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Posts Tagged ‘American Sniper’

AmericanSniper_MPC_VFX_04In an earlier visit with visual effects supervisor and current head of vfx at MPC Vancouver Greg Butler, he shared perspectives on the art and business of moviemaking.  At a moment when screens are flooded with summer blockbusters that are dependent on obviously CG action scenes, such as Avengers: Age of Ultron and TomorrowlandGreg Butler’s most recent project as a visual effects supervisor on American Sniper provides very interesting perspectives on one of the most important objectives of a great deal of the effects work in today’s movies: to enhance or significantly fill in visual information from what was created and captured during principal photography in ways so that it is invisible.

Here is a link to a full interview with Greg Butler about his work on American Sniper to understand the degree to which Clint Eastwood’s movie is completely dependent on CG in order to create the world of its story.  Butler had previously worked with Eastwood on the director’s period musical Jersey Boys.  You can also check out earlier discussion of invisible effects in the earlier Close-Up interview in which Greg Butler discusses his work on Amazing Grace, among other projects.

Homemade Visual Effects with Greg Butler

Homemade Visual Effects with Greg Butler

Of course, Butler has also helped to craft some of the most compelling fantastical and imaginative worlds and characters in recent years, including groundbreaking work on both The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter series.  Discussing one point in the creation of Gollum that illustrates the attention to detail that one must show in this work, he commented, “In the CG model setup, there was an invisible sphere behind Gollum’s eyelid that meant that whenever his cornea moved, the skin would bulge out in a realistic way. This is the one time we got to use it because he was sleeping with his eyes closed, and his eyes moved as if he was having a bad dream. We were proud of the fact that we got to use this technique. These were the sort of subtle nuances we were seeking out to bring him to life. We want you to be completely in the movie.”  And that is the case whether you are conscious of the VFX being present or not — or if the filmmakers want you to know that they are present or not.

As one last comment on the “Art & Business of Moving Images” that goes back to Part 1, in our visit Butler shared perspectives that students do not often think about: the day-to-day life of working on the movie industry.  He comments, “If you’re interested in working in film, your choices in life become limited – unless you find an interesting avenue that occasionally people are able to find – you’re either going to end up living in the L.A. area, or you’re going to be a nomad… in terms of developing movies, the dealmaking is all L.A.  In terms of making movies, it’s L.A., but all around the world. You’re on a constant road show, touring band, carnival ride, living on a film set. And you have to live that.  Maybe it’s okay when you’re in your twenties, but it’s something to consider.  When it comes to post-production, visual effect, sound editing – your options open up a bit more: L.A. is still the center, but it’s broken down now, and there’s still lots of other places, like New York, London, Vancouver.  And that is continuing to evolve.  In fact, my company, MPC, is now opening up a new division in Montreal.”

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media dressOr is it white and gold?  A few weeks ago, a new viral event entered the lexicon: So, is the dress in that picture white & gold or blue & black?  And an intense debate ensued.  I first was asked about it by a student in my Advanced Media Literacy & Production class, and I laughed because kids, being kids, were quickly getting furious about the different opinions being expressed and whether or not one was a “white/gold” or “blue/black” person.  And they were also quite sure that what they were talking about was the color of a dress.  I told them that what they were looking at, and debating, was a picture of a dress, and that what they were disputing was how they perceived the visual information in the picture.  If they were well trained in media literacy, they might be able to address a few key issues at hand: first, the lighting in the picture is clearly problematic and we tend to interpret that visual information relative to many perceptions we have related to light and color.  I guessed “white/gold” because the bluish tint to the white I instinctively dismissed to the overexposed highlights while the darker tone certainly did not look black to me.  (Do it right now with the picture here: cover everything else except for a patch of the dark bands on the dress: is that black to you?)  This also brings up another issue that is important to consider: by giving the choice of blue/black or white/gold, there is already a setup for the viewer, we are already given a bias or a set of parameters that will skew our reactions to what we see.  We may even see things that aren’t necessarily there or it may limit our reactions by design. These issues are discussed in Chapter 4 of Moving Images: in order to master Storytelling with Light, one must understand light.  And that includes the concept of white balance, which clearly was not in play with this photo.  For anyone interested in further exploration of these issues related to light and color, I highly recommend the episode Seeing is Believing from the excellent series Brain Games.  The lesson related to our perception of color is also in this BBC article – scroll down to the example Cube Illusion – within moments, you will probably be thinking “I can’t believe my eyes!  No way!”

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Another American marksman: director Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven

Another major media event from this year that makes me think of these issues is the enormous success of the movie American Sniper, directed by Clint Eastwood, which may become a media document used in our schools throughout the years to come.  For many young people, both the movie and its source autobiography are already regarded as a core historical text in the “War on Terror” and a rather faithful document of recent American history, as I have witnessed on numerous occasions in conversation and text.  This movie is a treasure trove of lessons in media literacy, through which one can delve into the messages being communicated visually and constructed for audiences, from the editorial links between the events of 9/11 and Iraq; to depictions of Iraqis as “savages” (to quote the author and subject of American Sniper, Chris Kyle) and black-clad villains of the American Western transplanted from the sandy vistas of cowboys to the desert lands of the Middle East; and to the use of actual documentary footage from Kyle’s funeral in Texas to conclude the film, cementing its message to audiences as a historical document.  In discussing the topic of the understanding of history through movies, Jeffrey M. Zacks writes in Why Movie ‘Facts’ Prevail (New York Times,February 13, 2015): “You might think: Does it really matter? Can’t we keep the film world separate from the real world?  Unfortunately, the answer is no. Studies show that if you watch a film — even one concerning historical events about which you are informed — your beliefs may be reshaped by ‘facts’ that are not factual.”

AMERICAN SNIPER

“Mustafa” – truth or fiction? Be media literate and do the research!

Issues of authenticity, distortion of historical truths or outright inaccuracy, acceptable or inappropriate license taken in the depiction of historical events or figures are all core issues faced by countless media creators working in both fiction and non-fiction.  They are core topics of Chapters 5 and 6 of Moving Images.  This past year, many valid points have been raised about controversial choices relative to the visual communication and dialogue in a number of historically-based movies, particularly American Sniper, The Imitation Gameand Selma.  Educators must continue to encourage vigorous debate and to develop students’ abilities to interpret, question, and assess the media messages with which they regularly interact.

If you are looking for a good analytical piece on American Sniper, I think this article by Noah Gittell is one of the best; he provides a brief but excellent visual and thematic analysis of the movie and appropriately contextualizes the opposing poles observed in reactions to the film.

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Oscars2015463790992This year’s Academy Awards nominees feature some movies that are so full of media literacy lessons – like Boyhood which was discussed in an earlier post, American Sniper which will be the subject of a new post on mediateacher.net that will appear this week, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) which features truly groundbreaking collaboration between director Alejandro González Iñárritu, cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (featured in Moving Images and a number of mediateacher posts), its actors including Michael Keaton, and percussionist and composer Antonio Sánchez, among others – and it will be very interesting to see the ones chosen in various categories by the Academy voters.  The tricky relationship of history, truth, authenticity, and accuracy that has been seen in debates related to Selma and The Imitation Game as well as the multiply-controversial American Sniper is a key thematic core to lessons in Moving Images, and there will be upcoming posts that feature information and links within our already well-developed category of social studies-related media lessons.

Me-and-My-Moulton-post1Meanwhile, for most of the general public, the categories for the short films are the most unknown quantities on the Oscar ballot.  You might want to check out this piece by A.O. Scott for any last-minute info and for a short film that shows the nominees for animation.  One of the animated shorts, Me and My Moulton, is by Torill Kove, who directed past winner The Danish Poet, which is available with other past winners on an excellent BluRay by Shorts International.

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