Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button – Visual Effects

“My name is Benjamin Button and I was born under unusual circumstances. While everyone was aging, I was getting younger… all along.”
Quote from The Curious Case of Benjamin Button movie (2009)
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” is a Francis Scott Fitzgerald’s short story about a life of a boy who, through aging, is actually getting younger. When the main character, Benjamin Button, was born, he looked like he is 80-years-old man. He had heavy winkles on his skin and seemed very old. However, while he was getting older, his appearance was getting younger; the skin was getting smoother and tighter, completely opposite for normal aging process.  
In 2010, Paramount Pictures created a film adaptation of Benjamin Button story which was directed by David Fincher. Fincher requested that the main character has to be played by one actor. As you may notice, the primary challenge was to create realistic images of an actor that shifts age between 0 and 80 years old. For something like that, high-tech computer-generated-images experts were needed. Digital Domain accepted the challenge and created extraordinary visual effects and make up for the main character. Brad Pitt was casted to play Benjamin Button, and Digital Domain was able to create believable and realistic images of very old Brad Pitt using the CGI. According to Giannetti, computer generated images have allowed filmmakers to create fantasy worlds of the utmost realism (35), so creating Brad Pitt that is 40 years older than in real life was possible. However, the Digital Domain made the extraordinary images of Brad Pitt for Benjamin Button character so realistically and successfully that no one has done before. The movie won the three Academy Awards in 2010: for the art direction, for the visual effects and for the makeup.
For the “Benjamin Button” movie, Digital Domain went far beyond high-tech. They created Brad Pitt that is 40 years older than in real life for his character in the movie. Digital Domain made it so realistic that some of the Academy voters thought that they are looking at extraordinary make up, which was not completely true. (Sancton,2). The makeup would not create the realistic effect on the close up images, so the Digital Domain had to find the way to make it look more believable.
Filmmakers, artists, and technologists have been working together to create a realistic and humanized face of an old Brad Pitt. To bring the aging of Pitt’s character, Digital Domain used several techniques and technologies. Surprisingly enough, for the first hour of the movie, real Brad Pitt is not on the screen; there is no actual footage of Pitt at all (Sydell, 4). Instead, Digital Domain casted series of little actors that played different bodies of Benjamin Button. Afterwards, they added aged CGI of Pitt’s head and attached those images to the body of the real actor. In that manner, the audience was convinced that what they are seeing is a normal aging Benjamin Button.
The next challenge for Digital Domain was to create realistic facial expressions of Benjamin Button. According to Kate Greene, to create realistic human head and its expressions, Digital Domain used new technologies from the company called MOVA and its novel motion capture systems (3). Briefly, the company used glow-in-the-dark powder on Pitt’s face that allowed them to capture his facial expressions more accurately. Afterwards, the information about expressions was computer-generated into old looking Benjamin Button image so the character would look emotional and realistic.
At the end, thanks to the Digital Domain special effects crew, Benjamin Button was nominated for the achievement in visual effects category at the Academy Awards and won the Oscar in 2010.  In my opinion, the movie created something extraordinary that no one has done before so realistically and successfully. The process of making Brad Pitt 40 years older than he actually is, was the very best work in computer generated images so far. Furthermore, they created soul for the Benjamin Button.  My rating of special effects for “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” is:

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Dir. David Fincher. Perf. Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett. Paramount, 2009. DVD.
Giannetti, Louis D. Understanding Movies 12th edition. NJ: Pearson, 2011. Print.
Green,Kate. “The Special Effects of Benjamin Button.”Technology Review. MIT. 2 March 2009. Web. 26 Sep 2012.
 Sancton, Julien.  “Are Benjamin Button Special Effects Too Good.” Vanity Fair: The Hollywood Blog. n.p. 6 Jan 2009. Web. 26 Sep 2012.
Sydell, Laura. “Building The Curious Faces of Benjamin Button.” NPR. n.p. 16 Feb 2009. Web. 26 Sep 2012

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