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szdaily -> Entertainment
‘Men in Black’turns 20: How it rewrote the playbook for movie special effects

    2017-July-4  08:53    Shenzhen Daily

On July 2, 1997, the sci-fi comedy “Men in Black” opened in theaters, introducing audiences to the extraterrestrials who secretly live on Earth and the straight-faced special agents (played by Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones) charged with keeping them in line. Smith, at the height of his film stardom, was the biggest audience draw, what really made the film click was the aliens: a delightful rogue’s gallery of weird creatures living amongst and inside ordinary humans.

Twenty years later, Hollywood is experiencing a nostalgia for “practical effects,” the art of creating effects in-camera with puppets and makeup — which is how effects artist Rick Baker designed the alien population of “Men in Black.” But the film also used computer graphics to supplement, and sometimes replace, Baker’s tactile creations. To watch “Men in Black” now is to see Hollywood’s transition from practical effects to CG and to understand why filmmakers are circling back.

Baker, who won one of his seven Oscars for “Men in Black,” has described the film in multiple interviews as “design hell.” By that, he doesn’t mean that working on it was a total nightmare — after all, he returned for two sequels — but that his creative process was continually stalled while he waited for director Barry Sonnenfeld and executive producer Steven Spielberg to hash out exactly what they wanted. “There were so many people involved in the designs and nothing was getting approved and time was a wasting,” Baker said in a 2015 video interview. Sometimes, this meant that designs he spent months building were suddenly scrapped, like the insectoid alien from the film’s climactic battle, which was replaced with a CG creature. But other puppets make it onto the screen with memorable results, like Rosenberg, the dying alien hidden behind a human face.

That alien, nicknamed “Chucky” by Baker, was performed by two different-sized puppets, the larger of which had articulated lips and blinking eyes.

A minimum of computer animation was used on that alien, while only slightly more was used for the “worm” aliens, ultimately one of the franchise’s most popular creatures, who began their lives as simple rod puppets in Baker’s studio.

Other characters were a more equal blend of practical and digital effects. Take Mikey,the first alien to be unmasked in the film. As shown in the clip below, Baker spent 10 months creating an 8-foot-tall alien suit to be worn by a real actor, with a head and body parts controlled by 10 remote operators.

Even so, the design team couldn’t figure out a way for the creature to run quickly, as required by the script. So the practical Mikey is replaced by a CG Mikey partway through his brief scene.

For most of Hollywood history, special effects didn’t work like this. If a director needed a cast of aliens, those aliens had to be designed, created, and made camera-ready in the months leading up to the shoot. By the time filming wrapped, the creature designer’s job was done, and the aliens on camera were the ones who made the final cut.

If the director wasn’t happy with how it looked, his only option was to reshoot it — much like George Lucas shot extra footage for the “Star Wars” cantina scene, including new aliens designed by Baker.

(SD-Agencies)

 

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