VFX supervisor Tim McGovern gives a lowdown on visual effects
Oscar- winning VFX supervisor Tim McGovern on his decades-long career in visual effects, the industry in India, and why technology shouldn't become an end in itself
The dynamic, crew-heavy world of visual effects is vastly different from the solitary pursuit of still photography. But both are visual media nonetheless, trying to tell a story. And it is the stories captured by the lens of filmmaker-photographer Vajranabh Natraaj Maharshi that caught Tim McGovern's eye. The 63-year-old Academy Award-winning American VFX supervisor, who attended a conversation on visual effects as part of the 49th International Film Festival of India (IFFI) in Goa recently, was in Mumbai on Wednesday to inaugurate Maharshi's photography exhibition — a feat the filmmaker is palpably proud of.
"I met Tim Sir through an acquaintance. I showed him my photos; he loved them and here he is!" says Maharshi. McGovern spent over half an hour gazing at the frames — most of them are in black and white, capturing raw emotions of their subjects — and examining the use of light and angles. This keen eye for media that portray real life has stood him in good stead in his three decade-long career in visual effects, from the time when "there was nothing that would look real" to today, when VFX has come a long way in helping a filmmaker visualise his project with imagery that's as real as it gets.
A still from Total Recall, for which McGovern won an Academy Award
Then and now
Before it became a seamless process integral to filmmaking, McGovern had already directed the computer-animated skeleton sequence for Arnold Schwarzenegger-starrer Total Recall (TR), which earned him the 1990 Academy Award for Visual Effects. But before TR, came McGovern's commercial, Sexy Robot (1985), which is considered a ground-breaking work. It was the first time human motion had been applied to a computer-generated character for television or motion pictures. "I was involved in computer graphics in the early '80s, when we first started using computers to do anything that was useful for visual effects. Computers then could show us 3-dimensionally what we could imagine, but the technology at the time was very primitive. We just couldn't represent what we imagined photo-realistically enough," he recalls, enjoying the breeze at the terrace section of Jehangir Art Gallery.
He speaks of the ease of being able to chalk out a budget and timeline for VFX-assisted projects today. "[Back then, the estimate] always went wrong because it was usually harder than you thought. On a James Cameron set — I am talking of the '90s — there were $250,000-a-day crews, helicopters with cameras... So if you were asked if a take was okay, you had to make a decision at that moment, and you'd better be right," says the supervisor, who counts Dunkirk (2017) and Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015) among his works.
A still from a video featuring the making of the Sexy Robot commercial
It was VFX supervisor Madhu Sudhanan who first brought McGovern to India, and since then, he has also visited the country as a member of the Visual Effects Society. When asked about VFX in Indian film industries, he says, "There is a lot of good work being done in India that's featuring in international films," referring to an Indian group of VFX artistes working in the Mumbai office of an international company. "There's an expectation from Bollywood films that the effects don't have to be perfect. But as India becomes more interested in getting its films to become more internationally excepted, the filmmakers realise they have to do the VFX at a higher level."
Technology as a means
What does McGovern make of films where VFX becomes more important than content? "There are some directors who have a story and make sure that everything they do is in service to the story. There are others who are fascinated by technology... I'd rather do a movie like a Dunkirk that says something important, and the imagery helps tell the story in the most realistic way possible," says McGovern, whose next project is a big-budget animated feature film on Hannibal and his favourite war elephant.
Till January 8, 11 am to 7 pm
AT Jehangir Art Gallery, Fort.
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