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back to article Spy romp Zero Dark Thirty: The tech behind the special effects

High capacity and fast data access is vital in the world of digital film processing, and its IT bods are always on the look out for their next speed and capacity fix. Networked storage biz Avere worked with post-production house Image Engine to feed its need for speed in rendering spy thriller Zero Dark Thirty - directed by The …

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Meh

What about the plot?

I accept that I may be in the minority, but for me the biggest draw of a film is not the special effects. It will always be far more about the actual story.

SFX can make a difference; but if the storyline is a pile of festering guano, then all the hard work to make it look better will be for nothing.

But I suppose it keeps people busy for a while

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Anonymous Coward

Re: What about the plot?

If you're writing a script that requires a massive storage array, you may need to go back in and trim it a little.

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Silver badge

Re: What about the plot?

>SFX can make a difference; but if the storyline is a pile of festering guano, then all the hard work to make it look better will be for nothing.

Your argument also applies to on-location filming... would David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia be the same film if it had no regard for went into the camera? Cinema is a visual medium; we also have books, radio and theatre. I get infuriated by a pretty film with a poor plot (Prometheus), but I really do enjoy a visually impressive film with plot and character.

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Re: What about the plot?

>>would David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia be the same film if it had no regard for went into the camera?<<

Funny you should mention that particular film; number 2 on my all time list (2001: A Space Odyssey being number 1).

What is impressive is that the original film became quite badly degraded and was digitally remastered a number of years ago. The end result is visually quite superb; but if the film's plot had been rubbish, would anyone have bothered?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: What about the plot?

You could always try some Aki Kaurismaki or Jim Jarmusch for a change of scene. I think Aki still does everything on 35mm cinefilm. The film music can be pretty interesting too.

Or... Star Wreck In the Pirkinning or Iron Sky both directed by Timo Vuorensola if you need more SFX but still like some crazy Finnish humour like Aki shows sometimes.

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Linda Hamilton T2

I don't know about you, but some of the posters for 0DT remind my of Linda Hamilton in T2.

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SFX

Anyone seen Jurassic Park or Independence Day on an HD channel or BluRay recently?

Other than the former's Dinosaur Supervisor clearly not doing his job, and the latter ridiculous Powerbook virus plot, the SFX really hasn't survived the move to HD very well.

Suppose I'll be saying the same about Avatar and Inception when watching on a 4K TV in a few hours, no doubt.

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Re: SFX

I always thought the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park held up pretty well over the (many) ensuing years, although I have not seen it for a couple of years and certainly not in HD. I should have gone to see it when it was rereleased a few months ago but I wasn't bothered about the 3D (although it was really well used in Life of Pi and 'Richard Parker' the tiger in that film was astounding).

It was certainly the case that the work ILM did in Jurassic Park stood up very well for a good 10-15 years when compared to the ensuing rash of VFX movies.

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Silver badge

Re: SFX

Well, there's a good number of current films that make one go 'Urg, CGI'. I've nothing against CGI (District 9 used it very well) but I don't like it when I spot it, or rather 'sense' it. WETA are usually pretty good.

Still, real models and sets really do work well.

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Silver badge

Re: SFX

I think the CG dinosaurs look okay in the dark / rain (some scenes have CG and conventional models together such as the giant T-Rex head when they're trapped in the car which withdraws and CG takes over). It's the dinos out in daylight which look awful and fake.

I think some earlier CG movies could do with remastering, not to do a Lucas and change anything fundamentally but just to fix effects which look fake, rushed or obvious. Lord of the Rings has some pretty ropey CG too in places.

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Silver badge

Re: SFX

"I've nothing against CGI (District 9 used it very well) but I don't like it when I spot it, or rather 'sense' it."

The thing that annoys me most with CGI is the tendency to fail to obey basic laws of physics. Motion just seems "wrong" and rendered fire/explosions are often so poor it is almost as if it has been done on purpose.

However, I suspect quite often the budget plays a large part in this - "Avatar" might have had a somewhat crappy plot with a giant deus ex machina and grey morality, but it was fun to look at. On the other hand, "Snakes On A Train" (no, not the Samuel L Jackson one) was horrid. As bad as you think the script could be, the visual effects were a magnitude worse [hint: IMDb rating is 2.5]. Avatar probably had the sort of VFX budget that would make my head spin. SOAT, on the other hand, looks as if the VFX budget was about equal to feeding a family of four in McDonalds on a rainy Saturday evening in midwinter...

Please, please, film-makers everywhere - if your budget isn't up to rendering realistic fire, then don't even attempt it. It is so fake it actually hurts to look at it. Thank you.

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Silver badge

How big is BIG?

How big is the 'final cut' when a 4K resolution 90 minute film is stored? What size workspace is needed for doing processing on such a film? (I'd imagine about 3X file size?) The article gives no indication of the amount of data required to work on a project or the total storage that the studio has to work with.

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Re: How big is BIG?

Final output will generally be in DPX files, which for 4k are 36MB per frame. Frame rates run at anything from 24-50FPS.

For an HFR movie like the Hobbit, that is 36MB x 48fps x 5400 seconds = just shy of 9TB for final delivery *only*.

The finalled frames will comprise any number of layers - one of the recent movies we worked on had anything up to 12 layers, all original source dpx or exrs. That's not counting any other steps like simulation cache data, point cloud data, models and textures.

As a final note - we worked on a film due to be released soon. We worked on only parts of 5 sequences in the movie. We worked for around 6 months, generating anything from 100GB-1TB of data per day, some of which is transient data. We ended up with a tape archive of the project rolling in at just short of 70TB, for around 7 minutes of total on-screen time.

In Visual FX, big data gets BIG very quickly.

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Happy

I get infuriated by a pretty film with a poor plot (Prometheus)

I thought the idea and basic plot of Prometheus was fine, it was the sub standard characterisations that destroyed the film for me, the (beyond) idiot geologist / mapper and biologist being writ out so obviously, like the writer couldn't be arsed, and the archeologist douchebag who upon finding a 2000 year old dead race and artifacts turns to drink because 'he wanted to talk to them' (and treats David like a second class citizen by calling him the pejorative 'boy'). Oh yea, and the two pilots deciding to sacrifice themselves 'cause the captain wouldn't be able to push the 'go fast' button, and Charlize running into the shadow of the extremely thin ship, and all these star maps pointing to a weapons depot, and the aliens deciding to destroy us 'cause we killed Jesus (2000 year old corpse, captain and the christmas tree, it was Xmas time)...

Crap dammit! I paid to see that film three times (once at the Imax - awesome!) - still, it was still better than Avatar.

And whilst I'm sure Ridley Scot could pretty much do what he wanted, the inclusion of the alien at the end felt very much like a studio demand.

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Silver badge

The shame is that android David was superb, and the setup- with him watching an actor portray a complex man who described himself as 'serving two masters' - was absolutely brilliant*. But the dim as hell 'scientists' ruined it... as Ripley asks in Aliens: "Did IQs just drop sharply whilst I was away?"

>And whilst I'm sure Ridley Scott could pretty much do what he wanted, the inclusion of the alien at the end felt very much like a studio demand.

Actually, it was Fox who didn't want it to be a straight-up Alien prequel. But yeah, the alien at the end wasn't required, and its convoluted origin (infect boyfriend, boyfriend impregnates girlfriend, girlfriend has c-section) was Damon Lindlehof's fault. Speight was just going to have David hold her down and introduce her with to a face-hugger.

*I recently re-watched Inglourious Basterds, Michael Fassbender is superb in that as well.

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