Visual Effects – Rob Legato: The art of creating awe

Due to the large number of people working on a standard feature film, the heads of each department need to find the best way of maintaining their control. Tools like previz (Previz- defining the term) are used for this reason so that the final outcome can be settled on before work is delegated to other members of the department. In this case there is very little difference between the visual effects department and the art department.

I recently came across a brilliant lecture from Rob Legato, the visual effects supervisor on Hugo (2011), Shutter Island (2010), Titanic (1997) and Apollo 13 (1995) amongst many others. I was impressed with how enthusiastically he spoke of his work and decided to explore his work further. I then discovered an article detailing his process in creating the visual effects for the 2011 film Hugo.

‘To begin, we didn’t generally storyboard sequences. I did previs to see how we would shoot them, and then used it as a temp while we edited. It was at best a loose concept and a placeholder for a better idea. Remarkably, it all came out equitably in the end, without the extra stifling drama during the process.’

Another interesting point I noticed was that despite previz being a recent tool that almost seems like a pre cursor to computer-generated effects, it is often used to settle on more traditional processes.

‘The whole movie becomes a continuous homage to tricks. It was a unifying theme for everyone on the movie, to do everything we could in-camera.’

From the lecture you can clearly see how passionate Rob Legato is about his work. In his interview with Creative Cow Magazine you can read more detail on his work for the 2011 film Hugo.

‘When the Station Master is snagged by the moving train, the train doesn’t actually move. I moved the platform he was standing on, which also held the camera, so it appears that the train is moving. This is an old technique, and when done well, it is still totally invisible to the audience. We amplified the gag by actually photographing the ground he’s on. Usually, you cut this kind of effect off at the knees, but in this case, we went the extra mile and built 60 feet of photographic floor on dolly track. I loved doing this because it felt more like an optical magic trick dating back to Méliès’ time than a modern visual effect.’

Images and quotes from CreativeCow Magazine, last accessed  30th May 2013, available:

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