the actor’s face on that of Hughes and finalized the composite by matching the film stock. The success of this sequence gave a sense of veracity and continuity to DiCaprio’s portrayal of the late aviator and filmmaker (Oblique, 1). Being a diversified tool in the industry, compositing is similarly used in the matte painting technique.
Digital matte painting allows accurate representations of the filmmaker’s vision with much finer manipulation of the shot (Prince, 63). Oblique FX used this technique as part of their ninety-five shots in 300, forty-six shots in Source Code, and seventy shots in Brokeback Mountain, making constructions of foreground and background environment unnoticeable. The company’s work on Brokeback Mountain is further explained. Wide landscapes are established with the original back plate of the sky, followed by digital composites of mountains integrated with clouds, a foreground plate of actors Jake Gyllenhaal and/or Heath Ledger, sometimes computer-generated sheep duplicated in the foreground and/or background, and a rotoscope matte to systematically overlay the various components (Oblique, 1). As Prince responds to the medium’s possibility, “[it] enables a cameraman to make the picture he visualizes” (Prince, 80). This freedom is also realized in simulation, another technique effectively used by Oblique FX in Source Code.
Digital long takes are possible with action being covered in a single camera motion where actors are replaced by computer-generated representations of themselves. Applying the simulation process in Source Code, Oblique FX captured sequences of Jake Gyllenhaal leaping out of a moving train. Of course, they would not risk the actor’s life. The company captured one sequence of Gyllenhaal on the edge of the train and one of him rolling on a green-screen surface, which resulted in a computer-generated image of the actor. Finally rendered, the live action, complemented with the use of CGI, appeared genuine in the long shot (Oblique, 1). Expressing his excitement on digital humans in cinema, Mark Sagar, a graphics supervisor on Spiderman 2 (Sam Raimi, 2001), states, “We’re at an interesting age when we’re starting to be able to simulate humans down to the last detail” (Gregory, 6). Expanding on this idea, CGI also allows for greater verticality, meaning overcoming gravity in the character’s environment to visualize power or powerlessness (Whissel, 32). Like Gyllenhaal’s character in Source Code, he is in a struggle of epic proportions as a result of the CGI incorporated by Oblique FX to expand his terrain.
A choice of words were used purposefully in the analysis of the visual effects work by Oblique FX: accurate, veracity, continuity and genuine, with each word contributing to Stephen Prince’s discussion of issues relating to photorealism in contemporary cinema.
Digital effects allow filmmakers to imagine a new reality and to “create a world impossible to achieve by traditional methods” (Sidney, 14). Digital effects artists, including those at Oblique FX, do look for photorealism, but as Prince argues, it is to minimize the appearance of artificial computer-generated imagery and manipulate the footage to achieve images in likeness to cinematic traditions that moviegoers are familiar with (Prince, 95). Digital effects can achieve photorealism, but sometimes, as evident in the film 300, it is not a goal. Influenced by Frank Miller’s ink and watercolor paintings, it is clear that “the filmmakers never seek to persuade viewers that they are seeing landscapes that could be photographed” (Prince, 89).
Since the persistence of vision (Jackson, 40) determined the frame rates for interpreting motion, cinema has always been an illusion. As technology progresses, the underlying goal for Oblique FX and all visual effects companies is to imperceptibly composite real and simulated characters, objects and spaces (Prince, 183).
300. Dir. Zack Snyder. Warner Bros. Pictures. 2006. Online.
Brokeback Mountain. Dir. Ang Lee. Focus Feautures. 2005. Online.
Gregory, T. Huang. “The New Face of Hollywood.” Technology Review 2004: 66-74. ProQuest. PROQUESTMS. 22 Mar. 2013 < http://0- search.proquest.com.mercury.concordia.ca/docview/195332879?accountid=10246
Jackson, Steven. “Digital Cinema: New Stories in the Dark.” Film Journal International (Archive: 1996-2000) Sep 01 1999: 40,40, 42. ProQuest. PROQUESTMS. 22 Mar. 2013 <http://0- search.proquest.com.mercury.concordia.ca/docview/1286135899?accountid=10246>.
“Oblique.” About Us. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Mar. 2013.
“Oblique.” Film. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Mar. 2013.
Prince, Stephen. Digital Visual Effects in Cinema: The Seduction of Reality. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 2012. Print.
Sidney, Steffi. “Digital Productions: Creating a New Reality.” Back Stage (Archive: 1960-2000) Aug 31 1984: 12B, 14B. ProQuest. PROQUESTMS. 22 Mar. 2013 <http://0- search.proquest.com.mercury.concordia.ca/docview/964114272?accountid=10246>.
Source Code. Dir. Duncan Jones. Summit Entertainment. 2011. Online.
Spider-Man 2. Dir. Sam Raimi. Columbia Pictures. 2004. Online.
The Aviator. Dir. Martin Scorsese. Warner Bros. Pictures. 2004. Online.
Whissel, Kristen. “Tales of Upward Mobility: The New Verticality and Digital Special Effects,” Film Quarterly 59.4, Summer 2006: 23-34.