Newspaper article International New York Times

Lower-Cost Digital Effects Let Films Enhance Art-House Naturalism ; Technology Aids Directors in Juxtaposing Images, Heightening the Impact

Newspaper article International New York Times

Lower-Cost Digital Effects Let Films Enhance Art-House Naturalism ; Technology Aids Directors in Juxtaposing Images, Heightening the Impact

Article excerpt

Digital tricks can reduce the cost of potentially expensive shots or, more subtly, help filmmakers heighten the visual impact of seemingly naturalistic tales.

Special effects are usually considered the province of Spider- Man and guardians of galaxies. But for a while now, visual effects have quietly become part of small films in ways you might not expect. Hidden away in art-house movies, including a recent crop of dramas, are digital tricks that reduce the cost of potentially expensive shots or, more subtly, help filmmakers heighten the visual impact of seemingly naturalistic tales.

The Swedish drama "Force Majeure," shortlisted for the foreign- language film Oscar, has one very obvious special-effects sequence, an avalanche, but also several that are not apparent. As the director Ruben Ostlund goes about depicting a couple and their children facing emotional crises on a ski vacation, digital techniques become another way for him to intensify the drama of a realistic situation. After the avalanche, the parents meet another couple for dinner. The couples are shown in head-on two-person shots, but what you see is not necessarily what Mr. Ostlund and his crew saw on the set at that moment in the shoot.

"There are scenes where I'm not totally satisfied with the acting in one part of the screen," Mr. Ostlund said in a phone interview, describing how two takes might be digitally stitched together in postproduction. "There are a lot of two-shots in 'Force Majeure' where I have split up the screen and have taken a part from another take into the same frame. So you have the feeling that they are sitting next to each other, but they are actually taken from two different takes."

In a simpler effect, when the parents and children brush their teeth with matching toothbrushes, one of several shots showing the family in sync, pre-avalanche, the filmmakers hid a camera in a wall to get a head-on shot in a mirror, painting out the lens in postproduction.

Mr. Ostlund credits his background in graphic design for his awareness that "all the opportunities you have with Photoshop" can also be applied to moving images. In an earlier film, "Play," he even transplanted an actor's eyebrows from one take into another.

One well-known example of photorealistic digital effects is the composite imaging used in Lars von Trier's eye-catching dramas, as with the sex scenes in "Nymphomaniac." In the Chekhov-inspired "Winter Sleep," the director Nuri Bilge Ceylan finessed snowy details and animated a still photograph that he wanted as a landscape shot with chimney smoke, running water and fog.

"The main difference in the last few years is probably that it has now become common to integrate visual effects in the scriptwriting and developing phase," Peter Hjorth, a visual effects designer who worked with Mr. …

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