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Celebrating SFX - Eddie French

Thursday 7 December 2023, by Judy Harris

In our third post in the run up to World VFX day tomorrow we’re talking about sfx legends Ray Harryhausen and Eugen Schüfftan, as well as the sparing use of CGI in Mad Max: Fury Road with non-binary comedian, film nerd and podcaster Eddie French!

Jason and The Argonauts – Talos scene (Dir. Don Chaffey, 1963)
Ray Harryhausen
Of course I love all of Harryhausen’s stuff. I would’ve looked like the ultimate hipster if I’d chosen The Valley of Gwangi, though that is also excellent (I mean it’s dinosaurs and cowboys!). But this scene with Talos is so visceral. Harryhausen is just so good! The scale of the status of Talos is astonishing - he moves slowly and yes you can run away but he can just take one massive stride and grab you. When they defeat him the human actors are interacting with a physical model but it blends so well, the leg and foot are identical to the tiny stop motion figure. It’s nigh on seamless even in high definition! In The Valley of Gwangi there are three cowboys played by real actors who lassoo a stop motion dinosaur. It’s that bringing together of models and humans that Harryahusen did so beautifully, he could blend all these different elements into the same world. The harpes scene is also great and it has Patrick Troughten in it, who is the second Dr.

Mad Max: Fury Road (Dir, George Miller, 2015)
This film is just one big car chase - it feels like a road runner cartoon, it’s relentless. Everything is done practically and all of the CG is in the background. They’ve got all these stunt people swinging around on bamboo style poles etc but the background is this waste land done with CG and it reminded me of The Lord of the Rings films – the reason they (mostly) look really good is that everything is real and they just sprinkle CG over the top like fairy dust. It still holds up the way other films made just with green screen don’t. They use CG sparingly and it blends so much more easily – not like when actors are talking to a tennis ball on a stick. The palette of the film is incredible. Most of the CG is used to illuminate bits of lore like the sandstorms and poisonous, murky, foggy places – it’s using CG for wordless world-building. Almost everything in the foreground is real and then the background is CG.

Metropolis – flooding scene (Dir. Fritz Lang, 1927)
Eugen Schüfftan
I’m assuming that health and safety was more lax back then and that’s why they could get away with drenching hundreds of children in water in this disaster effect scene (what Katharina Loew calls a naturalistic spectacular effect). The whole of Metropolis is enormous in scale and the destruction is incredible. This scene is very anxiety producing. Even though you assume that there probably won’t be hundreds of drowned children at the end, you still feel tense and afraid. The place never looks like someone is pushing a tonka truck around – this isn’t a Hot Wheels set, it feels massive and convincing. A special effect can live or die depending on how it’s edited and this film really gets it right. This flood scene is one of the only times you see something natural in the film – it’s for the pleasure of the elite in their luxurious garden or with this flood. They’ve tried to harness nature in order to exploit it and, as we know, that is what will kill your children. We didn’t listen!

You can find out more about Eddie French, including their NOFX podcast here: http://www.eddiethefrench.com

World VFX day is an annual day of recognition in celebration of the vfx industry (and the often invisible labour of vfx workers) started by a collective of visual effects studios. Anyone in or outside the industry are encouraged to take part. Sign up to the ‘World VFX Day’ newsletter for the latest news and events: https://mailchi.mp/651b2a6c2ad9/world-vfx-day

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