Monday, 29 June 2015

Journal of Whills: Part 6 - Special Effects

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When it comes to special effects, Star Wars was about as ground-breaking as it possibly is for a film to be. Just to clarify, special effects do not mean CGI and green screens, they mean sound effects, use of models and production design. All three are used to make the Star Wars universe just a bit more special and increase the wonder of that universe. Here are just a few of the best elements of special effects.
Though it may not seem like it, practically every frame of Star Wars has some kind of effect in it. Whether it be through a painted matt background, a stop motion device or an animated colour spectrum the use of classic Hollywood techniques mixed with innovative designs and high tech methods. The elaborate creatures and puppetry are utilized to great effect. As I previously said, if Frank Oz had failed at bringing the creation of Yoda to life through his models and puppet skills, the entire series would lose a lot of its emotional and philosophical weight.
You’d be lucky to find a scene in which one actor wasn’t wearing some kind of prosthetic makeup or some kind of model or a stop motion creation of some kind. But for all the shtick Hamill and Fisher get from some of the harsher (but weirdly more devout fans, see Part 1 for details), they react perfectly to everything that is put in front of them, making the constructions even more believable. Furthermore the levels of production, with potentially one character in an elaborate costume, another in heavy makeup, a couple of animatronic puppets combined with a physical set and a painted background set against a real environment with stop motion models running around at the same time. It was all blended together seamlessly to form a tapestry of a universe.
Through pioneering techniques Lucas and his team not only made a marvel of cinematic viewing with the Star wars films themselves, but changed the entire moviemaking culture as a whole. Special effects became an appeal on their own. Big blockbuster visual feasts like Gravity and Avatar (despite their many flaws) rely mostly on the proven entertainment factor from pure visual cinema.
Then you have the sound of Star Wars. I could get into the various methods that gave birth to those sounds that have come to define each vehicle, each weapon, each character. Once again it proves the iconography of Star Wars, ask anyone, even someone who hasn’t seen the movies ‘What’s your best Darth Vader impression?’ and apart from being confronted with a confused and possibly frightened stranger they will probably hold their hands over their mouth and make that ‘brrrr-baaap’ noise. Look at that first Force Awakens Trailer. When that TIE Fighter first appeared it was just for a second and  maybe we might not have been sure it was a TIE Fighter on first viewing without a pause button (some people are in that scenario, I assume) but then there’s that high pitched, mechanical screech that we all associate with it. Even the non-Star Wars fans will recognise the sound from being a part of Star Wars. The sounds give a weight to every object, a ruthlessness to every weapon, an connotation for every iconic characters. It just feels, or rather sounds right.
With the drastic increase of CGI effects (some of which were even used to shamefully add to certain scenes within the original trilogy) practical effects are becoming rarer and less common. In fact some filmmakers like George Miller and JJ Abrams pride themselves on their use of practical effects. This was all set in stone by those original Star Wars films and as a result they still hold up, they are still timeless and still amazing.  

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