Film-making has many parallels with the art of magic. David Copperfield’s job as a grand illusionist is similar to that of a visual effects artist, making his audience believe what we’re seeing is real and true.
Both artists use the power of illusion to enchant their audiences and operate with a low tolerance for errors, where the smallest glitch can shatter the carefully orchestrated suspension of disbelief. The medium of film may be more forgiving in terms of fixing errors in post-production, but there are so many moving parts that calibrating everything perfectly from concept to screen can prove to be challenging and at times overwhelming.
Meeting South African VFX supervisor, Jeremy Hattingh, was truly eye-opening and gave this reviewer a newfound respect for the filmmaking process. Having worked towards achieving full visual integrity in such films as Mad Max: Fury Road, Chappie, Dredd, Safe House and Zero Dark Thirty, he’s become internationally-recognised. After reviewing some of the behind-the-scenes work on the intricate compound raid scene in Zero Dark Thirty, it became abundantly clear that magic doesn’t happen by accident! Detailed storyboards, extensive research, meticulous design, flight tests and animated run-throughs are merely preparation for the actual filming.
Shot in Jordan at a bricks-and-mortar compound that was built especially for Zero Dark Thirty, the marriage of stealth Blackhawk choppers and CGI is seamless as the covert mission unfolds. Observing dust cloud formation, determining a speculative design for these top-secret helicopters, adjusting the look for a night shoot and using heavy-duty crane trucks to effect the flight patterns makes you understand why it’s often referred to as visual effects wizardry. Watching Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty again with these fresh insights should be awe-inspiring on a whole new level.