View Full Version : When does the Green Screen stop?

The Machinist
12-14-2005, 12:18 PM
I've been struggling for days with this question.

Living in NYC the media blitz of King Kong is ridiculous. I can't turn anywhere without seeing a poster or 2 story statue of the Ape.

But I have a grief with Green Screen work on a massive scale like this.

It happened in Sky Captain, Sin City, and Casshern.

And now in King Kong. Almost the entire movie seems to be the work of computer wizards. While It's definately not easy to pull off Green Screen with live actors in such an effective manner. (And it sure looks superbly done) I have to ask at what point does a green screened film cease to become a film and instead transforms into an Animated Movie. If the majority of what appears on screen only exhists because of a computer animator then doesn't this make the movie a Cartoon so to speak? Regardless of the fact that the actors are real?

I'm not saying that these are not entertaining flicks. However i feel as though some distinction should be made. I can at least accredit Peter Jackson for using technology intelligently. I believe when he and some other directors in recent years have used special effects they do so intelligently and in an effort to maximize the impact of the story. As opposed to other directors who use the special effects to gloss over a weak premise and poor dialogue.

But to take a movie like King Kong and compare it to something like Syriana, Good Night and Good Luck, or A History of Violence. I believe that the green screen and special effects separate these movies into distinct categories of Film and Animation.

That's what i think at least. Thoughts?

12-14-2005, 12:46 PM
I don't think so. It's no different than having a set builder. One works with physical materials the other with digital. You wouldn't call a set designer and builder a carpenter simply because he/she works on similar material with similar tools.

12-14-2005, 12:57 PM
Plus - it's cheaper - and thats the big sell. CG departments can put togther stuff irrespective of budget - the days of "in camera" are gone, pretty much. The problem with the medium is, at the moment, it's driving the storylines rather than the other way around. If they were making "Apocalypse Now" today, you can bet there would be some CG choppers in there. Oddly the only company I see that is putting script at a priority is Pixar but I guess they've had their industrial revoltion and are past it.

David Jimerson
12-14-2005, 01:30 PM
I suspect practical effects photography will come back. It looks warmer; it looks more real.

12-14-2005, 01:31 PM
The actors are now the special effects in King Kong, Sin City etc.

The Machinist
12-14-2005, 01:36 PM
It's no different than having a set builder. One works with physical materials the other with digital.

I think you're comparing apples and oranges.

There is a difference between what a set builder creates and what a guy makes with his mouse and keyboard.

With materials that exist in the real world you have limitations and you still need to compose your photography within these limitations. However with CG and GS there are no limitations. And while this may be necessary to achieve a certain vision, I still think that what a CG artist does with his computer is more akin to an animator than the job of a set builder on a film production. Therefore i think movies that are so heavily GSed are more akin to animation.

But i may also be acting to harsh and/or anal in my classification.

12-14-2005, 02:42 PM
well that is a poor way of looking at films like that..

Sin City, yes, you could conceiveably call that an animated film, though that is the style of the work.

For something like kong, a lot of the green screen work is being used as a way to aid in compositing, ie: blending some very REAL photograpy together...

other times yes it is used for full CGI environments... but too call this an animated film is bogus. Something like Kong, needs a ridiculous amount of green screen work simply to realize it's world. The same can be said for Star Wars, LOTR etc..

Why can't you compare Kong to something like Syrianna? That is a total cop out; if both films deliver the emotional attachment, and provide a riveting story, what separates them? Just cause one needed a lot of VFX to realize the world of the film?

that would seem to be a rather narrow view of filmmaking, or films in general. The only common thing in films that allow a real comparison is the story/emotion of the the experience. So in my mind, as along as they deliver on that front both are equally comparable.

An animated film is more than just something that isn't "real" photography, ends up being more than the sum of its parts (the good ones anyways).

The Machinist
12-14-2005, 04:08 PM
Just cause one needed a lot of VFX to realize the world of the film?

You bring up a very good point. And i don't wish to detract from the enjoyment or what the audience takes away from the movie.

However I think that the technique of using massive amounts of GS as in Kong or even SW still sets these movies apart from films like Syriana or others that i mentioned. These are stories told in different ways and I don't feel its fair to compare them to one another. But then i guess that's why we have genres.

As for judging a film solely on story/emotion I think that is itself a narrow way of looking at filmmaking. Technique and cinematography are just as important (to me at least i don't want to speak for anyone else) in the enjoyment of a film. And for that reason I don't think you can compare Kong and films like Syriana. Kong looks amazing but alot of that has to do with the seemingly limitless world of CG and the creativity of Jackson and his CG animators. They have the freedom to do anything. Whereas the makers of A History of Violence and Syriana if they make a film that looks amazing its because they found a way to produce something beautiful within the limits of the real world.

I'm not detracting Kong or anyone who does CG and GS work. I think its amazing and can definately have a huge impact on the movie. And often times is necessary to the story. However to compare the work done by CG artists and by people whose only tools are the camera and what they put in their frame i believe is unfair.

As for your comments on fully animated movies. As great and entertaining thou they may be. (And i do love animation) My mentor always pounded it into my head whenever i would count an animated movie among my favorite films and I after a while i came to see it the same way: "It's not a film."

I love 'em but there is a difference between a film and a movie. If that's narrowminded then so be it but its just one man's opinion and i don't speak for anyone else.

12-14-2005, 04:14 PM
I have a question would who framed roger rabbit be a film or an animation ?

The Machinist
12-14-2005, 04:24 PM
Yea i was thinking about that one myself as I posted.

I love it and i think I'll bow to popular consensus on this one. I wonder if awards committees had debates over its classification when it came time to nominate it for an award. Cause its a hybrid if there ever was one. Then I don't think it was nominated for either Best Picture or Best Animated by anyone (If someone has proof to the contrary please let me know). However I thought it was the best movie i saw that year.

12-14-2005, 05:12 PM
Greenscreen and the like is used to create a world around the actors which isn't possible or finacially feasible. This provides filmmakers with full freedom of telling the stories they need to tell. There was a time when most films were done on sound stages and had a fair bit of rear project. A film like Jar Head has over 400 effects shots.

Animation is where your main characters are truly animated. The background doesn't turn it into an animation any more than compositing real backgrounds behind Nemo woudl turn it into a live action film.

Roger Rabbit and films like it are a hybrid.

12-14-2005, 10:17 PM
Alright, I have to step in and say what I think. I think both sides of the discussion have equal amount of evidence regarding when does GS need to not be used and when does it need to be used.

I think GS needs to be used when environments that are needed for a film are either too dangerous to shoot in, too expensive, or you can't recreate them.

Now the line has to be drawn on how expensive GS and CG gets. Because after awhile, there are so many effects, and each costs buku amounts of money it just gets ridiculous. Although, if you really think about it, all these crazy animated and composited shots are ridiculously inexpensive compared to on location shooting.

On location, you have to pay for extras, set building, you have to pull electricity from the location somehow and not blow a fuse, you also need a place to put a trailer so your actors won't get moody.

In a controlled studio with GS or BS, all of this stuff is not really thought about. Yes, you still need all those things I just mentioned, but a studio is so much more organized compared to shooting in a real city where it takes 2 hours to reset a shot.

Of course, there is many more attributes that go into the thought of GS vs. location shooting, but all in all I think it's pretty smart to save money in a studio then spend loads of it on permits and such on location.

Now, not to get anyone totally down, but i was distracted through a lot of King Kong because some of the compositing work wasn't done very well, or they tried to hard. Maybe it was because I was looking for 'mistakes' persay, but alot of the rotoscoping they did around peoples heads was just awful. It wasn't pixelated, but you saw a few lines jump here and there, and then some parts they couldn't totally key out the BS they used. A good example of this is when Naomi Watts came out of the water and was looking at Kong (I know, which part? There are lots of that in this movie), but her hair had a blue tint to it....I guess I'm just too obeservant, but I found many little things like that which made me not believe as much.

BUT, that didn't distract me from the story at all. I think it was very well made and very well told indeed. So there were a few mistakes and I think Sin City was done better in regards to compositing, but overall the movie was great because the story was easy and intriguing to follow.

12-15-2005, 07:39 PM
I think there is no difference between an "animated" film and a live action film. The point of the movies is to bring you somewhere you have ever been and let you connect with the charecters. Toy story was animated but it did an amazing job with that. Old animations where done on culloid, so it was film. There is no difference, animated or no, everystory that is told is still a film/movie, its just how the director decides to tell it.

12-15-2005, 07:40 PM
kongs jungles were all miniatures.....so thats real.

12-15-2005, 09:28 PM
I haven't seen Syria or Good Night but I would guess that they both probably have green screen effects, you just couldn't tell.

Any car internals, tv screens, set extensions, window replacements, etc. Most movies today have a few composites.

PJ is just pushing the bar. You will definitely see less and less green screen movies..by that I mean you won't be able to tell they are fake. :laugh: :shocked: :engel017:

12-15-2005, 10:55 PM
I was wondering......How does Motion capture effect this discussion?
As I understand it, most of King Kong's movements were motion captured from Andy Serkis. In the Lord of the Rings, most of Gollum was motion capture. This was even taken to the point of creating the CG character's facial expressions from those of the live actor. If green screen work makes live actors into animated films, does motion capture make CG characters into live action films?

The Machinist
12-16-2005, 11:08 AM
After reading the article in the December '05 issue of American Cinematographer with King Kong's DP Andrew Lesnie, ASC,ACS, I think I've had a change of heart in how i view the use of Green Screen, and motion capturing as filmmaking tools. Reading the particulars and considerations of the Green Screen work for Kong it seems that it is not as drastically different as I first believed.

However I still hold that animation and film are two seperate entities. I'm not arguing about enjoyment. You can love the story in a painting, a TV show, or a book but that doesn't make them all the same. All three of those have the capacity to take you somewhere else just in different ways. Story is not a unifying thread for all these forms, at least not in the way that I am arguing.

The storytelling capabilities of the form are not at debate here. To me that is not what sets them apart, rather I am looking for a distinction between art forms. And i believe that animation and Film are two distinct art forms. They have the same purpose: storytelling but to call them the same. No i disagree. But where do you make the distinction? Aside from live action, and drawings and the such. Hybrids are blurring the lines. Maybe I'm reaching to far, however looking at the IMDB cast and crew list for Toy Story I see no Director of Photography. Perhaps that's as good a distinction for now, for myself.

I'm sure someone will have an example or point to discount what I've said but thats the fun of debating this stuff. Much more friendly than the debates that I'm sure are raging across the conference table between the NYC MTA and TWU.

12-17-2005, 09:33 PM
That AC article was great, wasn't it?

12-18-2005, 01:55 PM
I consider anything that is completely made entirely within the digital realm (or cel drawings for that matter) animation, and all else with live-action constituting film. I don't see why this is so hard to determine.

Every film that is made nowadays goes through the Computer in the Digital Intermediate Form. CG = Computer Graphics. As soon as you modify your raw footage with the computer, then you are applying CG technology - whether it's compositing, color grading, adding particle or other effects, matte paintings, digital backgrounds, digital characters, lighting effects, etc. This used to be done optically in post.

Also, it is a mistake to say that the Kong movie is mostly digitally rendered. That isn't true at least to the extent that is being portrayed. There were something like 100 days of principal photography that included building huge sets, miniatures, bigatures, and not to mention filming the acting performances. Also, there were parts of Kong that were physically created and mechanically controlled. Of course digital technology was heavily used, but it is just another tool in the filmmaker's toolkit in telling the story.

I can't help but get the sense that some people here are upset at the trend of movies going to digital effects. The reason, I would guess, is that competing on that level is nearly impossible for indy filmmakers because of the expense and man-hours needed. I also get the sense, despite the claims otherwise, that making this artificial distinction between film and animation is to separate the "true-art" from the inferior. Otherwise, what is the point of making the distinction at all?

Logan LeBlanc
12-30-2005, 11:15 AM
I am STILL in love with Jessica Rabbit. There. I said it and I feel better for having said it.

12-30-2005, 01:48 PM
I think its really become a semantic argument. 'CG' or 'Effects' movies aren't really
a genre onto themselves anymore. Saving Private Ryan had a ton of work, but
it was purposefully left out of academy competition for 'Best Visual Effects' because
it didn't want to be considered as such. On the other hand, you've got films like
Kong and the 'tent pole' action films that rely on *whatever* technology is
state of the art to put folks in the seats and take em for a ride. Same tech, different
usage and varying levels of 'obvious' breaking of realistic constraint.

We're also witnessing a bit of a transition. In the field, we've had more than a
decade of the technician/artists, as the tools tended to be very intensive and
somewhat of a different paradigm than a stand-in for their real world equivalent.
This is changing. The tools are now to the point where a 'real world' DP can be
more quickly comfortable as the CG tools, now mimic how their traditional tools
behave, MUCH more closely.

Personally, I specialize in the hybrid films. Live action/cgi, traditional cel/cgi, etc.
At the end of the day, it is all pretty much the same.

01-06-2006, 01:10 AM
machinist. Howabout this. Hitchcock shot most of north by northwest on a soundstage with projected backdrops. He hated shooting outside. Kubrick shot Eyes Wide shut on a completely built set of New York made in London because he was weird that way :)

Roman Polanskis "The Pianist" had as many visual effects shots (in order to create a destroyed poland) and greenscreen shots than "Batman Begins"

All of "O Brother where art though" and "Sideways" were completely re-colored so as to have a completely different look in post production using Digital Intermediates.

I guarantee you you have seen many, many films that have a ton of visual effects, but you didn't notice because they call attention to themselves.

Movies like sky captain and sin city call attention to the animation because that is what the directors wanted to do.

Still, the directors had to go on a set and work with real live performers to achieve a sight and sound performance. Even in King Kong, where Andy Serkis acted out every movement of the ape. Where as in a truly animated film the director would work to acheive a sound performance for dialogue, but everything visual would be created from the imaginations of talented artists.

Of course, many films are blurring the line these days. That's because we have all this exciting technology that allows us to, and lots of artists want to play and discover new storytelling techniques...

but to categorize films based on their technical use of visual effects is just such an oversimplification and way off base my friend!

01-13-2006, 04:21 PM
It really does seem like that trend is growing. Now that the technology has reached this point- completely composited backgrounds make $en$e. I wonder if America will ever embrace a film if it was completely animated (actors and all- but not like Toy Story, more like the Final Fantasy movie) There seems to be less commercial acknowledgement for animation than say your everyday live-action.