Inserting the Eiffel Tower or Big Ben into the background of a scene in a movie is a practice that is almost as old as cinema itself. But the technical prowess that has been achieved through advances in digital “tricks” has made it possible for today’s film-makers to go much further.
It is no longer just the scenery in the distance that can be adjusted, but often even the main set as well.
This does not happen very much at the moment, the esthetic results are not very satisfying and the post-production costs are extremely high.
But these limits will gradually disappear thanks to technological progress and the skills of the artists specialized in digital visual effects, with a consequent drop in costs. 2005 was undoubtedly a turning point.
That was when movie viewers saw the remake of «King Kong» by Peter Jackson, the second part of which was entirely set in 1930s New York. What the public did not realize is that the director of «The Lord of the Rings », a master of digital trickery, made the movie without ever leaving his studio in New Zealand. Only the ground floor of the buildings was built by set designers on the studio back lot, the rest of the New York skyscrapers was created by computer.
The same year, “The Da Vinci Code” was filmed in France where many key scenes were located. Unfortunately the crew was not allowed access to one location due to ethical reasons: a death was supposed to take place in the Church of Saint-Sulpice and the production company knew they would not get permission from the diocese of Paris. A few months later, cinemagoers were able to view that very scene in that very same church. The specialist magazine American Cinematographer dedicated a lengthy article to the technical procedure that allowed this “magic” to take place: the technicians had been able to enter the church as simple visitors, photograph it with high definition cameras then project these photos on to a green screen in the studio. After some digital retouching, even the parishioners were fooled.
«Many countries attract filmmakers due to their natural and manmade locations”, com- ments Patrick Lamassoure, managing director of Film France. “A few years ago, our main competitors were locations that looked like ours but were situated in cheaper countries, in Eastern Europe for example. Now we also have virtual competitors!
When «Sherlock Holmes 2» was filmed in France last year, they used real locations in Strasbourg, but for the scenes set in the Place de l’Opéra in Paris, they made do with taking photos and reconstructing everything on the computer. So we have to think about the future and develop the services we offer to big production companies, integrating the “savoir-faire” of our experts in the field of high digital technology, as well as 3D filming and visual effects».
In fact, when filming «The Smurfs 2» this summer in Paris, the director wanted, in particular, to film some complex scenes in the air around the Cathedral of Notre-Dame. Seeing that there was a possibility of the cathedral being digitally created, Film France and the French executive producer of the movie (Firstep) put forward some French companies that were skilled in this area. It was a success, in the end the production company chose a French contractor for the visual effects.
« If we manage to increase our turnover with this type of service, we will suffer less from any reductions in the days of filming », concludes Patrick Lamassoure.
Film Commissions are thus finding themselves faced with a new challenge: to learn more about the techniques used in the world of virtual images in order to be able to dialogue with production companies, and to ensure that these skills are well developed in their territory. Soon they will no longer be able just to «sell bricks and mortar»…