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HomeAwardsAward Contender-Pablo Helman, VFX, War of the Worlds AND Jarhead

Award Contender-Pablo Helman, VFX, War of the Worlds AND Jarhead


“You try to be as invisible as possible to the production,” visual effects supervisor Pablo Helman avers. But invisible doesn’t mean one isn’t invaluable. “You are trying to be the least obstructive to the director’s style,” he continues. “You sell the atmosphere that is there.”And he’s had some pretty diverse and stimulating atmospheres to help sell, supervising effects on everything from Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones to the third Terminator, to Master and Commander, The Bourne Supremacy and, just this past year, War of the Worlds, Jarhead and Munich.Helman was born in Argentina, and originally pursued a music composition degree at UCLA. In music, the pauses and silences are equally important—just ask John Cage. And, like Cage, Helman finds himself using a variety of tools to achieve that FX invisibility: “You never use one technique only. You never use CG only, just because you can.”On the subject of digits, he says that “you never put CG shots back-to-back-to-back, especially if you have creatures.” The reason for that is, as vaunted as they are, CG shots are still, at root, mathematical structures—like music—and “your eye will start picking up these patterns.”Instead, he relies on a panoply of methods, including use of miniatures, compositing, mechanical and optical effects on-set, and, of course, CG.For the latter, he likes Autodesk Inferno as well as Maya software, and being ILM-based, the company’s own in-house Zeno software, “especially for tracking.” Zeno is also “blurring the lines between 2-D and 3-D,” which is especially useful in a film like Jarhead, where the effects run toward making Gulf oil fires “burn” as realistically—and as fully—as possible.Helman allows that “every time you’re solving a problem in 3-D,” you’re going for a kind of “scientific realism,” which may not necessarily look right to your eye, just because it looks right to the numbers. “As visual effects artists, we train ourselves to look at nature,” so the numbers are overruled, when necessary. That works for directors like Jarhead’s Sam Mendes, who is “a theatre director, and shoots from his eye.”Steven Spielberg, on the other hand, wasn’t counting on serendipity, or Peter Brook-derived blocking techniques for his War of the Worlds FX. In that film, “animatics (were used) for all the special effects work.”Pre-viz and animatics have changed the way things are done in visual effects, says Helman, not only because the expectations levied on effects has grown exponentially—“Be a burning, ’90s-era desert! Be a fleet of invading Martians!”—but because those increased complexities and expectations mean that “everything you learned in pre-viz (helps) to do your post work.”Not that post necessarily means what it once did: “For me, the division between pre, post and production is [only] on paper.” Like most VFX supervisors now, Helman finds himself involved in most productions from the earliest stages—hence, pre-viz and animatics.“If you don’t do your work right, it’s going to have financial implications,” he says of the entire process. And more than that, you may wind up with effects that aren’t helping the filmmaker to create a picture, but instead, committing the cardinal sin of high, and obvious, visibility.

Written by Mark London Williams

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