Look, I’ll be the first to complain about the over-use of visual effects in today’s cinema, as well as the first to jump on “bad CGI”, but the truth is there’s so much more invisible visual effects going on than we ever realize.
Case in point, David Fincher’s masterful thriller, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I recently held my annual re-watch of the film, and decided to dig back into the special features on the blu-ray (which is outstanding by the way). That’s when I came across the visual effects breakdown and, to put it mildly, had my brain explode. Take a few minutes to watch it through, and I think you’ll see what I mean.
I have watched this film countless times, and I can safely say I never once spotted any of these bits of trickery (and I like to think I have a pretty good eye for this sort of thing). I remember when Fincher’s Zodiac came out, there was a lot of hullabaloo about the use of visual effects in that film, in particular the use of CGI blood. I also remember hating this CGI blood, because it looked fake, and really pulled me out of the film. Now flash forward a few years to …Dragon Tattoo and it turns out Fincher once again used CGI blood, and I literally had no idea. And that’s exactly the point; great visual effects should be invisible, to the point that you never even realize that you’re seeing an effect. And Fincher is an absolute master of this. He’s notoriously details oriented, and its clear he uses VFX in order to subtly adjust his images until they are absolutely perfect. Even if it’s something no one in their right mind would ever notice until it was pointed out to them in a VFX breakdown.
So the next time you are complaining about bad CGI in a movie, you might want to stop yourself and think for a second; just how much good CGI went unnoticed?
One more thing: if you haven’t yet checked out Art of the Title’s incredible piece on the opening title sequence for the film, you absolutely need to do that.
Extra credit: This outstanding piece from KaptainKristian who actually was the one who first brought all this to my attention. Turns out Fincher has been doing this for years.