Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Digital Special Effect Makeup vs. Physical Makeup in Movies

The special effects work of John Knoll's special effects team has certainly raised the bar in believability of a fictitious character. His Industrial Light and Magic team created Davy Jones for Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean Dead Man's Chest. In this sequel, Bill Nighy is the actor who portrays Davy Jones' movements and voice. He wears a dark grey motion capture suit, and two motion capture cameras were used as opposed to the 16 needed in the past. The process of Computer Generated Imaging (CGI) then morphed the actor into a convincing depiction of a cursed pirated who because he lives underwater, he literally becomes a creature of the sea.
This special effects "makeup" of this film was fascinating to watch and it really does trick your eye into thinking Jones' is "real". But does this mean that special effects artists need to trade in their brushes for a computer mouse any time soon? The answer is!
There will always be a need for makeup artist to apply their special skills to film, television, or theatre. There is one "living" character on the Flying Dutchman, actor Stellan SkarsgÄrd, who plays Bootstrap Bill...he had wonderful "live" barnacles protruding from his face.
By the other side of the coin Michael Chiklis was transformed into Fantastic Four super hero "The Thing" through a time consuming and detailed process.
"Sixty pounds (27 kg) of latex, it was hellish." said Chiklis. But he did the project because of the potential the movie had to being a franchise. "It's employment potentially for 10 years. It gets your name out there in an international context that puts you on all those lists that you must be on as an actor in order to get movies green lit. That's why he was willing to go through the "hellish" process of being the hulking Thing for the film.
Then on the other hand, I understand that Bill Nighy was disappointed that he didn't have to wear the pirate costume for any of the film shooting. Just the grey motion capture he didn't have to endure the heavy makeup appliances or masks required in the past...but it didn't let him "play" act in costume as if he were Davy Jones either. This is testament to Nighy's acting abilities, because he gives a terrific performance as the character.
Although Industrial Light and Magic will always strive to "wow" audiences with the newest visual effects, the basic need for the "human" factor helps ground the movie experience. E.g. the whole last three Star Wars movies were visually incredible but fell far short of the first three films that had "real" characters, actors in suits and makeup interacting with each other. Otherwise we have a movie that is not much more than a video game, lacking our own ability to control the plot.

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