CAMPAIGN CRAFT: COLUMN; Special effects film-makers in touch with tradition

By PHILIPPE DUPEE, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 13 December 1996 12:00AM

I know that this will come as a shock, but the most important development of the hi-tech special effects revolution is not some million dollar box of tricks - it’s the HB pencil. Give me a moment and I’ll convince you.

I know that this will come as a shock, but the most important

development of the hi-tech special effects revolution is not some

million dollar box of tricks - it’s the HB pencil. Give me a moment and

I’ll convince you.



One of Robert Zemeckis’s most taxing roles was directing Who Framed

Roger Rabbit. While the special effects created a convincing live-action

toon fantasy, Zemeckis faced the reality of supervising Bob Hoskins and

his co-star - an invisible Roger Rabbit.



Special effects like these can turn a film set into an incomprehensible

environment, not just for the director and the actors but for the rest

of the crew. Special effects often rely on layers of images which are

shot separately - a sole actor, filmed against a blue background, can

then be lifted and pasted into the final sequence.



In recent years audiences have been fed a high-protein diet of visual

trickery. Gone are the days of naive stunts and clumsy screen effects

that fooled no-one. Whether they are in film, TV, or ads, special

effects are on an upward spiral and there is no denying that familiarity

with the technology is an essential requirement.



The moral of the story, for today’s commercials directors, is that

special effects is not just about manipulating images. It’s all too easy

to think that the bottom line is understanding the capabilities of the

latest software. But traditional directors’ skills become increasingly

important, the more sophisticated the technology.



This takes us back to the pencil. For traditional live action, it is the

director’s vision that brings the production together. In sequences that

involve special effects this situation is exaggerated. Directing the

film becomes less about hardware and software than about people.


A storyboard rather than a circuit-board can be the difference between

success and failure. Today’s complex special effects, if not properly

handled, can cause chaos - time is wasted, budgets are overshot and

sequences re-done. Co-ordinating parts to ensure that each member of the

team is aware of their contribution is becoming increasingly critical.



Just remember that without the old directorial skill of communication

all the hi-tech wizardry falls apart. It may not seem sexy or cutting

edge, but it’s more important than ever. Special effects have spawned

the need for technoliteracy, but the new breed of directors will be the

ones who can also take out an HB and draw a storyboard.



Philippe Dupee is a director at Lambie-Nairn Directors



This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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