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PP-Supervisor Series-Elektra

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“Hopefully, you get the parachute made by the time you fall to the bottom.” That’s effects supervisor Dan Deleeuw describing how abbreviated—and rapidly changing—the post phase of production really is in today’s digital-effects laden age.Having currently finished work on Elektra, Deleeuw mused that “in the ideal situation, you’re involved in the very beginning” of the production, in order to plan shots, but that may be because shooting and post schedules now approximate the amount of time once given to effects.“I was on Reign of Fire [the 2002 Rob Bowman-directed sci-fi/fantasy medley of a futuristic dragon attack] for a year and a half,” says Deleeuw. With Elektra, he had four months to do the entire show.And in that period, Deleeuw found himself in league with many in Los Angeles who consider abs a problem area. In this case, the abs, and midsection, belonged to a character named Tattoo, an Elektra-nemesis whose “skin illustrations”—to reference a certain Ray Bradbury film—spring to life, especially the critters around his stomach.Toward this end, a veritable fleet of snakes emerge from Tattoo’s epidermis—flying snakes that morph from tattoos into something solid, which drove Deleeuw to push the postproduction software. “The biggest challenge was getting the snakes to work correctly.”But he wasn’t done with the midsection menagerie: Tattoo also sprouts a wolf, at which point Deleeuw could only ask himself, well, “if you had a wolf coming out of someone’s stomach, how would it look?”But luckily, one of the main impediments of a believable, if stomach-borne, wolf had been solved. For a long time, Deleeuw notes, it was hair that presented one of the largest challenges for digital recreation. Then it was feathers.“As soon as you model something easy to recognize, you run into challenges,” Deleeuw observes.Among those challenges was the short timeline, and Deleeuw found himself subcontracting the work out to other effects houses. “Basically you’re ‘casting’ a house,” he states, noting that each one has certain specialties.Pixel Magic, for example, was brought in for a “scene where a forest was dying.” Not for the usual eco reasons, but specifically due to a character named Typhoid Mary, who walks through the woods while spreading death around her.“A lot of tools we use in character animation,” Deleeuw offers, “were put into the body of a tree,” to get a particularly, and perhaps more subliminally wrenching effect.But getting such effects, wrenching or otherwise, comes at a time when all the rules have changed. Once, in what Deleeuw refers to as the photochemical era, “you watch the movie through and call out notes” afterwards.But with digits—and digital intermediates—“you’re sitting there all day,” he says. “Creatively, it keeps the process going longer. It allows [you to] keep working on shots,” all the way up to the moment “they pull it from your hands.”And while he allows some excitement at knowing that the tool set is constantly growing, tools for “the rest of the industry matured over last 80 to 90 years.” With special effects, it seems to be happening exponentially.“Everyone’s trying to treat it like it was when you had the photo-chemical process,” back, he says, when the effects crew “sat on dark stages for five or six months, shooting miniatures. I saw the tail edge of when effects were a lot of guys in tennis shoes, and could be done in a garage. There was production, and there was effects.”Well, the tennis shoes haven’t gone away, and if the garage held a mainframe, it might still be possible.And even though Elektra herself had no “real” powers—she doesn’t fly like Superman, or zip around on webs like Spiderman—her world is a harsh world, and Deleeuw found himself racing to help create everything that would be seen in it.No longer given half a year to fabricate miniatures and move them around, he found himself in a post process that was very intense, seven days a week. Effects supervisors—as DPs are discovering—are sitting in timing sessions now, he says.“We’re all able to produce work much more quickly now,” and rather than staying in the garage, effects crews find themselves “part of a bigger, tighter team, which is a good thing,” he says.The process gets “more fluid,” allowing, as Deleeuw observes, deferred decisions. “Now, we can pull it off in two months or four months.” But the accelerated production rates are “something that has to find a balance.”As for Deleeuw, now that his crash course in making snakes fly has wrapped, he doesn’t mind not being sure what’s coming up next, as far as projects in the pipeline. One thing he knows: “It’s definitely time for a break.”

Written by Mark London Williams

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