Even dramas depend on artificial images

Summer tentpoles often put visual effects front and center. But pics that are hardly big vfx shows, like this summer’s “Lady in the Water,” “Miami Vice” and “The Omen,” rely on vfx to tell their stories, too.

Industrial Light & Magic handled effects on “Lady in the Water,” which in large part consist of two CGI characters: an “eaglon,” an eagle with a 40-foot wing span, and a “scrunt,” a dog with blades of grass for fur.

For the scrunt, director M. Night Shyamalan initially saw a “dark, skulking character,” according to vfx supervisor Ed Hirsh. That changed once ILM started working.

“Once we started to develop him,” says Hirsh, “I think it sparked Night’s imagination, and he saw the possibilities and expanded the emotional range this character could have.”

Shyamalan was adamant that there be no “CG aftertaste,” according to Hirsh, and ILM had to match the CGI scrunt to an animatronic puppet that was used in some scenes.

“Miami Vice” takes a different tack, opting out of CGI for “good old visual effects 101,” says co-producer Bryan Carroll. Director Michael Mann shot live whenever he could, employing effects for a shootout scene and an explosion.

In these scenes, co-producer Bryan Carrol says the techniques were simple: “Shoot the structure exploding, put our actors on a cable, shoot that, shoot a couple of things of debris coming at us, comp ’em all together and make it work.”

Remake “The Omen” takes a similar low-tech approach to visual effects, though it isn’t shy with them. The film revolves around a series of gruesome deaths, and effects come in for impalings, beheadings, and people being set on fire.

Cinesite in London handled CG on the film, but most of the effects were accomplished mechanically, even though going old-school isn’t so easy anymore.

“A lot of the know-how to do old-school stuff is eroding,” “Omen” director John Moore says. “I was wondering if I was going to be able to find people who could pull it off.”

They did, eventually, and Moore got it done “very much the way it would have been done 30 years ago,” largely with miniatures and prosthetics.

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