Perhaps it suits films on both undercover police work, and the history of the CIA, respectively, that the effects work in each would be mostly of the “invisible” kind, like the guiding hands behind an agency-backed coup d’etat.But that didn’t keep Rob Legato, as effects supervisor for both Martin Scorsese’s The Departed, and actor-turned-director Robert DeNiro’s The Good Shepherd, from keeping busy. You could say he was refining techniques he’s been working on from his TV days on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine to his work for James Cameron on Titanic, overseeing Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and previously teaming up with Scorsese for The Aviator, which itself involved special effects of the invisible/period detail sort (with the exception of that film’s spectacular plane crash sequence).Regarding The Departed, Legato observes that “what you see on the screen isn’t that remarkable” in the eye candy sense, and tallies that he had about 250–260 shots to work on in that film. But Scorsese isn’t known for eye candy, like his generational colleagues George Lucas and Steven Spielberg are.Instead, it was Legato’s job to create an “easy way for (the director) to work—a playpen for him.” This involved tools—like use of HD inserts—that allowed the film to keep being shaped “after we’d run out of time and money.” These included scenes “literally shot with household lamps” purchased at Home Depot.Legato recounts that “one shot made it into the movie one hour before” the film was ready for general release.On Good Shepherd Legato notes that he directed “2nd unit as well. There were about 150 HD shots to blend into the overall movie, through the use of a DI. You can’t be too nimble,” Legato says of the digital tools he uses to help his directors “perfect it, work with it—you have to have the ability to explore even if you’re going to throw it away.”One example he gives is from The Departed, which—no surprise to Scorsese fans—has sequences involving guns, bullets, wounds and blood. With blood squibs, a shot could be set up, then would have to be cleaned up in order to be redone. Time wouldn’t allow for many variations or retakes.Now, with the use of digits, blood splashes can be added against walls, furniture, car windows, and the like, all in post, allowing the director to film the scene “five different ways,” and pick the best one later.Making the director’s job easier—inveighing against what he terms the “rigidity of visual effects (which have) stymied that creativity”—is behind his next directorial reunion, which also involves a change of job title. Back with Jim Cameron, Legato is credited as the “virtual cinematography system creator”—for which an Oscar category doesn’t exist yet—on two of the director’s projects, one a 2008 release, the other due in ’09.Legato says the new system involves a “virtual stage and virtual cinematography,” and is designed to further blend in previs work with the actual shooting of the film. He sees little distinction now in previs and the movie— the work of one, in the production systems he’s designing, bleeds into the other, seamlessly.Sort of like those digital blood squibs.
Written by Mark London Williams