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Report From The Land of SFX 136

prostoalex writes "MIT's Technology Review takes a look at the world of digital special effects, the industry worth half a billion dollars per year, according to the authors. It talks about the role of SFX in movie production nowadays and comes to the connclusion that while might not 100% computer-created in the future, we'll see more of realistic-looking special effects in future titles."
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Report From The Land of SFX

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  • Will Michael Jackson's nose ever look right again?
    • negative, he will remain white.
  • by GuyMannDude ( 574364 ) on Wednesday August 21, 2002 @07:03PM (#4115757) Journal

    It talks about the role of SFX in movie production nowadays and comes to the connclusion that while might not 100% computer-created in the future, we'll see more of realistic-looking special effects in future titles.

    More realistic effects in the future, huh? Boy, they're really going out on a limb this time.

    GMD

    • i agree... i react exactlly the same to most of the stories posted lately: "DUH"
    • "we'll see more of realistic-looking special effects in future titles. "

      I dunno... I mean it's not like we're going to clone dinosaurs and compare them to Jurassic Park and see how realistic they really were.

      Convincing would definitely be a better word...
      • Yes - special effects can look realistic, if they are used to re-create already-existing objects or events. Case in point - using sfx to create background scenery - say, for example, a lovely mountain range. Special effects will improve, making the mountain range look more realistic. Or authentic, if you like.

        • "Special effects will improve, making the mountain range look more realistic.."

          Your point is well made, but I do want to nitpick a little detail of it. I'm not trying to de-fuse it, but rather share a little insight I have into this example.

          A mountain range is basically a matte painting, or even a photograph. They can be made more artistic, but the realism there was perfected many many years ago. However, replace 'a mountain range' with 'the ruins of an ancient civilization who built a city on it...' with it and your point shines more brightly. There are mountain ranges that have ancient cities built into them. If somebody were to go back and rebuild those cities to what they looked like, then oh yes the technology and the tools they have will greatly affect the result. This backs your point up a little better I think. :)

  • by Damion ( 13279 )
    So we can spend more and more on special effects, and less and less on those useless "plots" and "storylines"...
    • I have actually thought about this. It seems to me that in some movies, the plot and dialogue are actually a drag on the movie, which the action and effects are good. Thus, I think a "pure" action movie, containing little or no dialogue and only implicit plot could be great. It could be a legitimate artform of its own, untainted by cliched plots and tired one-liners. Cinematography, production design, and effects could be managed brilliantly by some directors who can't do anything with their hack actors and who themselves have no taste in scripting. Who's to say this is not legimate art or entertainment?

      It's pretty close to a video game I don't have to actually play (who me, lazy?), but think about the way Half-Life worked in terms of making movies, or if you want to go back further, the old game "Another World" (aka "Out of this World". Now there's brilliance...
      • So you saw XXX this weekend too?

        -asparagui
        • Damn entertaining, it was. I loved the avalanche. I was wondering as I watched it if it was realistic, but having not seen much avalanche footage I had to admit I liked what I saw. Now the amount of time Triple X spent falling didn't make sense and some of the shots showed him at conflicting hights in the fall. The mountain too wasn't big enough for the avalanche to go on that long, but it was fun to watch.
      • I totally agree on "Out of this World" -- one of the very few games I was upset to see end. Extremely compelling, no dialog other than "ow!"

        I can see a movie being made with no dialog, all action and only implicit script. Look at Aeon Flux. That is essencially what Alea is talking about, right?

        --Peter
        • I read somewhere in an interview with Tarsem Singh, the director of The Cell [imdb.com], that he would have done the movie completely without dialog if he could have gotten away with it. I dunno, maybe it would have worked.
          • "I read somewhere in an interview with Tarsem Singh, the director of The Cell [imdb.com], that he would have done the movie completely without dialog if he could have gotten away with it. I dunno, maybe it would have worked."

            If it were an indie movie, it would definitely have worked. The problem with 'big ticket' movies is that their appeal is so broad they have to adhere to a set of standards. That's why all movies are in color, for example. (It's not because color is automatically better.)

            The internet has provided indie moviemakers with the broadcast channels they need to get their work known. Once they figure out how to make money from it, the MPAA will have a serious problem on their hands. If I can spend less money for a movie that's more suited to my tastes, then it's going to win over something that's at the box-office.

            Anybody remember that 405 movie a coupla guys made not too long ago? It was a HUGE hit with Lightwave animators. If they had done a 'making of' video of it (and maybe they have, I haven't checked up on it) I'm sure they would have sold at least 1,000 copies. That's peanuts to a movie studio, that's a lot of money for the guys who spent 2-3 months working on it.
            • That was an awesome clip. They did a "making of" section on their website [405themovie.com] which was informative and entertaining as well.
              • Ah!! you rock dude! Thank you!!!

                I think it's fairly safe to assume that you have at least a passing interest in how movies are made, so I'd like to point you to a site that I like:

                http://www.moviefxmag.com/

                This is the website for a DVD-based magazine. I found one of their 'mags' on the shelf of a bookstore once and picked it up for $10. What you get is an hour long video that goes into how some effects are achieved. The one I bought had a special on 'Cats & Dogs' that showed how the CG and puppetwork on the movie was achieved. It was really cool.

                I can personally recommend this place. As a matter of fact, Im subscribing tonight. Pity I can't find them in the bookstore anymore, though.

      • Thus, I think a "pure" action movie, containing little or no dialogue and only implicit plot could be great.

        Hmmm. Interesting viewpoint. I don't agree with it but it's interesting. Let's draw an analogy to sex. Sex with someone you love is awesome. Sex with a complete stranger you couldn't care less about is an empty experience. But, as Dave Barry says, as far as empty experiences go, it's one of the best.

        GMD

        • Another analogy could be porno movies with great plot, dialogue, acting, etc... and movies that only have hardcore fucking. Of course as far as I know (I don't watch them all or read reviews) there has never been a great porno movie that had all the qualities of the best Hollywood-made film.
      • Not really known for its SFX (since it was made for a few thousand dollars), but Robert Rodriguez's El Mariachi [imdb.com] fits into this vein quite nicely. The dialogue was limited, as was the plot. What remained was a pretty outstanding action flick. There are others that come to mind, but the fact remains that "action" should not be synonymous with "massive budgets for digital SFX and explosions". It's all about presentation, no matter the method.
    • So we can spend more and more on special effects, and less and less on those useless "plots" and "storylines"...

      That's independent film is for:)

      Seriously, I'm all for hyper realistic effects, but I can't remember the last time I saw a good STORY on film.

      Actually, yes I can, Memento.
  • screw the dinosaurs, give me s1m0ne!
    • s1m0ne (Score:1, Offtopic)

      by GuyMannDude ( 574364 )

      screw the dinosaurs, give me s1m0ne!

      Err, wouldn't you rather screw s1m0ne? I don't wanna hear about any dino-porn on slashdot. Those goatse.cx links are already too much to stomach.

      GMD

  • From the article:

    But in part because digital projection does not create as unmistakable an improvement in the viewing experience as, say, the talkies did over silent films, theater chains are unwilling to foot the bill for the new projectors, which cost at least $100,000 per screen and might have to be upgraded every few years. Conventional film projectors, which last 20 years on average, cost $30,000.

    I have to agree with this statement. I managed to see Attack of the Clones, projected in all digital in Phoenix, AZ. When the screen switched from analog (during the previews) to digital I noticed a difference, but not huge. After watching for a few minutes, I forgot that I was even watching it in digital. It's nothing like the difference between VCR and DVD.

    Have other people who have seen movies projected in all digital had the same experience?

    • It's not just a matter of quality. Digital projection improves the distribution process dramatically. Film is a serial medium; reproducing the film platters has a time footprint that will not shrink very much by throwing more technology at it. Furthermore, they're *heavy*... which makes shipping both more expensive and more difficult to do quickly. At the same time, the movie industry is not a whole lot different from the software industry in being constrained by release dates that have more to do with marketing concerns than how long it takes to generate the finished product. Films are often being cut right up until the last possible moment to send them for reprinting and distribution (i.e. maybe 48 hours before they premiere at "a theatre near you.")

      The number of hard drives it takes to save "Attack of the Clones" is not "small," I'd wager, but compared to the size of the film platters, it's tiny. Furthermore, writing data can be done relatively rapidly compared to running prints of a film. With the right RAID setup, you can read and write different sectors to the same disk simultaneously. There's an issue of diminishing returns, but it does respond to throwing more money at it. Furthermore, you can be making multiple copies at one time; a copy of a copy of a copy isn't any different from the master. Most importantly, though, eventually the movie studios won't have to create the media *at all*... they can send the movies via secured broadband feed directly to the theatres.

      Unfortunately, you and I probably will never really notice the results of this, so your point is still valid. It does give the theatres greater motivation to upgrade, though.
    • My question is how does the cost of a digital projector stack up against the distribution costs of analog films to theaters?

      I remember reading that the duplication/distribution cost of Star Wars II was around $35 million. That is to get all them analog reels to those 3,000+ screens at once.

      With digital, it would (technically) be possible to have one digital master and transmit via satellite or leased fiber to the theaters.

      The production houses need to look at the cost of GIVING a digital projector to most theaters and going this way. It should by tons cheaper.
    • More or less. I saw AOTC at the Chinese, projected digitally, and it was Good. I was sitting about halfway back in the theater, and I couldn't see the individual vertical lines like I could when I saw it again a couple months later at another theater here in LA. At that showing, however, I was sitting much closer to the screen.

      The studios themselves should subsidize the projector costs, if they want to see digital become pervasive. Digital quality issues aside, there's a significant long-term cost savings to using digital. It costs several million dollars just to strike the prints for even a moderate release (i.e. a couple thousand prints). If you use digital, you can copy the film to the same several thousand hard disk arrays over and over. Each disk array might cost as much, or more, than a single film print, but once you've reused those disks on even a couple of films, you're already ahead of the game cost-wise. Plus, HD arrays are physically smaller and lighter than film reels, and are easier (and cheaper) to ship/transport.

      I don't have enough information to do all the math, but I suspect that if the studios invested in subsidizing digital projectors, they'd end up saving money in the long run, since they wouldn't have to strike thousands of individual film prints for each film, that might end up just getting recycled -- a hard drive array can last for years, sent back for reprogramming when a movie's run is done.

      (Side note: Roger Ebert is orgasmically in favor of Maxivision, which apparently is more or less the same as regular film except it uses 48 frames per second instead of 24. The obvious downside is that you are now using twice as much film per print (probably not quite doubling the cost to strike a print), directors can only shoot for half as long at a stretch, and significantly increasing the difficulty of shipping and physically managing film prints. Even though retrofitting a standard projector to support Maxivision only costs $15,000 (compared to replacing it with a digital projector at $100-$150k), film costs are very significant.)
      • Actually Maxivision 48 uses only 50% more film because it eliminates the spaces between frames. I used to be wildly enthusiastic about Maxivision, but I'm not so sure now. It's a great idea that would cheaply improve picture quality at least twice what it is now, but digital seems to be inevitable, its just premature for it to rival film.
    • The first movie I saw digitally projected (Spriggan) was pretty noticable: you could clearly see that it was made up of pixels. OTOH if you know what to look for you can frequently see the grain in film, so the existence of artifacts is hardly something unique to digital projection. OTOH, Attack of the Clones wasn't noticable at all.

      The real benefit is going to be a bit later in the live of the movie, though. I watched a rather old print of Ghost in the Shell recently, and it was just awful. The film was obviously scratched and spotted, and there were occasional skips from where the film had burned or torn and had to be spliced back together. The same thing isn't going to happen to a digital movie no matter how many times you show it.

  • Would the editors (Hemos, in this case) please learn to edit the posts a bit?

    Here's how I would have interpreted the post, though I'd prefer to just rewrite the whole thing and thank the original poster for providing the link:

    (too bad strikeout is not a slashdot-approved HTML tag)

    MIT's Technology Review takes a look at the world of digital special effects, [an] industry worth half a billion dollars per year, according to the authors. [The Review] talks about the role of SFX in movie production and comes to the connclusion [sic] that while [movies] might not [be] 100% computer-created in the future, [we will] see more special effects [aimed at reproducing real-world objects].
    • we have two problems here.

      One, no, they are NOT going to edit the posts. They have made that perfectly clear b/c two simple facts that a) they refuse to stop fucking up, and b) b/c they won't apologize when they do.

      Two, we continue to post about this and we are modded "Offtopic" or "Redundant" (which I find very appropriate in this instance).

      I still think that we need a method of moderating posts. The "editors" should be banned from posting when they receive a -2.
    • At the risk of being modded offtopic, I'd like to suggest that it's not just Slashdot. Everywhere, people who are generally thought of as "intelligent" would have no clue what was wrong with the post. Grammar is not taught in schools today. How do I know? I just got got out of high school a year ago, and my AP English teacher told me it was unnecessary to teach grammar. Immediately thereafter, she passed out a sheet with several sentences. She told the class (who were all "bright" and probably averaged at least a 1250 SAT score) that there was an error in each sentence. We went through the sentences one sentence at a time and she asked my peers to raise their hands when they found an error. There were several sentences where students were willing to hazard a guess. Of course they tried to correct portions of the sentence that were perfectly good. I was the sole member of a class of 20 of my schools best and brightest high school seniors -- from a school that regularly boasts the best State Proficiency Test scores in the state of Ohio. I could understand if Hemos simply made an error, but I would guess that none of the editors would even know the difference between your corrected post and the published post.

      Coincidentally and unfortunately, the post is written so horribly that I don't think it could be made both correct and coherant without being completely rewritten.
    • If you don't like it, go to Kuro5hin [kuro5hin.org]. Otherwise, quit whining. I am fine with, and sometimes even like the bad posting. It means they aren't anal retentive (like you, obviously -- Obligatory Flamebait) and make mistakes. Holy shit, you mean people make mistakes? If I wanted perfect grammar, I'll go to a news site. I want stuff that interests me, so I couldn't care much less whether or not they grammar-checked the post. IT'S NOT THE FRIGGING POINT. So get off your doped-up horse and try bitching about something important to people who can do something about that important thing, instead of bitching for the sake of being arrogant.
  • by yeoua ( 86835 ) on Wednesday August 21, 2002 @07:22PM (#4115841)
    "We call them 'invisible effects,'"

    And that is exactly where they should stay (barring of course the Pixar style total 3d animation stuff).

    Why is this? Look at Star Wars EP2 for the obvious answer. Even with Lucas Arts churning out some of the best 3d in the movie business, there are still some amazingly obvious 3d effects (Anakin getting on and riding the creature... where Anakin becomes a 3d model getting tossed like a rag doll). And this obviousness seriously hinders the overall movie experience. Anything that pushes the viewer from the imaginary world back to realising he/she is in the theater is a bad thing, and in this case, I found myself thinking, "That doesn't look real," and bang i'm back in the theater.

    So what am I say? Well, 3d should stay in the background. Until they can make it look exactly like the actor and have it move exactly like the actor, they shouldn't put it in the center of the action in a film made with real people. It is far too obvious. Though sometimes this is done pretty well.. such as Spiderman, the costumed one. The part with him in his hooded sweatshirt is also pretty obviously 3d.

    But all these amazing secondary effects are just incredible, such as the backgrounds in Cast Away. Sometimes you have no idea, and that is the point of the game. Not that you can look and say, damn Lucas Arts has just made some cool 3d stuff, but to do a double take 2 months down the road when someone tells you it actually was 3d in the first place.

    So basically, in the world of realistic 3d... the less recognition they get, the better they did their job.
    • So basically, in the world of realistic 3d... the less recognition they get, the better they did their job.

      While your example from Ep2 is a really good one - Anakin riding that creature was terrible CG, having effects stay completely in the background is often detrimental to the director's vision. Your example in Spiderman, for instance, would never be believable if it isn't believable now since it's "obviously CG" not because it just looks computer generated but because it would be physically impossible for any actor to actually crawl that fluidly in real life (up a wall or otherwise) and it would likewise be impossible for the camera to perform the complex motion that it did. Shots like the Spiderman one and the one in Fight Club where the camera is moving up through the garbage can are "obviously CG" because they are too good to be real, but they shouldn't be taken out of the film because they perfectly convey the plot points.

      I think bringing the directors complete vision to the screen is the purpose of adding effects at all, be it background replacement/addition or complete CG shots, and one type of effect shouldn't just be thrown out because it's too good to be real.
    • One thing, LucasArts is the company that makes video games (Grim Fandango, Jedi Knight, etc.). It's Industrial Light + Magic that does VFX.

      Second not all FX should stay in the background. By that criteria most scifi, fantasy, horror or action movies wouldn't be done. I mean stuff like the Balrog is an in your face FX. That it's also a good movie with a good story is an added bonus. How would you expect for filmakers to make those kind of films?

      Also by you suposition then VFX has ben a waste for a century. Did stop motion, miniature and animatronics replicated exactly the "look of the actor" before. Of course not, it's all about suspension of disbelief.

      Just because you know something was an FX og CG doesn't mean it's not realistic. There is something to say about psycho-perception.
    • There is an interesting back and forth between Roger Ebert and Peter Donen (a Visual Effects Supervisor) on the effects of The Bourne Identity [suntimes.com].

      It seems that during "Ebert & Roeper at the Movies", Roeper said that "no computer effects are as good as a well-shot movie in Paris" to which Ebert responded "this movie is a convincing argument for really photographing real things happening on real locations."

      Then Doren responded (as he had worked on The Bourne Identity) saying that there were actually over 150 special effect shots "includ[ing] miniatures, blue screen, wire removal, time manipulation, 3D character animation and background replacement for starters."

      His take [suntimes.com] on his job: "I come from the school that says if I do my job well, my work will not be noticed by the audience."
    • I bet you're one of the guys that liked the racing scenes in the "fast and the Furious". I like them too. Well guess what, some of the scenes showed CG cars racing against other CG cars. It's way to dangerous to drive a camera car inbetween two high speed racers (and the director thought that sped up footage looked too cheesy). If the 3d is done right, you don't even know that it's 3d.
  • Movie Magic (Score:2, Interesting)

    Watching the Behind The Scenes featurettes isn't just the same anymore. I remember watching the making of Star Wars, how they'd string up the space ship models and rig them with firecrackers. Now its like "this is the computer where we do everything... it starts out in a wireframe like this and then we map on the textures." Whoopdeedoo. Its just not the same.
  • When film gets scanned into an AVID system, what resolution is that? I'm assuming its as high as possible since after its transferred to film again much will be lost.
    • I am really sorry I didn't finish reading the article like I should have. Question answered.
    • Any one of half a dozen rezes.

      Most Avid work is cutting video, i.e. you're cutting a low-res video copy of the film. You then take that video and go back to rematch the original film work to the cuts made with the video. This process is called negative cutting.

      I'm assuming what you're referering to is special effects work and whatnot. This is generally done at 2k res, or 4k if it's appropriate (read: the producers are loaded).

      2k = 2048 * something, depending on the format.
      4k = you're a /. nerd, figure those 2^something's out!

      -asparagui

      • In the case of AOTC, they are going back to the original video since there is no negative.

        I would imagine that the working and final resolution in AOTC would be lower since so much of the movie involved digital sets and large amounts of compositing.

        Andrew
  • the arthouse set.. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by stratjakt ( 596332 )
    Every time an announcement is made about movie SFX, the arthouse clique shows up with alot of high and mighty talk about how the important elements are plot and quality acting, etc etc. I guess this makes them feel like they have more culture than the average man, i dunno.. IANAP (psychologist)

    The same thing happens in video games. There are those who constantly say 'i dont care how good Doom 3 looks, its still the same crap, i want better gameplay, thats what counts'..

    Though these points are valid, you cant ignore the reality that eye candy and the Wow factor sell entertainment. People always want to see the next level.

    Now, its safe to bet most /.ers are fans of the original Star Wars.. But take a moment to step back and ask yourself what made that movie a phenomenon..

    Was it the story? Hardly.. Simple, archetypal boy-rescues-girl plot thats been repeated since the dawn of time.. Was it the acting? That great moment when Luke lands back at base after destroying the death star, Leia goes 'Luke!', he turns to her and exclaims 'Carrie!'. Or the whining 'But Uncle Owen, I wanted to look at power converters'

    Naw, what made that movie was the effects. Noone had seen anything like it before. Dont discount the audio ground lucas broke with THX, either..

    Jurassic Park was another.. Dinosaurs are loose, we gotta escape. No plot, nothing to think about here. But those cool looking dinosaurs brought me in.

    Most people just want to sit back, turn their minds off, and be impressed.. Always have, always will. Snooty intellectual affairs will always be the exception, never the rule.

    If this wasn't true we'd still be happy with black and white film and our Commodore 64s

    Now get out there and blow sum stuff up for me
    • [in Return of the Jedi,] Leia goes 'Luke!', [Luke] turns to her and exclaims 'Carrie!'

      Urban legend. Luke actually exclaims 'Hey!'

      ...one gospel author playing another...

    • Actually, the effects weren't particularly amazing in the original star wars. The explosions in space were a new process, and while rotascope wasn't new, no-one had done anything like light sabres before. Lots of However the space ship shots, and the creature FXs weren't anything which hadn't been seen in many other movies.
  • While Episode II was pretty much considered a bad movie, it did accomplish some stuff that is seriously cool. There was a LOT of footage in that movie where the background was a miniature standing about 18" tall. That surprised the hell out of me when I picked up the latest issue of Cinefex! They actually built this tiny miniature of a room, placed a robotically controlled camera in it, and composited blue-screened actors over it. We're not talking static background either, the camera moved through the set quite casually.

    This technique isn't new, it dates back to the early 80s. (Greatest American Hero, for example..) AOTC did a wonderful job of pulling that off convincingly.

    I really can't wait to see this type of advance winding it's way down to independent moviemakers. I'm really curious what happens when somebody uninhibited by mass-market considerations is able to get their imagination on screen.
  • by brer_rabbit ( 195413 ) on Wednesday August 21, 2002 @07:50PM (#4115961) Journal
    Digital effects are like markup tags. When you first find out how to use them they're really neat but over use can detract from the real content.
    • That's true.

      Another factor is that limitations often result in better work. The original Star Trek series is a classic example. They didn't have the budget to film a landing sequence for every episode, so the writers invented 'transporters'. Not only did that provide a key technology in the Trek universe, but it also removed the need for a lot of extra dialog. I don't think I could stand hearing them shout out every little procedure required to make the landing. "Coming in at 250 knots, engaging lateral thrusters."
  • Like has been said.... special effects are going to get better... big whooping deal. There's going to be a limit, though (once you've reached real-life, what's next?) And we all read the Carmack keynote. What is interesting is this threshold we're quickly approaching where we can create these movie-studio quality graphics on a single workstation in real time, using hardware that's no different than what is found in a consumer lever machine. That's bad for the SFX studios; how can they charge outrageous amounts for something that every kid has in their basement? It reminds me of the start of 3D in games; it has the potential to be the birth of an entire new garage industry.
    • I would take with a grain of salt that assumption. Real time CG has really taken off and some of the stuff shown at places like SIGGRAPH. But CG for VFX have other requirements and difficulties. Don't you think that the smart people inside these houses are always looking for the edge for every bit of performance and power? Even now a days we can't create in computers real time graphics that match the complexity of the work in Jurasic Park or Toy Stiry. Just look for Tom Duff's comments about the hype machine from graphic card makers. We might one day get it but I won't hold my breath. If it ever gets to that point don't you think SFX studios won't be the first to jump in?

      Besides even though VFX studios charge a lot they are operating on razor thin profit margins. Many barely survive and many have gone belly up vecause of that, like Boss Films or when Warner killed Warner Digital. Second lets make a comparision. I mean in some of these movies you pay a star up to 20 million U$ plus what the director and maybe other actors might get and half the movie nbudget is spent on just a few persons above the line. Compare these to say paying U$ 30 million for a big FX show (say like Pearl Harbor or Mummy 2) on which you have to pay for maybe a couple of hundred people's salaries between 6 to 12 months. If anything studios are getting their FX work dirt cheap. Most of the VFX studios expenditures is salaries not hardware or software. You need to pay for the best artistc and technical talent.
        • Ohh I did read it, and actually I re-read your link in case I didn't remember something right. I'm not saying that it will never happen. I just have an issue with those saying that it'll happen in a few years. Besides Carmack was pretty bold, saying they are all wrong. Do you think someone like Tom Duff or Larry Gritz are plain worng and don't know their stuff. These are also pretty smart guys who work in CG for movies, with PhDs and actual practical knowledge of what it takes. The parent post implied that a graphics card would be able to do the work of a dedicated 1000 CPU render farm. Not in a couple of years. And besides CG and VFX studios will be doing even more complex stuff also, it's not like it's a stagnant industry, a quick look around SIGGRAPH would convince anyone.

          But you had quotes here are some in response, which I put in the previous Slashdot article about real time graphics, plus someone elses:

          Wjat does the GSCube do [google.com]
          Playstation 2 and Toy Story [google.com]
          Real-Time RenderMan? [google.com]

          Toy Story Graphics [google.com]

          So yes one day it'll probably be true but I don't think my next computer/video card would be able to do it. The hardware papers at SIGGRAOPH doesn't seem to imply that it's almost upon us that hardware will match VFX quality graphics, which is another field in CG.

          Also he brings some points but there are a little bit off. The waves for the Perfetc Storm were simulated first, Origin 2000 I think. After the data was generated, then it was rendered. Still it took hours just to render one frame each. Carmack seemed to only concentrate on the simulation step, when actually you can think of it as a 2 step process. Then again at AWGUA, Bill Buxton showed the fluid effcts from inside Maya 4.5 and in a video about Jos Stam he had a fluid simulator running in a PDA. Granted it was coarse and simple but it was really impressive.

          I'm all for more realistic games but I'll just wait for it.

          • by Anonymous Coward
            I think you're missing the point.

            What clients want in their FX is customizability; the hardware necessary to do it is nowadays a secondary consideration. I have the capacity with my home machine (just an athlon) to create shots for film - sure, it might take a while, but it's certainly possible. Imagine that regular hardware becomes fast enough to render in real time. Even with this, it's still the artist that will make or break the image. If homegrown vfx were to become more accessible to the avg public, they would have to become easier to create, and the easier something becomes the less customizable it is. The advantage of using a digital system is its complexity and customizability, and in the end it will be the artist who takes advantage of those and makes the shot.

            There's a cliche in the visual effects industry:
            It's the artist, not the tool.
            • I wonder.... and this is my point. Let's take Mr. Carmack at his word (he is, after all, smarter then me :) and say that all this power is possible within a few years. Not to take the artist out of the equation at all, but... what IS going to happen when a home machine has that much power? I really don't think we're quite grasping the first part of that statement... the power to do Toy Story (or better) graphics in real time. Imagine that. "I want the huey here, the tank there on the rolling hillside, these three missles will fire, and the explosion will go here! Roll it!" No, it will never be as good for the reasons stated (custimizability, modelling (the huey came from where, exactly?), etc), but for the 75% of people it will be close. That makes it much less of a marketable commodity, IMHO. But then, maybe I am comparing Louve pieces with a Starving Artist's sale... time will tell.
      • That's true. Five years ago, everybody in the industry had SGI boxes, but now, it's mostly PCs. Animation software is much cheaper, too.

        Maya represents a major, and underreported business achievement. SGI did something that companies always talk about doing and never bring off - got synergy from a merger. They bought Alias and Wavefront, and two years later, out came a product that combined the best of both. That deserves a business school study.

        Meanwhile, Softimage got bought by Microsoft, then sold off to Avid, Softimage|XSI was years late, Avid bought Motion Factory and trashed it, and in the end, Softimage moved from #1 to about #4. (As a Softimage user and plug-in developer, I found this annoying. But that's another story.)

        • That's true. Five years ago, everybody in the industry had SGI boxes, but now, it's mostly PCs. Animation software is much cheaper, too.

          True in the CG side of the industry, people use Maya or 3DS MAX running on PCs. However post production companies are still using SGI boxes (Octane, Onyx) in conjunction with, for example, Discreet's [discreet.com] Inferno/Flame/Fire/Smoke software for non-linear editing and compositing. These SGI systems are still very expensive as is the software and support contracts, etc.
  • by NeMon'ess ( 160583 ) <(flinxmid) (at) (yahoo.com)> on Wednesday August 21, 2002 @08:04PM (#4116025) Homepage Journal
    On the other hand, Rosen doubts that artists or audiences will soon want to give up the unique sensory qualities of film. "If we look decades ahead, people will come to realize that digital [photography] is another way of doing things, but film will give you a different organic look," he says. "It's like oil paint and acrylic. Digital has a different texture."

    I disagree with this argument. If digital videocameras and especially the projectors continue to improve it is only a matter of time before audiences prefer digital to film. The current bottleneck is the Texas Instuments projectors which are limited to 1024 or 1280 lines. Lucas filmed Episode 2 at a higher res than that but is limited by the projectors.

    While film could 'fight back' by going to 70mm or using the excellent Maxivision 48 system, I think it is a loosing battle because projectors will still have jitter, and prints will continue to wear and fade.

    Larger film requires more storage space as does digital. Luckily for digital, storage capabilities continue to improve as hard drives cram ever more data into their platters.

    In the long view costs will come down for digital, which is another current drawback. This is assuming digital becomes popular enough for economies of scale and competition to kick in. A complicated chicken and the egg situation indeed.
    • There is another projection system made by JVC/Hues that is actually much better (supposedly) than the TI alternative, but Texas instruments is doing much more to publicize their digital cinema efforts.
    • This is how I usually explain it.

      Lets say a freshly struck, properly done 35 mm film print has a visual quality index of 10. Out of 10. Absolutely stunning.

      Lets say that digital film has a VQI of 7. Not bad.

      When you go to a theatre, that digital film is always going to be VQI 7, barring equipment damage.

      The film? Depends on how many times it's been run, film damage, splicing errors, colour fading, blah blah blah. Ranges anywhere from 1 to 9, probably. Averaging, probably, 5 or 6.

    • Projection of any kind is doomed anyway... if 'decades ahead' includes enough decades, we'll all just be jacking in nanobots to convert our sensory input when we want to 'watch' a movie. :)
    • yes, but how do you do an emergency
      splice when the HD crashes?
    • On the other hand, Rosen doubts that artists or audiences will soon want to give up the unique sensory qualities of film... "film will give you a different organic look. It's like oil paint and acrylic. Digital has a different texture."

      Actually, although Rosen's right about the different look of digital and standard films, it's a moot point. I recently read an article about a technique to overlay a unique grain onto each frame of a digital film, thereby almost exactly duplicating the look of standard film...

      So, basically, we get our higher definition, longer lasting digital films with the organic look Rosen praises included (if that's what you prefer, of course).

      Rosen loses both ways...
  • I feel so much better. The scene in Cast Away where he first climbs to the top and looks down on the coastline and sees steep waves in every direction was really eye-popping. But I just couldn't shake the feeling that it didn't look right. The clarity was so high that I convinced myself it must be real film, but it turns out I should trust my feelings.
  • Look ath Final Fantisy: The Spirits Within. It was a total CGI film. The animators over at square studios (R.I.P. square studios) did an amazing job of creating lifelike characters in a convincing 3D world. The production did take years, but it was done. Just imagine, FF:TSW was made aboout two years ago. In a very fiew years, we will begin to see more of these completely CGI movies.

    On the note of keeping CGI effects in the background, I agree 100%. No studio is up to the realism level that the camera can capture on the set of a film. Some effects are better than others (like Yoda in episode II), but the majority are not convincing enough to blend in seamlisly with the live action. Untill CGI is integrated without the audience noticing, teep the CGI in the effects department, not with critical characters.
    • In a very fiew years, we will begin to see more of these completely CGI movies

      No we wont. No studio is going to risk making another photorealistic cgi movie like FF. I personally hope it stays that way. You want photorealistic actors? Hire some.

    • StarShip Troopers.

      The BUGS were the finest damn meshing of CGI and live action to date. They reacted realistically, didn't 'slide' along things, blah blah blah.

      Of course, it helps that insects are SUPPOSED to have smooth yet jerky movements....

  • "...and comes to the connclusion that while might not 100% computer-created in the future..."
  • i'm sure i'm not the only one who thinks that using soemthing physical for special effects shots(actual explosives, miniatures etc.) look way better than completely cgi shots i remember seeing the special edition of star wars and just noticing the difference in the new scenes and the old ones, the old miniatures shots that were touched up a little with cgi looked loads better than the completely cgi shots, even the original miniature shots looked better than the new cgi shots, the original death star explosion was an actual explosion and a buncha saw dust that they filmed in the ILM parking lot, this looked so much better than any cgi explosion i've seen, also the scene in ANH w/ jabba looked terrible, the big puppet in RotJ looked much more *realistic*, same with yoda, the muppet looked a lot better than the all CGI yoda in tPM, i think it woulda been awsum if yoda was still a muppet for his big fight scene in AotC
    • You do realize that both TPM and AOTC used tons of miniatures. ILM has one of the biggest model shops in the industry. At peak time ILM had 60 model makers working on AOTC besides whatever oterh they had for other productions. Same with Weta Workshop which boasta an impressive model shop. Acually most explosuions are done via practical pyro elements including AOTC and a host of other VFX movies.

      Besides you could take the devil's argument and say that the ESB puppet loks exactly like that, a rubber pupett as opposed to a real brwtahing character ;-).
  • When I first read the title I was scrolling down and didn't see the bottom of the 'F' causing my mind to decide it was an 'E'. I think you can extrapolate what I thought it said from there;) I remember thinking "sure it's a geek site but can't they at least give us the benifit of the doubt?!?"
  • "...we'll see more of realistic-looking special effects in future titles."

    Do we really need an MIT student to tell us that?
  • This was the most relevant quote for me:

    "There are certain skills necessary to accomplish the shooting, making and coming out on the other end with a motion picture," Poster says. "One is cinematography. We say, if you know how to light it doesn't matter what medium you're shooting on. Likewise, if you don't know how to light it doesn't matter which medium you're shooting in."

    I just graduated from college with a stack of short films behind me, and I'm gearing up for my first feature. From a technical standpoint, yes, film is still much better than digital -- I'm sure people on this thread will mention the absurdly low resolution of today's HD video. But to go to film means tripling the budget, raising tens of thousands of more dollars. And that's for 16mm, not even the 35 that we know and love in the theater.

    One of my friends says, "Don't bother with video, it looks like crap. Spend the money instead to make a 35mm short that will look really professional and then people will invest in a 35mm movie." And another one of my friends actually went and did it, getting into some pretty big film fests.

    But I agree with the quote -- it's not how good the format is, it's how you use it. Take two recent digital movies, Tadpole and The Fast Runner. The first is lit like the filmmakers know it's a cheap format, and treat it like a cheap format -- everything is hastily lit and handheld. Certain passages look like a home movie my dad could have shot. In the latter, the format was treated with respect and carefully lit, getting as much out of the format as possible. And it looks fantastic -- I would have no complaints is my film looked like that.

    And even beyond that, what good is a great-looking format if the story isn't worth the film stock it's shot on? (I won't name any titles here.) So no, I'm going to do a feature-length movie on video before I do a short in 35 (unless, of course, I can raise the money to do a feature on 35 :). It's going to be a great looking video, with a compelling story that takes advantage of the unique qualities of the medium.

    When it comes to SFX, "digital" does not necessarily mean "better." The models of Star Trek: TNG, with light passing over the textured, solid models in unsimulatable ways, are much more realistic to me than a Voyager frame filled with two dozen wire meshes. (I'm using TV shows for examples because the budget constraints are tighter.) My eyes have started glazing over all fake looking FX, especially digital stuntmen in features. They pull me out of the story immediately. I stop seeing them as people, and I didn't pay $10 to care about someone's digital models. I want to be like Zemeckis -- do FX that you can do well, and make sure they they serve the STORY instead of being their own attractions.
  • I really do like CGI effects. Some of my favorite shows have really good CGI, Futurama, Lexx, other Sci-Fi. The problem is all the suspense is gone. I know that the person is in front of a green screen, I know they aren't in any harms way, except Jackie Chan.

    There will always be a place for real stunt men, those are the scenes that still get me excited in movies. Seeing XXX snowboard down the side of a mountain in front of an avalanche may be cool, and loud, but it's anything but suspensful.

    Hopefully we'll always have Jackie Chan and others to make that kind of entertainment to amaze us.
  • "we'll see more of realistic-looking special effects in future titles." - wow, that's a bold prediction.
  • trade mag (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Cinefex [cinefex.com] magazine covers all this stuff in tremendous detail.

    The Lord of the Rings issue is pretty impressive.

  • Making an "effects film" is somewhat different from the traditional Hollywood directing process. It's more like animation directing. This has caused some major cost overruns.

    Animation, traditionally, is very preplanned. The animation director draws a storyboard, which, in traditional animation, is a series of pencil sketches pinned to a wall. All the shots, and all the timing, is worked out at the storyboard level. Production then consists of filling in the gaps; frames between the storyboard frames are drawn (this is "in-betweening") details and colors go in, backgrounds are drawn, and all the pieces are assembled. All the creative decisions were made up-front, and are seldom changed during production.

    Live-action film work isn't traditionally that structured. Some directors preplan everything; some just wing it. Directors have been successful with both approaches. Alfred Hitchcock and Roger Corman represent the extremes of that spectrum.

    Then came films with mixed CGI and live action. Both parts have to match. This requires more preplanning. A lot more preplanning. The newer Star Wars movies were described as "years of preproduction, a few months of principal photography, years of postproduction".

    It's not as much fun for the director as it used to be. But unstructured directing runs the budget through the roof. ("Space Jam" ran into this problem. I went to a talk by the lead effects guy, who was trying really hard not to describe the director as an asshole. That project went into postproduction hell, where, every morning, the director, his cronies, and studio execs viewed the dailes from the last night's rendering and ordered changes. First shift animated, second shift rendered, third shift transferred to film and developed. This went on for months.)

    One way out of this is to put the animation director in charge. Now everything synchs right, and there's less rework, but the acting may be wooden.

    There's a trend towards doing the entire movie twice, first as a low-quality computer animation, and then for real. This allows studios to see what the film will look like before green-lighting the production. It's basically big-budget storyboarding.

    The industry is still struggling with this.

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