One of the most unique uses of CGI in film recently was ‘The Fountain’ by Darren Aronovsky. The film has become known for it’s creative use of visual effects - the director claims that the VFX scenes were 98% in-camera effects and only 2% CGI. Watching the film, you’d think there was much more CGI involved, but the majority of the deep-space scenes were made using macrophotography from 'optical sequence’ photographer Peter Parks. Who, incidentally, is not a recognised superhero, but did work on the Superman films. His son, Chris Parks also works with macrophotography, but from a more of a fine arts perspective. There’s a source film from The Fountain here, and you can see a short film demostrating the composition of some of the low-CG shots here.
Essentially, instead of trying to create complex, chaotic fluid dynamics in a 3D application, Aronovsky went back to basics and asked Parks to take high-res macro films of chemical reactions and the movement of various materials in fluid. What’s surprising to know is the domestic materials used to create these sort of shots. I mean, curry powder?:
“Into water they sprinkle yeast, dyes, solvents, and baby oil, along with other ingredients they decline to divulge. The secret of Parks’ technique is an odd law of fluid dynamics: The less fluid you have, the more it behaves like a solid. The upshot is that Parks can make a dash of curry powder cascading toward the lens look like an onslaught of flaming meteorites.”
This idea is close to my heart as during my degree I made my own version of deep space images using printer ink, detergent, paprika, salt, pepper and water. There’s a few of them here. One of my friends, a fashion blogger who I went to art college with, recently compared these images to designer Josh Goot’s dresses. Wahey!
Read more about Peter Parks and The Fountain here and here. There’s a profile of the vfx for the film here.