Monday, January 5, 2009

Make of this what you will.


Shawn said...

As the pictures straight-forwardly demonstrate a process of digitalization, the 'make of this what you will' must refer to implications and speculations for the future. Button is basically appropriate as an introduction to computer manipulated filmmaking, as early Hollywood films showcased cutting edge make-up or special effect techniques within theatrical, old-fashioned and conservative drama pieces. So by invoking archaic tendencies within the narrative, the film services an appropriately safe vista for gazing at burgeoning technology in filmmaking.

And digital effects have formed a permanent relationship with narrative cinema. This picture might as well be of a make-up crew painting a face, in terms of how sophisticated it will seem within only a few years. Cameron's Avatar, his reentry into narrative filmmaking, should be at least 60% cg work. The work of the actors, the cinematographer, the writer, the editor, etc, will amount to only 40% of the total production efforts. Not to mention it'll be 3d.

Lower cost techniques are pervasively employed. Lars von Trier employed a computer as the editor of his last film: "With [The Boss of it All], von Trier uses a new means of filmmaking for this film: Automavision, whereby filming is done with an "automatic randomized camera" that selects the shots. It became a means for Von Trier to "clean up" his approach to directorial work and reconnect with his own love of filmmaking."

And as computer generated enhancements become more common place, more companies open specializing in the field, driving costs down. It's typical now to see minor cg work in independent films - usually cost saving utilization. How deeply it'll infect the production will depend only on the filmmaker's preference, i.e. Lucas telling Scorsese he could have saved millions if he'd allowed ILM to construct the period NY sets of Gangs of New York. In a digital world, physical existence is an artist's choice, not right. This will effect everyone at all levels of production costs.

I vividly recall a conversation I had years ago in a Centerville Ohio driveway about the possibility of AI replacing the work of writers/actors. I thought it was inevitable. I was probably right, although it hasn't happened yet. When you read an article in which a director discusses his decision for using the first actor created by computer, whose personality is derived from qualities programmed to be executed by control of the computer, then I will be right. I think it'll be pretty fascinating.

joe said...

"In a digital world, physical existence is an artist's choice, not right. This will effect everyone at all levels of production costs."


I think that the big thing about this is that
1. its in post production
2. Pitt isn't even on set, let alone doing any body-related acting.

I think that point 1 distinguishes it as different from "early Hollywood films showcased cutting edge make-up" and more aligned with special effects, as you note. Make up is in camera. Here, everything is out of camera, including lighting changes, color, and even the actor's face.

Point 2, as Ryan put it, "makes me think that no one does anything any more. It's all in post."

I agree. I like it so much better when things are actually happening in camera. It may not be "right" and it may be the artist's choice, but its what I enjoy the most.

Shawn said...

I want to mention the semantic redirection of the word 'right' between my comment and your response only because it obfuscates what's being discussed: I used the word in a context of financial correctness and in reference to production costs and you used it for a sarcastic defense of artistic purity and humanness so that it meant something closer to moral correctness. Why do that? Is your point here that cg and computer technology isolates the filmmaker from true, genuine human experience and that this is a sin?
Point is, it's the way in which the method is used by the artist that defines its relevance. You couldn't convince me that Fincher betrayed any filmmaking principles through intelligent use of computer technology as highlighted in the picture, because you couldn't convince me in the first fucking place that it's my right to judge the means by which a filmmaker produces a film. If some filmmakers want to use a shitload of cg it won't stop filmmakers who don't use cg from not using cg. This won't stop you from being 100% physical (aka bullshit, unless you plan on not editing the film, and you don't want to color correct, or overdub, or soundtrack, or even add sound to, just use whatever the mic records, etc etc etc, because the way in which 90% of movies create a believable reality is through intense and profound arrangements of the physical). If you would have hired a voodoo head-shrinker to miniaturize Pitt and filmed him in that way props to you. That'd be another great way of accomplishing that scene.
I do feel bad for the talented and gifted computer artists, who along with Pitt performing facial acting separately, composed the young Button in Fincher's film. I feel bad for him because some people are calling his art nothing and saying that the work of the post-production artist is subservient to the role of the actor. Unshareable. An actor's art is what defines a character and nothing else.
There are going to be evolving methods for acting in and producing films, and in some instances it will marginalize the work of others. This is fascinating and nothing to be feared because it will only emphasize the strengths of the marginalized in other films. It will only diversify a young art, which should be allowed to diversify.
Me? I think VFX and SFX are the same, and I think any tampering is tampering, and that the message and the intention of the piece should be judged first and foremost. I think Fincher's Button isn't a revolutionary model of character development at all. I've seen worse. Fincher actually intertwines the real and the unreal, and the real Pitt makes an appearance.
I certainly don't want to split hairs over it.

joe said...

agreed with most of what you said. agreed with marginalization, and no sarcasm meant with "right." seriously. i totally get the more cgi approach to filmmaking, and i am totally not equating in-camera sfx with editing, dubbing etc. of course we're going to use computers, of course its not 100% physical.

anyways, yes. thanks shawn. love you.