Kiss Your Hard Work Goodbye – Learn To Abandon Your Art
Several weeks ago I made it a point to see The Clash of the Titans on its opening day. My initial impressions were pretty much akin to what many of the reviewers have been reporting and as I sat down to my computer I smiled to think of all the apt and funny descriptions of the film’s flaws. However after I had written for several hours a change of heart swept over me and I felt sudden compassion for the hundreds of visual effects artists that had toiled for months over hot computers and who were now subject to snarky comments shouted from the highest mountains. Despite reviews of the film (baffling stereo decisions) the visual effects artists work is impeccable and maintains a very high standard overall. Notwithstanding this if I see another giant scorpion in a film I may expire on the spot. Scorpions have been used so many times in fantasy and horror films over the past forty years that I come to see them as old kindly dogs rather than threatening monsters. I also know ahead of time that scorpions are very susceptible to being killed by the hero after they have dismembered three or four of the unnamed underlings. Galaxy Quest had it right - if you’re identified in the script as a “Crewman” you’re going to be the first to die. Despite our best efforts sometimes our work is connected to a film that sinks like a bag of kittens. It’s all part of the whole picture. Blessed is he who goes unscathed.
This all leads to a single point. DaVinci is often quoted as saying “Art is never finished, it’s abandoned.” Film and television particularly are the paramount mediums of abandonment. For one reason or another we have all kissed goodbye a shot or a script or indeed a whole film as we send it off into the world like a child with a fierce overbite and a lazy eye.
Directors must be persistent when it comes to getting all their shots regardless of the strength or temper of the crew. They alone have sat in editorial bays staring at a screen and cursed their memories of the day when they didn’t get a shot that they now desperately need. A missing shot that may cause the sequence to be re-cut to accommodate the reality of the absent shot. We have all gone through this. Only the completion of a hundred shots after the abandoned one helps to dim the memory but it is still that sore spot in our mouths that we constantly probe with our tongues.
A now extinct visual effects house was greatly damaged when the director selected a frame from a color wedge that ultimately created a long and painfully saturated blue shot that formed the conclusion of a largely successful film. Even though they had counseled against that particular selection the blame came to them and for a year their phone didn’t ring. They had the blue plague and only time could facilitate a cure.
In the early 90’s I did a show that included the repurposing of jet stock footage gleaned from the leftovers of a high budget-flying film. In this particular film there were about twenty shots of jets that needed to be shown spiraling down aflame after being blasted by the heroes. Selects were made of the appropriate airplanes flying in downward motions. My problem was to add a dense trail of smoke issuing from the rear end of the plane to indicate it had been hit and was heading down like a homesick brick. Prior to the days of particles one of the options for creating smoke and clouds was fiberfill. This material, very like spun cotton but more luminous, was then hand animated to make it flow quickly upward, mimicking burning oil and tracked to the tail of the jet using motion control. Several tests were done and the approach worked well. The project was cut on film and all elements were composited using an optical printer. In the flurry to get the picture finished the editor miss-selected one of the test shots and included it the finished film. So to this day there is a shot in this film where a crashing jet pours a death trail of smoke that looks as if it’s leisurely issuing from the stone chimney of a log cabin somewhere in the Berkshires. This shot will always be there. Oy…
So to the talented visual effects artists, houses and supervisors that worked on The Clash of the Titans I offer congratulations on a job well done. Part and parcel to the creative process is the sharing of our creations. It isn’t creative unless it is somehow made flesh for all to see. When a created product is shared it is susceptible to appreciation and to criticism. The only truth of the process for the audience is the product. Since it would be impossible for us to precede every showing of the film with a personal appearance and an explanation of the problems encountered we simply have to let all this go. Abandon it.