The Coming Trend of Visual Effects Reduction

In the upcoming movie Interstellar, Christopher Nolan has said that he tried to use as many practical effects as possible over using visual effects. JJ Abrams has said the same thing when talking about the new Star Wars films.

As the age of big blockbusters, with $100 million plus visual effects budgets, continues to play out, I see a growing trend towards a reduction of the usage of visual effects in movies. Not to say that they will be gotten rid of, but I feel filmmakers will begin working harder to cut their reliance on using green screens and visual effects companies and instead use creative new technology to capture more of the movie in camera.

The reduction of visual effects will not make movies worse, they will make it better.

If you sift through some of the interviews and behind the scenes articles from Interstellar, you will see that many of the visuals were captured in camera. One of the most interesting sets this happened in was the interior of the space ship.

Visual effects were still used to generate what you would see out of the window, but instead of having a green screen, they actually projected the cold vista of space from pre-generated images. This helped the actors, with lighting, and gives the film a more realistic feel.

Another film that used a technique similar to this was Oblivion. Instead of using a green screen for the "Sky Tower" backdrop, they projected images of the sky, taken from atop a mountain.

This helped in many ways; for one it was much cheaper than keying and rotoscoping every shot. Second, in terms of lighting, it generated realistic colors and light based on the image displayed. Third, it helps the actors by giving them more reality to use for their performance. 

What the final result gave was a sense of realism, for the actor and also for the viewer. 

Alice in Wonderland was almost 100% CG

Using old school approaches like these, as well as doing more practical effects on set, will give filmgoers something more from movies than overly computerized environments. In moderation, computer generated images enhance the movie, but they shouldn't consume it.

Realism will reverse the over-reliance on visual effects and bring it down to a happy median. Visual effects are important and vital in most big movies, but they should only be used where necessary and avoided where on set alternatives are more realistic, impressive, and effective. 

As the newest Hobbit film gets closer to release, I will continue with another article on Visual Effects Reduction in the coming weeks, pointing out the differences between the quality and realism of the original Lord of the Rings films versus the Hobbit trilogy.