In the world of film, there is a growing trend of emphasizing practical effects and downplaying the use of visual effects (VFX) in promotional campaigns. Filmmakers and studio marketing departments often highlight the “real” action and stunts performed by actors, while neglecting to acknowledge the extensive work done by VFX artists behind the scenes. This practice has sparked discussions within the VFX community about the lack of recognition and the potential negative impact on their careers.
Christopher McQuarrie, the filmmaker behind Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part 1, and Tom Cruise, the film’s star and producer, proudly proclaimed that all the shots in their high-octane Rome-set car chase were practical. They wanted to emphasize that they were doing things “right” by using real-life action instead of relying heavily on CGI. While McQuarrie did mention the film’s 2,500 VFX shots in interviews, the overall narrative surrounding the Mission franchise has always been about authenticity.
Similarly, acclaimed director Christopher Nolan, known for his commitment to practical effects, caused a stir when he asserted that there was no computer-generated imagery (CGI) used in his film Oppenheimer. This led some to mistakenly assume that there were no VFX in the film at all. Nolan later clarified that there were indeed VFX shots but declined to provide further details to preserve the illusion. The VFX supervisor for Oppenheimer later revealed that they had worked on around 200 shots for the film.
This preference for practical effects and the downplaying of VFX work is not limited to these specific examples. Paramount and Skydance’s Top Gun: Maverick, for instance, initially focused on the actors’ training and live filming during its promotional campaign. It wasn’t until the film made the shortlist for the visual effects Oscar that the VFX team revealed the involvement of 2,400 VFX shots, including the creation of fully CG aircraft. This lack of transparency regarding VFX work has consequences for VFX practitioners, as it can cost them nominations and recognition during awards season.
The practice of downplaying or suppressing information about VFX work stems from a desire to maintain the illusion of a film’s authenticity and highlight the efforts of actors and practical effects teams. However, many VFX artists argue that filmmaking is a collaborative effort, and all departments should be properly acknowledged for their contributions. This lack of recognition not only impacts the careers of VFX artists but also affects their ability to recruit top talent and celebrate their work with friends and family.
Some industry insiders believe that the increasing difficulty in distinguishing between practical and synthetic effects has played a role in the downplaying of VFX work. As VFX technology advances, it becomes harder to discern what is real and what is digitally enhanced. This raises the question of when and how this situation may change and whether greater transparency and recognition for VFX work will become the norm.
In the past, similar instances of downplaying work have occurred in the history of Hollywood. For example, in the 1976 film King Kong, special makeup effects artist Rick Baker played the titular character for the majority of the film. However, the focus was shifted to a mechanical Kong for promotional purposes, and the VFX team behind the robot received an Academy Award for their work. Baker and other VFX branch members were left out, leading to resignations from the Academy.
The impact of downplaying VFX work goes beyond awards and recognition. Many VFX artists are left uncredited or unable to share their contributions with friends and family due to strict directives from marketing and publicity departments. This can also hinder VFX companies’ ability to recruit top talent if they are unable to showcase the extent of their work.
Overall, the issue of downplaying VFX work in film highlights the need for greater transparency, recognition, and appreciation for the immense effort and skill that goes into creating visual effects. The industry should strive to celebrate all departments and the collaborative nature of filmmaking, rather than prioritizing certain aspects over others.