Visual effects enhance Eastwood, Aronofsky films

Even story-driven movies benefit from vfx

In this brave new digital filmmaking world, there’s no shortage of grousing that visual effects have overwhelmed story.

Yet two determinedly story-oriented directors have movies out this fall that depend on vfx for critical moments.

“Black Swan,” from helmer Darren Aronofsky, follows the disintegration of an obsessed dancer trying to master the role of the Swan Queen in “Swan Lake.” Clint Eastwood’s “Hereafter” weaves together the stories of three people touched in different ways by death, including a survivor of the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami.

It was up to Dan Schrecker and Michael Owens, the vfx supervisors on “Black Swan” and “Hereafter,” to make sure the vfx fit with their respective directors’ approach. Both say their directors are “all about story.”

Owens, for his part, says Eastwood “likes the environment to show up when it’s necessary, but it’s not about that. He’s not a kid in a candy store when it comes to what you can do.”

Eastwood’s famously loose, spontaneous shooting style isn’t ideal for visual effects, which thrive on planning. And he doesn’t storyboard or previsualize his pictures. Yet Owens, who’s worked with Eastwood on pics going back to “Space Cowboys,” has made a virtue of that.

“If you stick to (previs or storyboards) too closely, you get something that’s overcrafted sometimes. Clint doesn’t believe in overcrafting or overthinking something.”

Eastwood understood when Owens had to previs the tsunami sequence, in which a French TV reporter has a near-death experience. The whole sequence was a tricky balancing act for Owens, who had to keep the vfx from overwhelming the drama.

“If the tsunami upstaged her hereafter experience, we would have gone too far. And the hereafter experience needed to be dramatic without overstating it.”

Schrecker, whose credits include several Aronofsky pics and last year’s “Precious,” says, “In the kind of effects we do on ‘Black Swan’ and ‘The Wrestler,’ it’s crucial they’re completely seamless.”

Like Eastwood, Aronofsky shoots very fast once setup is done. So Schrecker says, “We try to have a small footprint on set.”

Some moments in the story simply couldn’t be done without vfx, though. For example, while Natalie Portman did her own dancing on “Black Swan” for most shots, there were moments that required a professional dancer. Portman’s head had to be digitally attached to the dancer’s body.

Even in the movie’s more fantastical moments, Schrecker had to ensure there was nothing to take the audience out of the movie.

“It’s all got to be part of the same world, which is different from ‘The Fountain’ or even something like ‘Precious,’ where there are fantasy sequences that break out of the main narrative.”

The bottom line, says Schrecker, is that the approach to vfx on an arthouse drama shouldn’t be different from that on a big-budget tentpole. “Any project we work on,” he says, “the focus is always on story.”

Bits & Bytes

Veteran vfx supervisor Mark Stetson has joined Zoic Studios and will head its feature film division. Stetson’s credits range from “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” to “Superman Returns.” Zoic has established its reputation with high-end vfx for TV series and has been moving into features. Company contributed vfx to the upcoming feature “Red” and to “District 9” and “Zombieland,” among other pics. … Along with the news that Lucasfilm is building a new facility to house its digital production divisions in Singapore came word on some of the artists who have already relocated there. Among the Singapore staff are Mohen Leo (“2012” “Speed Racer”), Brennan Doyle (“New Moon” “Red Cliff”), Brian Connor (“Iron Man 2” “Transformers”), Bryant Griffith (“War of the Worlds,” “Star Trek”), Aaron Holly (“Avatar”), Patrick Cohen (“Valkyrie,” “Beowulf”), Albert Hastings (“Alice in Wonderland,” “Avatar”) … Technicolor 3D, the venerable lab company’s 3D-on-film system, is getting some traction. Summit will release its upcoming “Drive Angry” in Technicolor 3D, and Marcus Theaters will deploy the system on 15 screens in the Midwest… Digital Jungle post has hired Darin Kuhlman as executive producer and director of sales. Kuhlman has been post-production supervisor at Cimarron Group, founder of Picturehead and a producer on several pics. … Creatasphere will hold its Entertainment Technology Expo Nov. 3-4 at the Burbank Marriott and will hold a post-production master class Nov. 5-6. … Motion capture/animation service company Vicon House of Moves has been contracted by a joint venture of Guardian Media Entertainment and SLG Entertainment led by Stan Lee to develop animated content for new superhero franchise “The Guardian Project.” … Christie has introduced its 4K DLP Cinema Solaria line of projectors. Premium gear is 3D capable. Christie claims simple maintenance and low cost of ownership among the line’s benefits … NEC has also introduced a new 3D capable 4K digital cinema projector intended for screens 60′ and wider. … Dolby Labs, MikroM, USL and XDC have formed an alliance to promote interoperability within digital cinema. Alliance, dubbed the Digital Cinema Open System Alliance, is working to establish open interface standards for core system components … Meanwhile, Dolby announced it has shipped more than 6,000 Screen Servers, more than 5,500 3D systems, more than 4,000 CP750 Digital Cinema Processors and installed Dolby Surround 7.1 in more than 1,000 screens globally. … Tomorrow, Oct. 15, is the deadline for submissions for the Annie Awards… Nvidia has expanded its Quadro line of pro graphics solutions based on the Fermi architecture. Also, Tippett Studio has upgraded over 200 artist workstations to include the Nvidia Quadro. … Light Iron Digital used a Quantel Pablo 4K to do color grading on Sony’s “The Social Network.” Pic is the first feature shot with the RED One 4K Mysterium-X sensor. … Boinx Software has updated its live-video production software, BoinxTV … The production department for the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs has acquired three Panasonic AJ-HPX3000 high-def camcorders …


Popular on Variety

More Digital

  • Illustration of the video streaming company

    Netflix Q3 Preview: The Calm Before the Streaming-Wars Storm?

    Wall Street is expecting Netflix to hit or slightly beat subscriber and financial targets when it reports third quarter 2019 results on Wednesday after market close. But then what? Debate among analysts continues to rage about what will happen to Netflix’s market-leading position once it’s facing big new rivals in Disney Plus and Apple TV [...]

  • countdown

    Apple Takes Down Viral 'Countdown' Horror App, STX Brings It to Android Instead

    An app that can predict the date and time of your death may have been too much for Apple to stomach: The iPhone maker removed a viral app inspired by the upcoming horror movie “Countdown” a few days ago, putting an end to its meteoric rise. Before its removal, “Countdown” had surpassed TikTok, YouTube and [...]

  • daydream view

    Google Ships Pixel 4 Without Daydream VR Support, Stops Selling Daydream Viewer

    Google is effectively phasing out its Daydream virtual reality (VR) platform: The company’s latest flagship Pixel 4 flagship phone, which Google unveiled at a press event in New York Tuesday, won’t support Google’s Daydream mobile VR platform anymore, a spokesperson confirmed to Variety. The company will also stop selling the Daydream viewer, but continue to [...]

  • Google Wifi

    The New Google Wifi Ships in Three Colors Because Good-Looking Routers Work Better

    When Google revamped its Wifi router product, it extended the devices reach and doubled their speed, while also adding a full-blown smart speaker with Google Assistant. But the company paid just as much attention to Google Wifi’s design, down to the decision to ship the product in three colors. The surprising reason for this: Google [...]

  • Nest Mini

    Google Introduces New $49 Nest Mini Speaker With On-Board Machine Learning, Stereo Pairing

    Google introduced a revamped version of its entry-level smart speaker at a press event in New York Tuesday: The new $49 Nest Mini speaker effectively replaces its Home Mini predecessor with bigger sound, a built-in machine learning chip for faster responses, ultrasound for proximity detection and the ability to pair 2 speakers for inexpensive stereo [...]

  • Google Stadia Game Streaming Service Launching

    Google’s Stadia Game Streaming Service Will Launch Nov. 19

    Google hardware chief Rick Osterloh gave us an update on the company’s game streaming service Stadia during the company’s fall hardware event in New York Tuesday: Stadia will be available to the public on Nov. 19. Stadia promises to stream games directly from the cloud, with no need to buy a full-blown game console. Consumers [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content