VFX men preach gospel of reality

Supervisors from 'Iron Man,' 'Indiana Jones' weigh in

FRANKFURT, Germany -- Leading VFX supervisors emphasized the goal of realism as they dissected some of the summer's biggest tentpoles for standing room crowds here Tuesday as the Edit Filmmakers Festival wrapped.

"My premise is that I'd like to have at least 50% of the image in camera," said Industrial Light + Magic's Pablo Helman, VFX supervisor on "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," as he showed various shots in jungle and temple sequences that included numerous live-action elements. "I would not come up with a shot that is all CG or all miniature. The state of visual (effects) literally is such that people can tell if there is only one technique. I think it works better to put things together."

Academy Award winner John Nelson, the VFX supervisor on Jon Favreau's "Iron Man," similarly aimed to incorporate live-action elements where possible.

"Realism was beaten into me on a daily basis," he chuckled.

The title character itself was a combination of different techniques, including practical shots and CG.

Nelson added that this superhero had to be treated differently than others, such as Superman or Spider-Man. "He is not from another planet, and he doesn't have special powers because he was bitten by a spider. He's a rich guy with means, and he is really smart. Visual effects should reinforce the story and look at it thematically."

For Academy Award winner Joel Hynek, visual effects supervisor on "The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor," bringing a believable Terracotta Army to life meant making each soldier an individual. "This involved creating a number of body types, heads and different crack shapes and a procedural method for mixing and matching and varying their performances, colors and textures," he said.

During the "Indiana Jones" session, Helman saluted Steven Spieberg's visual approach. "Steven Spielberg is about iconic images," he said. "We were shooting anamorphic, in some cases with the lenses used in the other three 'Indiana Jones' movies. This is one way we matched 'Kingdom of the Crystal Skull' with the other movies. ... He also wants to focus the eye on one thing in the frame, by playing with brightness. This is Steven Spielberg. He does this on purpose."

The emphasis of the Filmmakers Festival has always been on education, and this year was its most expansive program yet. "The addition of American Cinema Editors and Imago (the European Association of Cinematographers) as presenting partners provides the Filmmakers Festival the opportunity to greatly expand its content," said festival co-director Tom Atkin.

"Education is what we stand for," said ACE president Randy Roberts. "It would be wonderful to get more ACE editors here next year."