Infilm making, Visual Effects means creating a processed image with a brand newenvironment outside the context of a live shot, because VFX allow to create aunique world or places that may be impossible to capture, expensive to reach,impractical for acting or just dangerous.Furthermore, Visual Effects help to give a realistic look to the live actionfootage, as well as a brand new world totally integrated in it.According to the history, we can say that Visual Effects have been used infilms almost from the beginning of film creation: it’s easy to remember George Méliès,a French magician and film director who used Visual Effects extensively around the1900s and 1910s.In those years he released one of his most famous films, the well-known “A tripto the moon” in which he used almost every kind of special and visual effectstricks that are still used today.He is considered the one who invented the fantasy and sci-fi cinema, and he isuniversally recognised as the “father” of special and visual effects,the one who accidentally discovered the substitution trick, using for the firsttime multiple exposure, the fading and hand-painted color directly on the film.
From those years, Visual Effects started an evolution, becoming very elaborate,more specifically it was around the 1920s that things started to change: on the1926 Fritz Lang’s Metropolis influenced a lot the VFX industry with its “SchüfftanProcess” (also used in other movies), an effect which consisted in usingvarious forced perspective techniques in order to create a kind of optical illusionrelated to measurement parameters such as distance, size and orientation.From the 1950s, thanks to the development of technology and tools such as theMotion Control Rig and the Blue Screen technique, very sophisticated footagebecame to be a reality. The first was developed by Paramount and allowed to obtain a precise control of camera movements even with repetition,and the second allowed to extract and composite a person or an object previouslyrecorded against a blue or green background, in order to replace it with acustom one.Computer graphics evolution led to the development of the Bezier Curves in1970s as well as the creation of the famous CG teapot, a recognised computergraphics icon.With the beginning of the 80s the industry saw a wide range of new emerginggraphics software houses, as well as the release of new products like thefamous AutoCAD by Autodesk in 1982.Around those years the company LucasFilm changed its name to Pixar AnimationStudios (1986) and the company released Renderman, a famous rendering software alwaysused for 3D animated movies such as Toy Story or A Bug’s Life, and especiallyfor in-house productions: moreover it is used with Maya by Autodesk.It is in the 90s that the industry felt the significant explosion, especiallyin CG movies such as The Mask, Forrest Gump, Casper, Jumanji or Jurassic Park.
In this period, and in the early 2000s, we saw the development of a newexciting technology, the motion capture, which was used to record the movementof people or objects, in order to put computer graphics elements intolive-action scenes (match moving), for example in the new Beauty And The Beastmovie published in 2017.Other movies like The Lord of The Rings literally took this new match moving technologyto a new advanced level, as we have seen with the character Gollum, a creaturewhich required a heavy usage of motion capture, since the production team wassuccessfully able to merge the actor’s movement into a CG creature. This encouragedmany others to study and perfect this tool even further for new movies, likePirates of the Caribbean, in which there is a wide usage of facial motioncapture, a feature that was used again in James Cameron’s Avatar, also with newadvancements related to the body motion.
Starting from the 2000s we can proudly say that Visual Effects break theboundaries of imagination thanks to the advent of digital, computer graphicsand its related tools, making possible for writers, directors and productionteam to tell any story they like with infinite possibilities, and so theartists are finally able to better control their images in a way never thoughtpossible before.It’s a fact that even inexpert people can clearly see that film companies areconstantly trying to achieve realistic effects and a believable look for theirfilms, as well as is well known that almost all the movies are being shot (andso entirely made) on big green screen stages, totally leaving the creation ofthe film into the hands of VFX artists.On the other hand we have to consider the heavy, and sometimes risky, economicaspect.Visual Effects production is a complicated business that it’s not alwaysthriving: the most popular example is the 2013’s episode when the award for thebest VFX was given to the film Life of Pi meanwhile the main VFX studio hiredfor this movie went bankrupt, it was Rhythm and Hues Studios.For this reason it’s important to always keep in mind that the VFX industry is apart of globalisation and so it is dependent on the behaviour of governmentinitiatives, after all.In the past ten years we have seen Visual Effects become a must in many films,this industry also had great awards for the Best Visual Effects category, sincealmost every film published in the past few years contained at least a littlebit of VFX. In these years, especially from 2010 onwards, film companies are able to createand manage CG objects, scenarios and particularly characters so good that theyare so realistic and good looking to the point that we can’t exactly say whichperformances is due to a real human and which by the digital reproduction.
All this statement leads us to spontaneously ask ourselves a question: how willthe future of this particular industry be? Might companies be able to replace human actors completely? Might they be capable to create a brand-new believable cast made of fullydigital actors? Maybe in the future we will be able to replicate human emotions,if emotions will be realistically captured, digitised and processed. It is clear that at the moment we are not at that stage yet, since every singleCG character we see (in movies, games and animations in which gives a trulyrealistic emotional performance) it’s how it is thanks to a real actor who wasthere and who fully created the emotions, expressions and movements appositely forthe 3D model.But, again, what’s next? We are in an era where VFX’s propagation isunstoppable, the audience is getting used to seeing spectacular effects on bigand small screens, so there is the real and concrete possibility that Visual Effectswill change films beyond the things we imagine and recognise today.
Try to visualise it in 20 years time from now, perhaps films will undergo anevolution from confined cinema screens to a fully immersive experience or, idealisticallyspeaking, to a real interactive experience, that’s because we are of course atthe height of the Virtual Reality revolution. To mention the economic argument made before, we are investing a lot of moneyon this brand-new technology available for home entertainment, gaming, cinemaand advertising, and we are spending money to support VFX artists too, sincethey need to have solved problems that affect 360 degree shots and its related compositing,HDR lighting, stereo dealing and digital assets.Film companies and VFX industry might seriously take advantage of the power andpotential of Virtual Reality in the future, in order to create something that pushesspectators into the action with a complete 360° view of the surrounding, givingto people the possibility to literally be present alongside the characters as thestory goes on.