Talking Stone Film

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♪ ♪ KRISTIAN: Many things come to mind
when you think of a David Fincher film. That signature steely color palette, his unconventionally-structured narratives, and of course some of the most
interesting characters ever put to film.>>Did you know if you
mix equal parts of gasoline with frozen orange juice
concentrate, you can make napalm? KRISTIAN: But what
they’re usually not seen as are visual effects pieces. Even though a film like The Social Network
has more visual effect shots than Godzilla. And that’s because Fincher’s
true trademark is deception. And it’s accomplished primarily through
the use of CGI and digital compositing. Fincher has always been on
the bleeding edge of technology, and he’s immersed himself in the
visual effects world his entire career. Starting with his work on
Return of the Jedi at ILM in the early 1980s. And because of those
three decades of experience, He knows exactly when
and how to use an effect effectively. Take this opening sequence
from Fight Club for example. We track down the building,
phasing into the garage revealing the vans loaded
with nitroglycerin bombs and set up an important setting
for the third act of the film. Now, without CG, that setup would
have to be done in four different shots. The garage, the van, the bomb, and the timer. And technically that’s still
all the same visual information, but none of those shots
establish distance or location in relation to Tyler and the narrator. Fincher likes to let you know
exactly where you are in a scene, and the use of CG allows him to
flesh out those environnments in a way that wouldn’t be possible with
traditional film making techniques. How would you establish 1960s
San Francisco, outside of a title card? Well, you could open with
the Golden Gate bridge. It’s iconic, it’s a visual landmark
that hasn’t changed in appearance since its construction, so it’s
appropriate for any period, and it’s also used in every single movie to let the audience know
they’re in San Francisco. But we’re nowhere near the
Golden Gate bridge with Zodiac. We’re downtown at the Chronicle. And rather than showing us
the exterior of the building, Fincher shows us this. The San Francisco waterfront
as it appeared in 1969. Complete with a historically-accurate skyline as well as a reconstruction
of the Embarcadero freeway that fell during the earthquake of 1989. And most people would never
guess that that entire cityscape was created in a computer. In fact, nearly every exterior shot
in Zodiac is digitally altered in some way to be period accurate. Fincher wanted the details
of the crime scenes to be as authentic as possible. And, ironically, the only way to
do that was through CG. If we look at the murder
of Washington and Cherry, you’ll see that this isn’t just a
simple chroma-key background. This shot is handheld, so the entire
environment was built from the ground up using camera projections to create
a 360° 3D model of the intersection that could then be tracked
onto the original plates to match perspective. But more than historical accuracy, Fincher uses these CG techniques
to bring depth to the storytelling. Like illustrating a city’s
transition into a new era through the construction of a landmark. Or building tension through
eerily-precise framing and virtual camera movement. It’s ALL in service of the story. Take the Henley Royal Regatta sequence
in The Social Network for example. It’s 57 shots, and every single
one of them is a visual effect. 3D tracking software was applied
to digitally replace each background as well as create detailed depth maps
that were then used to simulate the look of tilt-shift photography, which adds a sense
of isolation to the Winklevii and their attempts
to expose Zuckerberg. Everything around them
feels so insignificant compared to what
Facebook is becoming. And it’s the effect
that sells that emotion, but it does it without
drawing attention to itself. And I think that’s the essence of
all the visual effects in Fincher’s films. They’re almost never obvious. In fact, the real trick of this scene
isn’t the background. It’s the Winklevoss twins themselves. And, no, this isn’t just
a split-screen cloning effect. This was done by capturing a 3D mask
of Armie Hammer’s performace in CG and having it digitally super-
imposed over Josh Pence’s face, creating a hybrid of
actor and body double that could then portray two
distinct but identical characters within the same frame. Even the simplest shots have a surprising
number of complex visual effects. One of my favorite examples of this
is the Zodiac’s first murder sequence. It seems relatively straightforward. Night. Exterior. Two characters
inside the car being shot by the Zodiac, as blood splashes on the radio. Except: It’s not at night.
It’s shot in a studio. The exterior is a digital matte. The two
characters in the car as well as the Zodiac are bluescreen composites
shot on different plates. AND, all the blood is CG. Like I said, he’s a master of deception. And Fincher likes to use
digital blood as often as he can. Zodiac has some pretty
gruesome murder sequences, but not a single frame of
practical blood was shot. Same with Girl With a Dragon Tattoo. Every drop is CG, including the blood being washed
off of Mikael’s face in this scene, which is a whole ‘nother level of impressive. And the complexity of
visual effects in the backend allows for much more simplicity
during principal photography. Not worrying about redressing
the set multiple times gives Fincher the freedom to
shoot as many takes as he likes, and he likes to shoot a lot of takes.>>We shot 56 takes.
(laughs)>>I think we probably shot 30-35 takes,
and we probably shot 16 takes…>>We did that 17 times.>>This was many, many, many takes. KRISTIAN: Fincher also utilizes CG
in moments that would otherwise be difficult to recreate
over those several takes. If you ever wondered
how those gummy bears bounce so perfectly off of
Nick’s head while staying in frame, it’s because they’re CG. Same with Amy ‘s perfect putt, as well as this gap in Elizabeth’s hair. Since this scene was
filmed across multiple days, they composited a
separation in her bangs to maintain continuity between shots. And that same attention
to detail was applied to all of Mikael’s evidence boards. Notes and photos being digitally altered, or removed in accordance
with last-minute script changes, and scenes being cut for length. And, yeah, it’s easy
to think these are expensive, unnecessary
solutions to minor problems, but modern audiences aren’t as forgiving
when it comes to technical inconsistencies and continuity errors. And Fincher knows that. His films are ABOUT detail. His characters are investigators
and detectives and obsessives, and those traits are all
reflected in the film making. An incredible amount
of technical artistry shapes so many moments most people
with a blind animosity towards CG would never even notice. Take the motorcycle chase at the
end of Dragon Tattoo for example. Thousands of man hours of work went into digitally replacing
Elizabeth’s head during this sequence. Even though the simple,
financially-practical solution would just be to conceal
her face with a helmet and let the stunt driver perform
with no digital trickery. It’s even been established multiple times that
Elizabeth always rides with her headgear, but that doesn’t serve the narrative. She’s in a hurry.
She’s in pursuit of a murderer. And she’s reckless enough
to chase down a killer in spite of her own safety. The use of CG allowed Fincher to
shoot the scene efficiently and safely without compromising
the logic of the character. His visual effects are always
in service of the story. They’re not there to be recognized.
They’re not there to impress. They’re there to immerse. Fincher understands that what
technology you use is never important. It’s about how you use that
technology to communicate your vision and tell the best story you can. DAVID FINCHER: It takes titanium and aluminium
and steel and glass and lasers to do one thing : impart feeling. And that’s the magic of cinema. (music stops) KRISTIAN: I’d like to thank Squarespace
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dot com slash K-A-P-T-A-I-N. ♪ ♪ (music slowly fades out)

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