All that glitters is not gold


By IAN YEE

Is Hollywood going bankrupt on new ideas and trying to compensate with technology?

IF YOU think Hollywood has become all dazzle and no substance these days, don’t worry. Even some of the guys behind all that glitter think so, too.

Special effects technologies might have changed the way Hollywood makes its movies but according to Swiss digital artist Nicolas Imhof, it’s not necessarily for the better.

The former Hollywood-based special effects technical director, who has worked on movies such as Star Trek: Nemesis, Batman & Robin, Along Came A Spider, The 6th Day and Harry Potter, said that as much as he’s impressed with the technology available to artists these days, he’s disappointed with the lack of genuine creativity.

“When I started doing visual effects, we were still doing it with codes. It wasn’t user-friendly at all. I was part of the team that created the first realistic CG fur, for a Coca-Cola ad with polar bears, and it was so complicated! Today you just click-click-click and bam, it’s happening.

“But even though I’m totally amazed by the quality (of special effects today), I think Hollywood is forgetting something — you still need a story, a good script and good storytelling,” said Imhof.

Imhof was in Malaysia recently along with fellow Swiss artist Christian Lorenz Scheurer, currently based in Hollywood, to speak at a seminar entitled Swiss Design in Hollywood, organised by The One Academy and held at its premises in Bandar Sunway, Selangor.

As an artist still working in Hollywood, Scheurer has an idea of what Hollywood is working on for the next few years and he said in terms of content, not a lot of it is going to be fresh.

“You will see a lot of sequels in the next few years, which is unfortunate. I hope there will be some original things too,” said Scheurer, who has lent his talents to movies such as Titanic, What Dreams May Come, The Matrix, Evan Almighty, Superman Returns and Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within.

The most recent project he’s worked on is a DreamWorks production called Gardens of Childhood, which he said will be out in 2012.

There is one sequel, and one director in particular, that Scheurer is almost certain we’ll be seeing more of in the near future. “I see an Avatar 2 for sure. But I’m just speculating based on its success. And you will see more of James Cameron. He had at least two projects that did not take off before Avatar, so either he’ll do those two movies, or he’ll do more Avatar,” Scheurer added.

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That lack of original ideas is something Scheurer hopes to address among students who attend the seminars.

“I want to show students how original content is created; not just copying old things but creating profoundly new things. When I look at Hollywood today, it’s all the same.

“There has to be emotions, because to tell a story and convey emotions — that’s why we do what we do,” he said.

But even though a lot of movies are becoming more and more CG-based, Imhof said that visual effects companies in Hollywood are still struggling.

According to him, there are only a handful of big VFX companies left today, while there were “50 to 60 smaller companies” around during his time in Hollywood.

Imhof returned to Switzerland in 2003 where he worked for a time as an art director on European commercials and feature films.

“Hollywood doesn’t respect VFX people enough. Just look at the credits! In Avatar, they come up after the Taco guy or something like that. They’re never near the top of the credits with these big movies.

“And VFX companies are very lucky to get a 5%-10% profit margin when they do big movies. They don’t make money doing them, they do them just to increase their profile,” said Imhof.

In spite the dearth of new ideas, Scheurer predicts a new cinematic experience for audiences in the coming years.

“There will be a lot of 3D — that we know. But I can also imagine a lot of immersion, and it won’t necessarily be on the big screen. Maybe it will be on your wii, where you can interact with the movie. I do see a future where we have a hybrid of games and cinema.

“Kids today don’t want to just watch Die Hard, they want to play Die Hard. 3D has given a new lease of life to action movies, and they will soon belong to the games. But other movies, like Woody Allen and character-driven movies, that’s not going to go away,” he said.

(Ian Yee is on the team for The Star R.AGE, a pullout for youths. Check out its website at www.rage.com.my.)

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