Directors should not be daunted by vfx, helmer tells Variety confab

Advancements in filmmaking tools may enable directors to put anything they can think of on the bigscreen, but helmers need to remember to keep an eye on one key element: story.

“Eighty percent of your brain space is taken up by the visual effects; 15% is by the story,” said director-producer Shawn Levy at Variety’s inaugural Film Technology Summit at Hollywood & Highland on Monday. “Nothing is impossible anymore. That’s exciting, but even though most of your time is taken up by the technical stuff, you need to devote the lions share of your time to the emotional stuff.”

Despite helming big-budget CG-heavy tentpoles like “Night at the Museum” pics and “Real Steel,” Levy admitted never to having been enamored with dealing with special effects when choosing which projects to make.

“I’m always initially daunted by visual effects,” he told Variety associate editor David S. Cohen. “I don’t geek out on the how of it. I enjoy the results of it.”

Still, Levy advised filmmakers not to feel pressured to know everything about the latest tech tools.

“The director’s job is to know what you want the film to look like on the screen,” he said. “The rest is up to your team. Don’t be daunted. I didn’t understand it, now I do. If you’re moderately bright and learn it you can tell amazing stories.”

Waiting for a greenlight for a studio to tackle an effects-heavy tentpole is no longer the norm, Levy said.

“The days of a rolling greenlight and the blinking green light” are now typical. “You’re not waiting to ramp up anymore, it’s on ongoing process.”

Levy said that’s been the case on the James Cameron-produced remake of “Fantastic Voyage” at Fox, which Levy has been developing for six months.

Developing digital environments and the look of a film requires financing and “is what it takes to get the studio to fall in love with the project,” Levy said.

As a director, Levy isn’t worried that studios only want to produce expensive tentpoles.

“There will always be great smaller movies,” he said. “Those aren’t threatened. But if one is yearning to tell a story with things that don’t exist in the real world there is a bottomless well of tools.”

Levy especially found pre-visualization technology useful while filming DreamWorks’ “Real Steel,” because it allowed him to “dream and play earlier” and plan out shots before filming began.

“Six months before I shot the movie, I was able to capture the fights and direct every punch rather than hand everything to an animator you may never meet,” Levy said. “You can do any shot you can imagine and if you don’t like it, hit delete.”

The director also benefited from the use of SimulCam B that enables motion capture performances to be realistically rendered as digital characters in real time in camera on set.

“You know what you’re going to see because you’re seeing it,” Levy said.

But Levy’s production team still produced four full-scale remote controlled robots for the shoot.

“What you get from performances with practical effects is huge,” he said.

Although “Real Steel” was not shot in 3D, due to its release close to the third “Transformers,” “Fantastic Voyage” will lense in 3D, Levy said.

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