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