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Black Swan Nominated for BAFTA VFX Award

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Dan Shrecker (©2010 Fox Searchlight. Image courtesy LOOK Effects)

While the BAFTAs are often thought of as simply “the British Oscars,” this does their nominating process a slight disservice – since they also have categories for “Best British Film” (we recommend catching the little-seen Four Lions, if you can) and “Outstanding Debut” in writing, directing or producing.

Their Visual Effects category is somewhat “Oscar-distinct” as well, given that the Yank-side Academy tends to favor fairly effects-heavy films in that category – last year’s winner being Avatar, of course, which beat out District 9 and Star Trek. (Though one could argue that the previous year’s winner, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button showed a different sensibility in FX voting).

And while this year’s BAFTA flock has a couple of “slam dunk” nominees like Inception and Alice and Wonderland, (and animated hit Toy Story 3,) it also features a nomination for LOOK Effects’ VFX supervisor Dan Schrecker’s work on Black Swan, for director Darren Aronofsky.

This pitches the BAFTA category somewhere between the Oscars and the VES Awards – the latter devoting specific categories to FX in non-effects driven films. Indeed, Schrecker’s work in Swan is nominated there, too, for “outstanding Supporting Visual Effects in a Feature Motion Picture.”

Comparing his work on Black Swan to the director’s previous – and equally lauded The Wrestler, where he also oversaw whatever effects were needed, Schrecker says he didn’t have to be on set in the Mickey Rourke-starring quiet opus of redemption-gone-south. That was in direct contrast to the current, Natalie Portman starring opus of redemption-eclipsed-by-breakdown.

In Black Swan, he notes, the effects “were crucial,” citing a lot of the manifestations of Portman’s unfolding breakdown, including the literal sprouting of swan wings, and a lot of “mirror work” – though not the kind usually associated with dancers practicing in front of their own image.

Well, it is, but in this instance, Schrecker describes them as “a series of mirror gags,” as unsettling as they are, where Portman’s “reflection doesn’t follow her action.” Or as Schrecker elaborates, in on one instance “Darren wanted to have one reflection go rogue,” from the multiple “real” ones, which required shooting multiple plates, often from behind a two-way mirror.

Natalie Portman in Black Swan (Courtesy of Fox Searchlight)

There was also the business of digitally notching out crew members and equipment also reflected in those mirrors, and – while Portman did “99% of her own dancing” – the business of some Social Network-like 2D “face replacement,” for some of the culminating scenes where another dancer was standing in for the actress.

There was also a lot of work done in for the finale, where Portman transforms – literally, symbolically, or both – into the titular Black Swan, which required a “motion capture rig” on the actress, with motion-tracking markers “on the camera as well.” Making things even more interesting in the match-that-shot compositing/posting process was the fact that those cameras were all Steadicam, and not tripod, or fixed, shots.

Still, in spite of a sudden nod from the Venice Film Festival that rushed posting, Schrecker never felt rushed in the 4-5 months he had after shooting was wrapped. Indeed, he describes the whole process – from filming to post – as “very light on its feet.”

And what better metaphor for a film like this?

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