Most music composers have the same set of tools in front of them. Yet why do we like some songs or composers better than others? Most shoe manufacturers have the same equipment with them but yet we prefer a particular brand against the rest. Or, the technology involved in the production of Avatar, one of the highest grossing films of all time can be consigned to anyone but it cannot be guaranteed that it would be as good as the James Cameron version! So what makes this difference? The technology is for all, everyone is making use of it but only some stand out. Why? Because technology doesn’t have a brain of its own. It can help you create but it will not tell you how to or what to. That depends upon the artistic sense of each individual. You cannot hire anyone to think for you! Needless to say, without art, technology cannot explore it’s maximum potential.
The technology that uplifted the entire Film and Television Industry to a different altitude was Visual Effects. While many movies bestowed us an astonishing experience, many other movies made us pull our hairs out. That is what happens when technology is taken for granted. So, the bad news is Technology cannot cover up for one’s lack of creativity.
Steven Spielberg, one of the most celebrated filmmakers of all time is a master in delivering visual effects in the right artistic sense. In fact, his Jurassic Park is a textbook for any creative person. Remember the scene just before the Dinosaur showed up before the kids? It just took a bottle of glass to quake to send our nerves cracking! That is an artist at work! Though the film was filled with monster animals, the fear was there even when they were not visibly shown on screen. This was attained through clever storytelling and creative arrangement of settings. Combined, the computer generated dinosaurs occupied just 6 minutes of screen time and the total effects shots for dinosaurs made up only 14 minutes of the total 127 minutes! Just because he had the technology at his disposal, Spielberg did not go all out with it. Instead he used it wherever it was absolutely necessary. In other words, it was not dinosaurs who terrorized us. It was Spielberg, the storyteller!
One chief characteristic of an artistic mind is the attention to detail and it is extremely critical in visual effects. Directed by James Cameron, Titanic, which broke most box office and Academy Award records, is one of the finest examples in this regard. Recreating a ship that was built almost another century ago is no child’s play and James Cameron wanted his ship to be as accurate as the original one. The builders of the original ship, RMS Titanic, opened their private archives for the film crew and shared the blueprints of ship which were thought to be lost. The movie team then build a new studio acquiring 40 acres of waterfront in Mexico. A horizon tank of seventeen million gallons was built for the exterior of the ship! Using photographs and plans from the Titanic’s builders the interior portions of the ship such as the first class staircase, rooms, carpets, furniture, chairs, decorations, completed ceilings were all designed to be as detailed and accurate as original! The staircase which was made out of real woods were actually destroyed while filming the sinking scenes. Because there were visual effects to help him, Cameron did not go out to make just another giant ship. He wanted THE TITANIC and he was dedicated to bring it out as true to the original!
“How did they do that” is one of the favorite reactions from audience that every filmmaker likes to hear. And in 2013, director Alfonso Cuaron, successfully generated such response through his ‘Gravity’. When the film was initially mapped out, the entire team knew the technology to make the film didn’t exist and they had to invent it. Anyone who watched Gravity would appreciate the art of their invention! The end product even amazed its lead star Sandra Bullock. Quite often, for actors who are part of VFX-heavy films, the end result would seem strange as their work would look like a tiny spot in a story that is unrecognizable. But Sandra Bullock said that while filming, she actually experienced the movie the way viewers did! She couldn’t see the co actor’s side, the stars or the space shuttle or she didn’t know how she looked like in a suit. In other words, she felt exactly like the character we saw on screen! Such technology can only come out of artistically driven brains. To capture the actors faces and bodies the right way, they invented a 729-foot cube known as the Lightbox and outfitted it with 4096 LED bulbs. The lightbox could imitate light effects from any given scene to allow shadows across Bullock’s face. It also contained a rig that held her and was also used to move entirely around her. Before the film even went on floor, Alfonso Cuaron had animated the entire film, shot by shot, so that he would know what exactly he had to accomplish on set!
In every creative industry, it is quintessential to remain technologically updated. But as technology becomes affordable and easy, one shouldn’t forget the basic qualities needed to deliver the most amazing content. Without creative, innovative and artistic capabilities, technology is pointless.