Friday, December 17, 2010

#0046 VFX Fashion International

A simple cart.  Bagdal Sharif, near Hyderabad India
I felt this looked very interesting.
Is this where Gandalf' parked it?
As some readers may know, I've been in India the last few months Digital FX Supervising at GEON Studios.  GEON is a progressive VFX studio located in a Special Enterprise Zone in the northern part of Mumbai, specializing in digital visual effects for international film and television.

Going International 
My first observation, which I believe I've mentioned before in this blog, is that I see that digital visual effects post has become an international business.  Many Visual Effects Supervisors and Producers are already accustomed to working abroad, in various locales, often for half a year or more at a stretch.  Journeyman level animators and compositors, especially single young men and women with in-demand skills, are often tapped for freelance gigs.   I believe more and more talented artists and supervisors will find themselves looking at work opportunities outside their native land, with talent moving in both directions to meet demands for high-end experience, fresh ideas and perspectives, and help facilitate understanding, communication and cross-cultural relationships in this era of outsourcing.

Indian film dances usually follow filmi songs.Image via Wikipedia
People of various countries and cultures, despite the presence of CNN, HBO and MTV on every continent, look at life and experience visual media a bit differently.  At the same time, perhaps due to exposure to western mass-media but more likely due to our common humanity, people experience similar challenges in life and respond to visual symbols with an amazing commonality.  The symbolic language of visual effects transcends verbal expression in a powerful way that I see as a reminder of our common humanity.  Great stories, as told through blockbuster films, can and do reach audiences everywhere.  At the same time, the international audience brings a broader spectrum of perspectives and tastes that are slowly finding expression in American and European media.  Access to self-produced media and internet distribution is making it possible for artists and storytellers around the globe to express themselves. 

The design of these columns in the airport at Kaula Lampur caught my eye.

The Visual Media Fashion Statement
Film media is to some extent a sort of fashion industry, with different directors exploring new ideas in color, lighting, camera, music and yes, visual effects.  Working in visual effects, we may see great landmarks in film making like the VES 100.  But beyond that, if you look at the AFI 100 or make your own list, there have been films that have shifted the visual paradigm of movies, introducing a new fashion statement if you will.  For me, I see films like Gone With the Wind, Citizen Kane, Bonnie and Clyde, Star Wars, and Kill Bill as some of these kinds of films.   I'm sure you can come up with a great list of your own.

I have always been interested in non-Western architecture and art, and I guess one of my points today is to encourage my readers to give themselves broad perspectives by looking our business as a fashion industry.  To me, this means looking at past trends, current trends, and international trends.  For me has meant looking at design developments of the last century, Japanese and Moorish style, and giving a small amount of attention to popular culture.  Long ago I noticed that many cultures around the world have very different tastes in color and color combination.  Lately, I'm seeing in India not only a much more colorful palette than in America, but also some differences in camera and editorial work.  Not necessarily better or worse, but different, an expression of the local culture.

Jang Dong Gun stars in Warrior's Way, a stylistic art film fantasy cultural mixture set in the timeless old west.
A western fantasy makes a fashion statement
Recently I saw a film that I felt very much was a fashion statement, The Warrior's Way.  (As a disclaimer, GEON Studios did about 120 shots for this film.  I was not on staff when most of this was done, and was not actually involved in any shots.)  My colleagues at GEON took me to see it opening week, and while I normally don't much care for ninja movies, this film, while having many ninjas and some great martial arts fights, is more of a very stylized fantasy-western.  Not quite Kill Bill, but with good performances, a good storyline, well-paced editing I found it a reasonably enjoyable film.  What pushed it over the top for me, was the  mise-en-scène, the totality of mood and style.  The stylization of the sets, lighting and visual effects backgrounds was awesome.

Reading reviews, I am again reminded that film making is a fashion business and that not every fashion will appeal to every person or every culture.  It's a mixture of surreal elements with fantasy, super-real  action.  Those looking for realism won't like the film, but it's a film that makes no pretense that it's a "real" story.  It's an impressionist painting, not a photograph.  If you want to see a documentary, this is not for you.  But it's art.

While some hated the film -- others loved it, such as reviewer Rashid Irani, who called it the "zingiest entertainment of the year" in the Hindustan Times.   I think the surreal fantasy and video-game action may work for some.  I suggest you see the film in a theater to appreciate the style. Make up your own mind.

Exotic and Mundane India
Rajeswari sunrise, outside Mumbai, India
Working abroad these last four months has been very interesting and challenging.  I arrived in the middle of monsoon season, and between the rain, settling into my new job, and the logistics of setting-up a virtual bachelor existence in a far away land (although skype has helped), there was almost no time to do anything more than walk around my district.   Around early November, the weather had let up and things were a bit settled, and I made a trek to Bagdal Sharif with a new friend, where we spent a weekend at a spiritual retreat.   That was a great experience, albeit a bit personal.  It wasn't quite as exotic as the movies, depict, no Taj Mahal, elephants, giant bats, snakes or jungles, but the event was something totally new and colorful, and the sunrise over the rolling plain was spectacular in the morning mist, with distinctive Indian trees and rice paddies scattered in some not-quite geometric and not quite fractal pattern.  Later, I made another excursion outside Mumbai and caught a great sunrise through the trees.

Man in lungi pulling hand cart, stalls lining ...Image via Wikipedia
Then a bit later in November, while on  a shopping excursion for family back home, I experienced one of India's more mundane sides: shoddy road construction.  It was near Muhammad Ali Road, a popular shopping destination with hundreds of booths in a spider-web bazaar stretching down small streets in all directions.  While walking along a busy and crowded thoroughfare, single file in the gap between moving and parked cars with people pushing past in both directions, I suddenly found I had stepped off into air with both feet at once, meaning the road was suddenly absent, and fell a few inches into a recess covering some subterranean access portal.  I've spent the last four weeks recovering, with two weeks using an office chair in my flat as a makeshift wheelchair and another two weeks building up strength to walk.  I'm ambulatory again, and that's good because I've been pushing too finish 400+ shots for an exciting new Indian TV series premier episode. 

Perhaps my fall is a reminder that we need to keep one eye on the goal and the other eye on the journey.  Or put another way, as supervisors, we need to look at where we want to go, and how we are getting there.

Have a great day 
may your endeavors be rewarding and 
your visual effects be monumental.

Taj Mahal, Agra, India.
Image via Wikipedia


Anonymous said...

Visual effects are the various processes by which imagery is created and/or manipulated outside the context of a live action shoot. Visual effects involve the integration of live-action footage and generated imagery to create environments which look realistic, but would be dangerous, costly, or simply impossible to capture on film.

Alex Frisch

Isa A. Alsup said...

Great definition Alex!

Visual effects is that art form within the larger context of fashion arts. At the same time, visual effects is a story telling tool used by producers exactly as Alex describes. If we consider the fashion industry, there are innovators and style leaders driving the industry. Other designers' works are imitative and derivative. In VFX, we see trends and innovation in the art arising from inspired artists and new technologies and imaginative reinterpretation of film and visual effects conventions. The fashion trends in VFX are increasingly global, yet regional and national aesthetic preferences continue to be important.

Connie Jordan-Carmichael said...

Visual effects are designed and edited in Post-Production, with the use of graphic design, modeling, animation and similar software, while special effects are made on set, such as explosions, car chases and so on. A visual effects supervisor is usually involved with the production from an early stage to work closely with production and the film's director to achieve the desired effects.

Connie Jordan-Carmichael | Ubiquity Broadcasting Corporation

Isa A. Alsup said...

Yes, visual effects is a particular unique art separate from special effects.

My point is that visual effects, like all other forms of commercial graphic arts and commercial arts in general, from clothing to construction, is a fashion industry.

Clothing fashion has cornered the market on the term "fashion". But all design, including visual effects, is subject to the ebb and flow of fashion trends. These trends arise in part from the introduction of new capabilities from technical and skill advancement. In part, fashion trends reflect our human desire for new and unique experiences. These whims and preferences change over time and reflect local cultural preferences as well as the globalization of media.