More Button VFX Goodies

We knew this was coming: With the release of "The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button" there was destined to be a load of behind the scenes material about just how the creative heads behind this production went about to bring the stunning but quasi invisible effects to life. Here are two more items I found ...

To be honest, I wish Paramount had taken the same approach that was used for promoting and releasing Peter Jackson's "King Kong" back in the day. I remember that around the cinematic release of that film, there was also a 2-Disc DVD available, that chronicled pre-production and production. Quite a brilliant move, that is: To sell some of the special features along with the major buzz of the cinematic release, when the excitement for the project is peaking.

With Benjamin Button's extraordinary and groundbreaking effects work, I would surely have lined up to own such a DVD-set right away ... but since we will have to wait for the specials-packed DVD, posts like these will be the closest we get:

In an interview titled "Fitting Visual Effects Into Benjamin Button's Workflow" the folks of the Digital Content Producer podcasts sat down with Digital Domain's Executive VP of Production, Ed Ulbrich, a longtime collaborator of Mr. Fincher. The interview is available as downloadable mp3 or streaming.

The second item is an interview fxguide did with DD's Visual Effects Supervisor, Eric Barba, who had previously worked with David Fincher on "Zodiac", on the "Orville Redenbacher" commercial and the Nine Inch Nails "Only" music video. It's a very insightful read into the challenges Digital Domain had to master to do their pioneering work, and it does shed some light on Fincher's approach to the project:

"David always said that he didn't want to shoot this movie around the fact that it was a CG character. He wanted to shoot it like he was shooting an actor. That means we don't shy away from difficult shots such as seeing him naked in the bathtub or getting a haircut or getting drunk and stumbling."

I can only imagine what a pain it must have been to create shots, where a real actor is putting on or off his glasses and making that match with Brad Pitt's digitally inserted face. What is especially amazing about it, is that everday things like getting a haircut, wearing a hat or taking a bath, which no ordinary movie-goer would ever suspect to be ambitious CGI-efforts, are in fact groundbreaking challenges. Quite different from walking dinosaurs or shrivelled Gollums, which automatically draw attention to themselves.

So, hats off to David Fincher and his team for not taking the easy route. And to all of you, enjoy these interviews!

DigitalContentProducer: Fitting Visual Effects ...
FXGuide: The Curious Case Of Aging Visual Effects


  1. I've just seen it tonight. What a disappointment. The movie is a success in the US, the audience applauded at the end. It's good for Fincher's upcoming career, and no matter what you think of TCCOBB, probably well deserved. But what's for sure is that this is a definitely not a Fincher movie. Blame the story and the passive Benjamin. Just think Kubrick trying to do a Spielberg movie....

    What's to save : the russian sequence with Tilda Swinton, worth seeing. The rest is unfortunately highly forgettable.

    I am very sad.

  2. @Gould

    Just saw if for the 3rd time last night and I couldn't disagree with you more but I fully expect your reaction to shared by many.

  3. Frankly Kevin, where's Fincher trademark ? Apart from the light (DV's not appropriate for a Romance, too cold), the great cast (supporting actors especially), the movie felt more like a Spielberg/Burton movie, and a little Amelie Poulain for the Paris section.

    Benjamin is so passive, how can you relate to him?

    The music, and I LOVE Desplat's score for Birth, is intrusive. Sometimes you wish they would cut it off. Like the voice over that adds nothing nothing to the narrative.

    The CGs? They're ok but no breakthrough, not to mention that all the other CG's felt botched, like the battlefield sequence, you could see nothing!

    And what about that mockingbird!?? I mean that is so stupid. That does not look like Fincher at all.

    At the NY Q&A, I got to ask Fincher if it was ok to dislike the movie and still like his work, stupid question I agree ;-) He glared at me and said "no excuse, no apology" and moved the next question.

    Still I find it quite ironical that Fincher might get an Oscar for a movie that does not look like him. Anyway, he probably deserves it for his achievements so far. I won't complain.

  4. Benjamin Button FanJanuary 6, 2009 at 7:19 PM

    What exactly were you expecting Gould, Fight Club meets The Great Gatsby? If the Finch-Man was really trying to replicate Spielberg, the tone of the film would've been syrupy and maudlin instead of elegiacally bittersweet. He's getting older and maybe a bit more mellow so it's natural that he's going to unveil a side of himself and his work that's a little less misanthropic. I strongly feel it's a fine addition to the Fincher canon and I believe in time some will regret not appreciating its sumptuousness when it was first released. The small but vocal contingent of detractors against it probably just put it under an unforgiving microscope that no film could withstand since it was buzzed about as THE film to beat in the Oscar race for over a half dozen months. There's clearly a disconnect between the alleged animus against it that its haters attest for the existence of and the actual word of mouth because it held up splendidly in its second week at the box office after an impressive debut. This is probably because the type of people who would bash it are either snobby critic twats or bitter blogger cynics who hate everything not named The Dark Knight and don't even pay to see movies since they steal everything via torrent. The only gripe I'll agree with is that the shell of the plot maybe is a little too reminiscent of Forrest Gump but I refuse to believe that savvy guys like DF and Eric Roth consciously went into the project with the explicit understanding between them that they were going to rip off Robert Zemeckis. With so much at stake financially it's understandable that certain concessions had to be made and maybe it was just a matter of them being forced by the money people into playing by the Gump forumla rule book a little more closely than either would've preferred.

  5. I was writing this long winded answer but fuck that, I'll just say this.

    Where is Fincher's trade mark? It's his FIRST Death Affirmation movie and in so far it's a NEW Fincher. I really don't understand why you think this is a bad thing??

    Should Picaso just have stuck to his blue period because he did that so well?

    I have no idea what you are talking about when you refer to Spielberg, Burton, or Amelie as sharing qualities with Ben Button. This film is the Antithesis of that kind of filmmaking.

    Benjamin is so passive how can you relate to him? Because I've had so many of the experiences he's had but beyond that Daisy his highly relatable and beyond that the themes are highly relatable, beyond that just as a person who loves images, and spends his days working on my own images and seeking out other image makers, this movie is PACKED with some fucking AMAZING images.

    I am totally lost with Desplat's score. The score is mixed to take a back seat to the images. The score felt to me to completly unobtrusive in that it doesn't try to tell you how to feel about each moment but feel more like an underline for the images.

    I guess you don't know what was happening with the CG. I have to say as a person whose modeled and render Computer Generated Images, my hats off to the dudes at Digital Domain. HIGH HIGH HIGH levels of skill, totally awe inspiring.

    There is a story or myth about when the first European ships landing in america. It's said that the an Indian Shaman saw the ships and told his village that something was on the horizon. The villagers went back to the sea and looked at the horizon and saw nothing. For three days the shaman reported what he saw and no one believed him until one day the great ships were docking off shore.

    Just because you can't see that a Major milstone has been achieved in visual effects don't mean it didn't happen. You just missed it is all.

    And lastly I was at the Q and A and dropped my head down and when I heard you ask that question.
    I found it highly disrespectful and I am not sure what you wanted to accomplish with it.

  6. i know what it is ,
    it s saumon or fine chesse ,or even french wines (even if i don't drink) ..
    this movie is so fine, so precious, so net , it s like crystal ..
    what else can i say ?..
    if you want still water , ask for evian ;
    want pasta , ask barila ;
    want sunglasses : ray ban ;
    a pair of jean's : levi strauss ;
    now if you want a fine picture/good lighting/ perfect music/and a well made story about death and its letting go ask ..
    me( hey man!)
    i ll tell you to go and watch again and again '' the curious case of benjamin button''

    david fincher isn t the same person who made alien 3 or fight club , he grow old! ;-) , same as us ( hey he s human/not an half god)
    he isn t the same man/but he s still the man!

    remenber that nothing lasts forever !
    everything changes .. even him ;-)

  7. Just because I dared to say, probably not in the best fashion since English is not my native language and like Fincher said I won't "apologize" for that, I didn't like the movie means I was "disrespectful". My question, I agree, failed but at least I tried. And I don't think it deserves such violent reaction as yours.

    I saw Alien3 in theaters twice here in the US in deserted theaters, I saw Se7en as much time as that guy in 5th grade there, I was there last year for Zodiac screening at WR, which I consider as a masterpiece, so I am entitled to any opinion on Fincher as much as anybody.

    I just didn't like this one (and I didn't say I hated it). And it seems I am not the only one (just read some reviews like Time Out NY, Village Voice...).

    YES it's packed with FUCKING images, but NO emotion. And for a romance, there's probably a balance between being "syrupy" and frigid ;-)

    I'll give the movie a second chance next month anyway.

  8. Gould I didn't mean to be violent. I just think what you said was disrespectful and the moment you asked the question I had to hang my head low because I had no idea what it could accomplished.

    It most certainly wasn't a constructive comment and aimed at derision

    Even on the first view I was very moved by the time they meet in the middle. Other people love the first hour then hate the rest. For me the delay, the missed oppertunities really build to an AMAZING emotional last half.

    Because I wasn't fighting my expectations I really cried the third time around. When they're on the bed with each other and he says" I was just thinking about how nothing last and what a shame that is." That really resonates with me.

  9. When Fincher glared at me, believe me I also hung my head low :-))

    Wasn't moved at all. Those southern accents, especially Blanchett's, certainly did not help.

  10. These mixed opinions make me want to see it even more... I still have to wait till the February 6th.

  11. Hurtful TruthfulnessJanuary 7, 2009 at 11:28 AM

    Let's see: a wealth of gorgeous shots that are lit and framed impeccably, check; great acting across the board, check; lengthy run time that flies by due to filmmaker's mastery of storytelling, check; use of technological tools to service the story instead of compensating for the absence of it, check; looming macabre spectre of impending mortality, check. The proof is there, folks: it most assuredly has all the characteristics of a Fincher film. Anyone who suggests the film is indicative of Fincher jumping the shark is merely saying that just for effect because nothing makes people like this feel more self-righteous than branding somebody a sellout. The internet smear campagin against Benjamin Button to discredit its greatness is the biggest cinematic online fiasco since cyberspace idiots celebrated the inevitability that Snakes on a Plane was going to be a blockbuster. The reality is that people in the real world who don't passive aggressively hide behind keyboards love the film.

  12. Truthful HurtfulnessJanuary 7, 2009 at 1:02 PM

    Hiding behind the keyboard? Speak for yourself. There's more to a movie experience than elements you check off like they mean something. When you enjoy the beauty of the Mona Lisa you don't analyse the structure of the paper, the consistence of the colored dots, the framing, or the proportions. You step back and take it in as a whole; with a work of art there's either a holistic emotional reception that resonates with the viewer, or not. Doesn't matter which elements there are, they have to fit together and support the whole.

  13. @ Mikez

    February 6th?!! Good god, that's torture. And I thought our January 29th release date here in Germany was bad enough.

    I just checked IMDB and I guess the most unfortunate Fincher fans are the ones from Finland, who will have to wait for February 20th. Don't know if this will be a quantum of solace (haha) for all those who don't have to wait quite as long ...

    I am quite astonished that the film is being released in Germany sooner than it is in the UK! Can anyone think of just one plausible reason for that?!!

  14. Fincherfanatic: what do you think of the movie Quantum of Solace and the director Marc Forster?

  15. @ Brent

    I really haven't formed an opinion on Marc Forster yet, to be honest. I saw "Finding Neverland" and wasn't impressed by it. Then I saw "Monster's Ball" and can't remember anything other than the Halle-Barry-loosing-it-with-Billy-Bob scene that would stick for longer than a week. Saw "Stranger Than Fiction" and thought it was fun, but too gimmicky and 'trying too hard' to be a favorite of mine, and with "Quantum Of Solace" -- I couldn't help comparing it to "Casino Royale", which I thought was a much better and more interesting screenplay.

    I'm not sure about Mr. Forster as a director. I hear good things about "The Kite Runner", but haven't gotten around to watching it.

    So this far I cannot make out a striking uniqueness about Forster or his style, ... which I guess is another way of saying his works didn't leave an impression on me yet.

    What do you think?

  16. Fincherfanatic: He is good at directing actors and bringing out emotional performances. Monster's Ball was a really good film in my opinion, visually and from a performance point of view.

    Finding Neverland wasn't that impressive to me, it didn't seem like he was fully in charge of the vision for it. There always were some flaws with his movies after Monster's Ball that distracted me, kind of amateurish visuals so to speak. Stranger than Fiction was fun, not more. Kite Runner was a disappointment.

    I expected a lot more from Quantum of Solace after all the hype surrounding it. They all said, "wow, he's gonna make Bond more emotional and psycholical", but I didn't see that much of a difference to Casino Royale, a better entry into the Bond Canon in my opinion.

    The action scenes were really hard to follow... so many quick cuts, especially in the beginning of the film.

    Somehow I expected Bond to break down in tears over a bottle of Vodka over his lost love and broken heart from Vesper, but he was just a fucking ice block, again, not that emotional. It didn't give me any more psycholic insight into him as well, except in the end, where Olga tells him that his prison is in himself.

    Anyway, the media in Switzerland are all over him somehow, they're so proud to have a Hollywood director from their country and all take credit for it, like he's their "son" or something, they refer to him as "our director". Kind of upsets me, it's so far from reality, kind of delusional. And the kids all want to become Hollywood directors now. Fucking wannabes.

  17. Since it shaped up as healthy discussion, I'll drop my own two cents on Marc Forster as well.

    Except for his first Imdb credited feature "Loungers", I've seen all of his films. "Everything Put Together" was a very solid character piece, but I guess mostly to the underrated performace by Radha Mitchell. I was 16 when I watched and even then, her perfomance caught my attention, something that at the time wasn't very usual for me. He shot all digital, using the now old "reality video/almost documentary" sort of look and it certainly worked here. I also think the film had its strengths more in the script than the direction, and since then he hasn't written anything else. "Monster's Ball" as whole didn't work for me. The only strong point for me was the relation between Billy Bob Thorton's character and his son, played by Heath Ledger. I don't really like Halle Berry, so it bothered me a bit and I thought her performance was all over the place. But since it's personal, don't take my word for it. Technically nothing to comment on this one.

    Then came "Finding Neverland". I agree with Brent. He wasn't really in charge of the vision for it. I thought the quiet and subtle story demanded a less flourished approach, specially with the camera work. It's sensitive at times, but not much more than that. I have problems with the script as well, but I like the idea in general. The strength in this lies in the relationship between the boy (Freddie Highmore, fantastic) and Johnny Depp. Kate Winslet, in my opinion, was playing "I cough so I'm sick". "Stay" is strange. I heard so much about how David Benioff was a genius, and how Spike Lee loved his script for the "25th Hour" and then he wrote "Troy". Terrible movie. When they announced "Stay", I was intrigued by its trailer and thought since it was original work again, it could generate some kind of a cool film. I like the film in general, but I have issues with the way the solution for the story was handled, both by the script and by the direction. The accident I thought was trying to hard to be cool and Iñárritu showed us you don't have to make it look cool to be effective. I like the editing, music and the cinematography in most of the film, these gimmicks work for the story. It were the "script gimmicks" that really didn't let me appreciate it as I wanted to when I walked into the movie theater.

    Now I have to disagree with you all - I really, really love "Stranger Than Fiction". It caught me off guard, the same way "Adaptation" did. Another film I truly love. I loved everything about it. Damon Lindelof once said that everyone that decides to tell stories for a living might have a really great story in them to tell, in his case "Lost", and in my opinion, as far as Marc Forster is concerned, his truly great story up until this point is this one. Here I think he truly is in charge of the vision for it. He used the technical aspects to increase his tools as a storyteller. The cinematography is simple but beautiful, the script hits all the right notes with me as an audience, I specially love the way the characters interact, notably Harold Crick and his friend, and Harold Crick and his newly found girlfriend. The acting is superb, Will Ferrel was born to play this part. The music is great, editing, special effects, the way it uses narration to really narrate the story instead of lousy exposition. As you can see, I really love this, so maybe it's blinding my true technical analysis. But that's what I want from a film. If you ask me what is wrong with "Fight Club", I couldn't tell, since I think is the best film ever made.

    "The Kite Runner" was a let down for me too. I didn't read the book, but I felt the movie was really trying to make me cry, make me feel for these characters and there wasn't much about them that I really wanted to know, so I couldn't relate. Friends that read the book said the story is more straight forward and you really understand the point of view of the characters, something they thought was lacking in the film. Technically is ok, but not much else. To finish off, "Quantum of Solace". I agree with FincherFanatic, it was hard not to compare it with "Casino Royale", a far superior film. In "Quantum" I think they understood what Bond is really about, I really do, but something went of the right track during execution. He really captured the beauty and astonishment of the Bond locations. I like the way the character is really just pretending he is ok and cold, but deep down he is just looking for closure, as most normal people do when they break up a relationship. But in the final film, there is something missing, I can't say what exactly, but I know is not there. If I had to guess, it would be the villain and Olga. Mathieu Amalric did a wonderful job in the "The Diving Bell and The Butterfly" and I thought he could bring something to the character, but didn't. And also, his quest to "conquer all water", although interesting, was too villainy, steering away from a more down-to-earth, directly related to Bond as win-the-game-or-die. The goals of the villain didn't really interfere with Bond's, so there wasn't really a reason for them to fight, except Olga. Since Bond didn't really bound (pun intended) with her, why the hell did he help her? The "you lost someone too" moment? Not enough. If he tried to find Mr. White or Vesper's ex from the beginning, he would really be on his way and maybe Dominic Green would cross paths and then they would have something to fight for. The way they presented in the movie, what kind of coincidence was that? Bond in a hotel room, kills a guy, steals a briefcase, has a chance encounter with Olga and then finds out about Mr. Green and forgets that he really is after Mr. White? WTF? And could Marc Forster saved all this mess with his direction? I guess not. He did try though. The action, as pointed by Brent, was really quick cuts all over, and very confusing. Christopher Nolan said an interesting thing about this. A lot of people complained about the same things regarding "Batman Begins" and he said he was presenting the character so it was supposed to be a little confusing, but now with "The Dark Knight", people were already invested in the character, so we could spend more time with him, even in action. Also, shooting scenes in IMAX had to be really thought through, so people wouldn't get dizzy and confused with all the cutting, so they slowed down a bit. The editor of the film explains this better in the dvd extras. Got a little carried away, sorry. Back to "Quantum". The film is beautiful, but that's it. Daniel Craig is the best Bond ever for me, but to put him side-by-side with a terrible actress like Olga didn't really help. Marc knew what he wanted and it seemed pretty cool, but he didn't get that. His goal of making a "fast and dry" Bond fell to pieces as they went along. It sure is fast and dry, but not in a good way. The fact they made the film in a rush, I think also hurted the production.

    So except for "Stranger Than Fiction", Marc Forster still has a long way to go for being considered a master director as Fincher or Nolan, at least in my book. His new film is interesting. I know the book and the script and they both have a lot of potential. As a film addict I really hope the film turns out amazing. And that's why Fincher is the best in my opinion. You can criticize him all you want, but always for the right reasons. His films are powerful and accomplished in a way few directors have been able to achieve, not in these past years, but ever. Since he said "Fertig" could be one of the 5 best films EVER MADE, I really hope he makes it sometime in the near future. I don't wanna die and not see that. It's pitty enough that Kubrick didn't get to make "Napoleon".

    I hope I didn't bore you all to death. All the best to you guys.

  18. Interesting input Thiago.



  20. Awesome find, Gould. That is hilarious!!

  21. It's funny, because it's true. Fincher and Roth can argue all they want, they essentially made a remake of Forrest Gump. Without the AIDS.

    And I really mean that, Roth just wrote the same story again. How can they call it different? More elaborative FX?