Visual effects so seamless you don’t know you’re looking at them
So, let me just clear up the use of the word “invisible” right up front.Do not take “invisible” literally. We’re not looking at the best invisibility effects in film. This is different.What we’re going to take a look at are visual effects shots where you can’t even tell you’re looking at an effect. In other words, the effect is so good, so well realized, that it’s pretty much invisible unless you know exactly what to look for. These effects aren’t rendering superheroes and monsters. They’re manipulating reality so perfectly that you can barely see it.
Now that we have that out of the way, let’s get into it.
David Fincher is the undisputed heavyweight champion of using visual effects in ways that people don’t recognize. You could literally make an entire list out of just his career, but we’re not going to do that here (though, one other film of his is going to pop up on here). And Zodiac (2007) – The corner of Washington and Cherry Zodiac, Fincher’s ambiguous serial killer epic, has a shitload of invisible effects, and almost all of them have one thing in common: They’re dedicated to rebuilding San Francisco as it was in the early 1970s.
But none of them are as impressive as the corner of Washington and Cherry. In the film (and in real life), the Zodiac Killer claims a taxi cab driver’s life on the corner of Washington and Cherry. Fincher’s problem was that the real street corner was completely different.So he did the totally fucking insane thing of building the entire street corner digitally, minus (most of) the cars and people.
Literally almost nothing in the background of this scene is real, which is unbelievable considering that the camera is handheld for the whole scene. If the camera was locked down, digitally creating the backdrop becomes infinitely easier. But by having the camera move all over the place, the shots become much harder.All in the name of historical accuracy. You do you, Fincher. You do you.
Hey, not all of these need to be digital to count. When it comes to old-age make-up, Dick Smith’s (yes, that’s really the guy’s name) make-up for Father Merrin, played by Max von Sydow, is still one of the greatest of all time. Considering modern movies fuck this up all the time (I’m looking at you, The Exorcist (1973) – Father Merrin’s make-up Prometheus), it’s incredible that this make-up holds up at all.And that it worked too well.
Just some context: Max von Sydow was 44 years old when he played Father Merrin. The make-up aged him about 30 years forward. After The Exorcist was released, von Sydow found that people wouldn’t audition him for characters his age because several actual talent agents in Hollywood thought von Sydow was actually in his 70s. Because Dick Smith nailed the make-up.
And if that’s not crazy enough, here’s Max von Sydow in The Exorcist…
…And here’s Max von Sydow now.
Holy. Shit.Dick Smith trained an entire generation of incredible make-up artists, but never EVER forget that Dick Smith was the fucking king.
What do you know, it’s the other David Fincher movie.Creating twins out of a single actor is the perfect “invisible” effect, mostly because it’s been recently perfected over the years, to the point that even mid-budget TV shows can pull it off convincingly. But the Winklevoss Twins are the most complex iteration of the “twinning” effect (that’s actually what it’s called). Why? Because every time you see them together, one of their faces is almost entirely digital.
The Social Network (2010) – The Winklevoss Twins
Instead of shooting Armie Hammer twice and layering him back into the scene, Fincher opted to shoot a body double (Josh Pence) on set with markers on his face, and then have Armie Hammer play the other twin inside of a rig that captured every little thing his face was doing, and then taking the data from that and putting it on top of the body double on set.It’s as crazy (and hard) as it sounds.
Now, to rein back just a bit, Fincher did use the good old traditional split-screen photography, but most of it was done the hard way.Why do it the hard way at all though? Because it allows the actors to move freely through the scene (split-screen photography has its limits).
I know up front I said we weren’t going to talk about obvious creatures and such, but don’t worry. We’re not (though, the digital animals in this movie do look incredible, I’ll give them that).It’s the part where literally almost nothing in this movie is real except for Neel Sethi, the young actor playing Mowgli.
The Jungle Book (2016) – Like, almost everything
Seriously, almost nothing in this movie is real. In fact, damn near all of the movie was shot in ONE warehouse in Los Angeles, choosing to digitally create literally every single environment in the movie. The GIFs really speak for themselves on this one.
This is by no means a definitive list of phenomenal invisible effects (there’s a reason “Some of” is in the title of this thing), but they’re my favorite type of effect. Because they look the easiest to pull off, but are usually in reality very VERY fucking hard, and so they don’t get the appreciation they deserve.
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