Does the FX industry need to reinvent itself?

Posted by David Konow

Things are tough all over, but you know things are really rough when the FX business hits financial hard times.

A long time ago, make-up master Tom Savini (the original Dawn of the Dead and Friday the 13th movies) joked to me that even though CGI has replaced a lot of practical effects, you won’t be seeing people on corners with cardboard signs saying: Will Do Effects For Food.

But these days, with Rhythm and Hues hitting the skids, and Tippett Studios having to lay off much of its work force, you wonder. You would also think with FX technology progressing so much over the years that the industry wouldn’t have to reinvent itself, because that’s practically what it’s always doing anyways, right?

Well, FX legend Douglas Trumbull (2001, Silent Running) may think otherwise. As Graphic Speak reports, Trumbull talked about coming up with new technologies that could change movies, but that Hollywood is slow to bring them in. There’s been major resistance to 48 frames a second, which we’ve covered extensively here on TG, and it didn’t go over well in The Hobbit either. 
Trumbull felt with 48 fps, Peter Jackson didn’t take the technology as far as he could have. "Jackson did not do anything outside of normal cinematic convention to embrace the potential of higher frame rates. I believe if you make a movie in a new way you have to have a new approach."
Trumbull continued, "So much of this comes down to money. All the elements of movie making are still there, except location; use greenscreen. Visual effects ARE the movie today. The idea is to create a new window on reality."
As we’ve especially seen since the recession hit, Hollywood has desperately tried to bring audiences back to theaters with new technology, especially with 3D. 48 frames a second still hasn’t convinced anyone that it’s the way of the future, although The Hobbit did have a new state of the art Dolby sound system called Atmos, which is reportedly pretty sweet indeed.
But as we’ve said here repeatedly, all the technology in the world can’t make a bad movie better, or in case of The Hobbit, make a boring movie more exciting. Technology is the icing on the cake, but it isn’t going to hold up without any cake. 48 frames a second sure has a long way to go before it convinces anyone that it’s the way of the future, and we’re also hoping the FX industry in general can survive the current storm and make it to shore. 
We’re not totally nuts about all CGI, but a tool is only as good as whoever’s using it. In the right hands state of the art FX can be incredible, and no director can do it without state of the art people providing that magic.