THE MISUNDERSTOOD WORLD OF ART BEHIND THE CAMERA

by Michaela Ganezer

The day has finally arrived. You enter the movie theater with all the excitement building and building with each step. Entering the theater, the glorious smell of buttered popcorn hits you. You smile and become even more excited if it’s even possible. Skipping the ticket line with your prepaid tickets in hand, you head to buy the goodies before heading in. You purchase a large popcorn, candy, and a soda (when in Rome). You find your seat in the theater to watch a film that you have been waiting months or even years to see. This film has a lot of animation, visual effects, and computer-generated imagery or CGI. However, while you think all of the technological aspects look great in the movie, that’s not what matters most to you. Instead, you’re there to see your favorite actor. Maybe it’s a sequel that was left with a cliffhanger. Watching it with enjoyment your emotions are all over the place as the film goes through the story. 

In the last 10 minutes the storyline, the acting, and the film overall just doesn’t satisfy you and now that’s all you can think about. You leave the theater walking angerly towards the exit in disgust and annoyance. Every time you talk about it with others the only thing you talk about is how bad the ending of the movie was instead of all the good parts. 

            When people talk about films or even television shows it’s usually about the storylines, what happened with who, or even the actors and their performance. Many get annoyed when they have to wait years for the next film to be released especially if it’s a sequel. But, what they may not realize is how much work goes into these films. I’m not talking about the actors, the stunts they have to perform, or the funding for the film. Rather, I’m referring to the artists who don’t get credit for their dedication, grueling hours, and heavy workload.

            Reviews can severely hurt or help the success of a film whether we like the film or not. Even a bad review on the last 10 minutes of a film can be detrimental to the people, the actors, and the artists who took a year or more of their lives to creating visual artwork for the film. 

THE STRAIN PUT UPON THE ARTISTS

Artists are under tremendous pressure and stress to get everything done on time and in the style that is needed for the film. Even the working conditions that each artist needs to work in can be problematic for many outsiders, but is necessary for them. 

One of my favorite visual development artists, Laura Price, has her own YouTube channel called, Laura Price, where she talks about her job and actually shows her work station that can be surprising to many people. Laura’s job is to design anything from backgrounds to props to characters or to whatever is assigned to her for that project digitally on a tablet using Adobe programs like Adobe Photoshop. 

Recently, she has worked on Tangled: The Series at Disney Channel, doing the backgrounds for the animated show. In one of her videos she gives a tour of where she works, and she works in a cubicle where there is a dark curtain over the top and sides so that no light can get into her work area. Designing for the screen, whether it’s for a television screen or a movie theater screen, it’s the same deal in that the artist needs to make sure the colors that appear on the screen are as accurate as possible. So instead she has a little lamp inside the cubical but other than that, no light. It is very easy for sunlight or any type of light to get through and then it can throw the artist and the work off. Even the slightest bit of a color change can have a major impact on the show or movie. We need light for our health. 

Not only does the darkness impact our health, but the designers’ eyes are impacted in a major way. Animators, visual effects, artists, visual development artists, and more are staring at screens (computer and tablets) for more than the usual 9-5 workday. Sometimes the work day can be 12 or more hours. Throughout our entire lives, doctors stress the point that everyone needs to spend less time looking at screens since it can damage our eyes. 

Well how can artists do that if their income relies on them looking at screens all day long? Artists don’t want to spend a lot of time staring at the screens, but with the deadlines quickly approaching, the work demands them to spend more time on the screens even though their eyes can be damaged from it. In fact, Jacquelyn Smith of Business Insider interviewed a Disney animator, Daron Nefcy, about animation and the challenges she faces including deadlines. Daron stated, “It’s difficult to take time off! That’s for anyone who works in animation, and also probably anyone who works in film. The deadlines don’t change, so if you can’t be around for a week you need someone to do your job for you that week. And in a lot of cases no one can do your job for you. One season of an animated show from start to finish takes about one and a half to two and a half years.”

Can you imagine?! Being in a dark room and hurting your eyes, not allowed to see sunlight or any light unless you are on a break! Or the fact that doing anything else besides the animation or task at hand is not a possibility. It’s definitely not everyone’s cup of tea. 

And what about the pressure that these artists are under? 

“I’ll usually get seven to ten backgrounds to paint for that episode and are due every two weeks. That number also depends on big a complicated the backgrounds are, but that number can also change throughout those two weeks,” says Laura. “Sometimes last minute you’ll be given extra backgrounds because the animation studio decided there wasn’t enough coverage of a location and so more backgrounds needs to be painted of that location,” she states about the work that is given to the three or more artists. 

The images above show two of many backgrounds digitally painted by Laura Price for the show Tangled: The Series.  As you can see there is very detailed work that had to be done. Many may think “it’s only a kids TV show, so the graphics and artwork aren’t that hard to do.” Well it’s actually quite the opposite. Within the programs that artists, like Laura Price, use such as Adobe Photoshop, one must understand layers and layers masks to create an incredible piece for the project. 

Layers can be described as the numerous parts of the project the artist is on, like a puzzle piece that contains different items. This is so the artist can edit or move whatever is in those layers without ruining the rest of the project. Take the second picture above as an example. Each one of the rocks can be in its own layer and then each of circus tents can have their own separate layers. Then layer masks allow the user to use and edit or hide as much of that layer as they choose to. As you can imagine, the layers quickly add up. In fact, Price mentioned that in some of her work there is close to almost 200 layers that made up one project that she has to keep track of. On top of all that, some artists like Laura Price then have to pass their work to other artists in order to add in any more details and to include any animations that are involved in that scene or frame. So, the design styles in the way it was created, painted, and drawn must be similar if not the same, otherwise people will notice something is off.

By having multiple artists on a project, details can become even more complicated adding more pressure if that can be possible for these artists. The show or movie has a particular style that the artists must maintain in order to make the whole project cohesive and to make sure it flows smoothly from one frame to another. It’s possible for more than one artist to work on the same background, the same visual effect, or even the same animated section of the film or show. Wherever the artists are needed that’s where they go. Sometimes they need to work together on the same sections forcing them to make sure they design in the same way. This is so the audience doesn’t see something wrong with it when they see it on TV or in the movie theater. Whenever an audience member sees something even slightly off in the show or movie, that’s all that they can talk about.  In other words, if an interior background has to be done by two artists then they would each take a section of it to design, but everything from the walls, to the little props everywhere, to the furniture has to be designed identical to each other. This can be a lot of work for many people, but for the artists they don’t mind it.  

DON’T TAKE THINGS FOR GRANTED

The visual effects side is difficult, and sometimes even more so than backgrounds at times. Take the movie The Maze Runner for example. This film relied heavily on visual effects. As someone who loves films and looking at everything that was done to create the film, it was incredible watching the behind the scenes features for this film to where I was able to gain insider knowledge. This film depends greatly on boys tapped in the middle a giant maze and anyone who attempts to flee the maze has never survived. The maze itself in the film was at least 80 feet high or more, however, in reality they made only the crucial parts of the wall like the entrance to the rest on the maze only 20 feet high. While they created multiple segments of the walls and the maze, every other part was a giant blue screen where the wall and other backgrounds would be added afterwards by visual effects artists.

Any artist can tell you that creating a piece of art by hand is very different than doing it on a computer and tablet screen. Doing it by hand makes it easier to get the textures that are needed to create something specific in a short amount of time. While on a tablet or computer the artist has to go through different brushes, erasers, and anything else that can help create the desired texture even though it takes much longer. 

The first image shows how the director, Wes Ball, decided to film the scene that shows two characters somewhere inside the maze with the blue screen and the image under it shows how the visual effects artists were able to create the maze all by hand like it has been there the whole time. The other images show what the wall looks like and how tall it is while filming, and how the artists managed to get it to look so realistic. 

For the most part, many people in today’s society take things for granted, and films and TV shows being a small portion of those things. We go to see films and wonder why filmmakers can’t make them any faster especially when we have to wait for a sequel. 

  • “Why does the next film come out in 2 years?”
  • “Can’t they make it any faster!?”
  • “Why is it taking so long?!” 
  • “Now they moved the release date! I have to wait longer to see the film, this is the worst!”

These are just some of the statements I have heard people say about films. Artists, even though they may not show it or say it directly, they can be very bothered by these statements because they don’t fully understand what goes on once filming is done and post production begins or during production if it’s an animated film. 

Before a film begins, a timeline and deadlines are established to make sure everything can run smoothly, they don’t fall behind in filming, and so the filmmakers have enough time to get everything done on time without making it looked rushed. When it comes time for the visual effects artists or any other artists to do their jobs, they have to be able to get everything done within the allotted time frame to finish the project. Adding all the details takes a lot of time. It can involve making the environment blend in with what was already there in person and adding any details that can’t be done in person (this usually involves anything si-fi, futuristic, or even magical). 

Many of these artists’ work days can be extremely long and tiresome, but necessary to get it all done in time. For many, they don’t get to have weekends off and spend time with friends or family, like many of us do when we are not at work. Critiques and feedback are a big part of any artists’ job and having to do a project over and over until it is good enough comes with the job. This takes up a lot of time that films don’t have enough of. Those who did the redesign of Sonic the Hedgehog for the film know about the pressures and deadlines all too well. Not only did the designers at the studio have to create a new look for Sonic, but to also add in the visual effects for the character throughout the movie. In fact, the designers who took on the job spent countless hours redesigning him just to have all their hard work and dedication mean nothing in the end. Just after the redesign of the character was complete the studio had no other choice but to shut down. The reason behind the shutdown was mainly due to the cost in that it was way more than they were told to complete the task causing them to go out of business leaving 800 or more artists unemployed. This studio was responsible for work done in other films including Life of Pie, Guardians of the Galaxy, multiple Disney live-actions, Detective Pikachu, and others. The picture below shows the stage the character was at before the studio received it (left) and the final redesign (right). 

Hopefully by now people can give the artists working of the films and shows we love so much some slack when they have to wait a little bit longer for the next one. Good things come to those who wait after all right. 

Reference

Smith, Jacquelyn. “A 29-Year-Old Disney Animator Describes the Best and Worst Parts of Her Job.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 24 Mar. 2015.

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