We used exactly the same technique on 'Superman', but projecting footage in sync with the camera and the most massive screen of Scotchlite behind the actors (it's must've been something like 200 feet wide and 50 high, so big we had to dig a curved trench several feet deep in the floor of Pinewood's A stage to fit it all in (my boss at the time won an Oscar for the flying FX).
Let me know if you want a sample :)
May I ask what you were working with said material for?
I keep coming across uses, most recently for tracking research animals in near-darkness (looking down on a floor of scotchlite). The black could be a better choice for that so thanks for the heads-up about it; email me on sfx 'at' tessierlabs.com if you want to know more.
"One of the more ingenious examples is Escape From New York, which features a wire-frame flight approach display constructed by adding reflective tape to all the building edges of a miniature city model"
It was also covered in Cinefex (must've been sometime in the early 80's if you want to search the back catalogue).
Basically, most of it. When I saw the movie, I would've bet my left kidney that 90% of the effects were green screen, I definitely would never have guessed that the skydivig scene, helicopter chase, and the canyon fight are for real. I could barely believe such canyon existed! Absolutely stunning.
The whole time during that massive car chase, I was just trying to focus on when it was clearly CGI and when it was clearly a real goddamn car chase. The transitions were so seamless that I only caught maybe 3-4 examples of CGI.
 Fitzcarraldo (1982) is a Werner Herzog movie about a guy who wants to build an opera house in the jungle, which plan involves hauling a ship over a hill between 2 rivers. Burden of Dreams is Les Blank's documentary about the making of the movie.
There is a lot of CGI that just looks fake. I would even say most, at least to me. I go back to Star Wars (ep 4). The physical models still look good. The original Blade Runner still looks good. I've also noticed that CGI movies look okay in the theater, but once they hit the high compression formats like Blu-ray or streaming, the CGI really becomes noticeable. The practical stuff still looks good in these formats. Go back and watch Hunt For Red October, and know that during the submarine underwater scenes are just physical models in rooms of smoke to simulate underwater. I really notice when they do 100% CGI characters like Spiderman and Hulk.
On the other hand, I agree that 100% cgi characters look bad. I recently watched the latest Avengers and was amazed that with all the budget and years of experience they have, the Hulk looks terrible.
It’s a useful tool, but when it becomes the only tool it gets old. There’s a lot of charm to practical effects. Yeah I can tell that Yoda is just a puppet, but it works.
Also known as the Toupée fallacy:
Compare Star Treks. ST:TNG had the Enterprise and maybe one other model at best. Battles were rare, because that would mean destroying your model, battles were an end of series finale thing. Compare that with a modern Star Trek. Where theres a massive battle every episode.
Solves a lot of problems with simulating realistic in-cockpit reflections.
Also a good way to make the entire crew queasy. The final Moon approach and landing shots are incredible.
There's also good old fashioned miniatures for the Saturn V.
No CGI is that expensive. I think they did it because of the craftsmanship, love for the art, perfectionism, stuff like that.
So you still end up with labor effort, but proportionately more goes to the intellectual parts of modelling it on the computer, instead of hiring a crew to sweat over an array of painted glass, miniatures, and puppets. When CGI visuals got really popular for the first time in the 90's and 00's, they often suffered from the belief that the computer would make post-production so fast that the up-front design could be avoided in favor of a brute force "just redo it in post until it looks good" approach. And this is an appealing pitch on the surface, since it means more aspects of the work can stay undecided until the very end. Indecision is one of the things that drives a lot of software complexity.
But that kind of futurism isn't touted nearly as much as it used to be. It adds unnecessary risk for expensive mistakes, underwhelming visuals and awkward editing. Post work is still a huge part of doing blockbuster cinema, but it's been supplemented with extensive testing and a resurgent trend of in-camera effects. Meanwhile, the studios that provide CGI services are treated as commodity labor, just like yesteryear's model painters.
You still need a lot of artists for CGI. Someone needs to sculpt and paint all those 3D models, and rig them, animate them, etc.
The difference is that they use ZBrush to sculpt digital models instead of actual brushes, but the work still needs to be done.
You also need engineers. ILM employs a lot of people who work on physical simulations to get the effects they need.
You can do things digitally that aren't possible with real world models, but I don't think it's cheaper or less labour intensive.
Newer productions with actually capable directors got this right. There was a reason why Lord of the Rings employed previs animations before filming to figure out what the sequence will be. Weta Dgitial gave James Cameron a tracked virtual camera inside the motion capture rig with a real time preview of the Navi so that he could direct the camera while his actors where playing out the movie in a nonexistent jungle in a really drab gray studio with no props. There are tons of examples how the industry has learned to take CG as a tool and tame its abstract nature to make it useable.
It's clever, but I don't think it really holds up:
I always thought that shot looked weird, but I never questioned the wireframes in Escape From New York.
Also, like in OP’s tweets, there were no actual computers involved in the production of 2001. All of the displayed 3D wireframe models were films of physical wireframe models.
It seems likely to me that they wanted to give an impression of a low-budget operation using antiquated tech. The Nostromo is a bulk cargo carrier crewed by little more than space truckers, it wouldn't have the swanky latest tech of the time, but how do you portray that? You can't try to portray people using 2050s tech in a film set in 2100, say, and expect people to get that it's supposed to be crappy old gear.
This was a terrible idea for many, many reasons. But they got the film made.
Amusing side note: They had a locking lever when obviously had to be engaged when the cameraman wasn't on the end. If someone freed the lever with the crane out of balance, the results could be quite catastrophic (source: I could've been killed on one occasion).
Aha, and here's an article about them:-
Perhaps taken from some other application of mercury...
Lots of interesting insight into production tricks used for a modern low-budget sci-fi film. Including graphic/motion design, sets and visual effects.
If you enjoyed this, you'll probably also get a kick out of how they made the legendary HBO intro from 1983: https://youtu.be/wqzihgR_-SI
As used in Doctor Who:
They're actually really easy to do now in post, After Effects has an effect called time displacement that allows you to displace time on a per pixel level. So to recreate a standard slit scan you'd just supply it with a gradient from black to white, but you can also create even more bizarre effects by mapping the pixels differently.
A few months ago I did all the effects for some music videos, and I created multiple effects based on slit-screen. Things like, having the video smoothly break apart into slices where the time moves at different speeds and then smoothly splice itself back together.
Another cool effect I figured out: using a blurred copy of the video as the time displacement mapping. This makes everything that's colored similarly move together in time, but out of sync with everything else.
I did that effect for a video that was just one long shot, and then I rotoscoped out the performers so they move in regular time and match the music:
I really love old school effects work, they're a constant source of inspiration.
I did have a go at copying the Doctor Who tunnel effect:
That vimeo link was infuriating to watch though with a fade/slide/inset effect every second or two. Like a bad powerpoint he wants to use every different effect in the software!
Take a picture. Put a light behind it and place a black mask on top of it so you can only see a vertical slit. Point a camera at it off-center. Open the shutter and pull the camera backwards, then close the shutter. You will get a long horizontal smear with the slit stretched out into a long foreshortened rectangle (it will be skinnier towards the center of the picture and fatten out towards the edge).
Now do the same thing, but as you pull the camera, move the picture past the slit horizontally. Now, instead of one 1d line being stretched out into a foreshortened rectangle, you are stretching a flat rectangle into a foreshortened one. To make a zoom effect, you do this several times (one for each frame) but with the background starting at different positions, so it appears to scroll towards the camera.
With a different shaped slit (a square or a circle for instance) you can make a tunnel sort of effect, like the Doctor Who sequence above. You can see the slit scan happening best at the top and bottom of the circular tunnel: notice that the texture is less detailed there and a bit smooshed. That happens because the circle is being dragged horizontally and at the top, the right semicircle and left semicircle are being dragged over the same parts of the background soon after each other. If you had a part of the slit that was totally horizontal, that part would come out without any 2d texture effect at all and would just look like a smeared out 1d line. So the circle is most detailed at the left and right side.
The whole tunnel has a sort of horizontally tilted feel, and that comes from the left-to-right (or vice versa?) dragging of the background.
and why it's nto a blog post: https://mobile.twitter.com/Foone/status/1066547670477488128
If you have an opportunity to see the special edition or some other copy with the documentary "Terror Takes Shape" about the background of the movie and special effects it is absolutely worth the hour.
Also if you are available June 25, 2022, there is a fan meetup at the location of the filming in Stewart, British Columbia.
But personally I can only do it this way, as I've got rather bad ADHD. So when I'm writing, it's a choice between "a rambly twitter thread" or "an unfinished never-posted blog post".
I swear it was a solid blog post the first time I clicked on it - totally readable, unlike this...
One thing I found interesting that the author didn't seem to notice is that the text of the Star Wars opening crawl in the behind-the-scenes photo is radically different from the version that saw release.
The crawl that we've all seen is only 4 sentences long: two in the first paragraph, then two 'paragraphs' of one multi-clause sentence each.
The crawl pictured in the tweet is a much wordier mess, and may well be the original crawl Lucas showed to friends and executives before Brian de Palma edited the text down for him. It also features something similar to Dan Perri's semi-rejected logotype at the top (cut off unless you click in or view the image directly), the angled 'Star Wars' block logo most prominently seen on the original posters for the film.
I personally also have a preference for the link to the original Twitter post. So thanks to the mods for the correction!
But all the credit goes to the person who posted the awesome thread on Twitter (@Foone). I only copied the link on HN.