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Nothing is ever as it appears on a movie screen. Ever. If you think you are looking at an actor walking through Times Square during the height of tourist season, he’s probably actually walking through a field… or, better yet, a constructed set surrounded by teamsters. Digital effects take what’s actually happening and turns them into what the director wants to see.
I’m reminded of this artificial reality watching the above visual-effects reel created by Brainstorm Digital for Martin Scorsese’s ode to excess, The Wolf of Wall Street. The clip, posted to Vimeo, is short – but long enough to show how backdrops were filled in, removed or – my favorite – created from scratch to give Wolf the surface that Scorsese wanted. Need a lion walking through a busy financial office? Not a problem. Have a trainer bring a real lion through a designated space, then digitally add the accountants into the shot later. Presto! Movie magic.
The one I have a hard time figuring out is Leonardo DiCaprio, playing sleazeball financial wizard Jordan Belfort, walking into a London flat. It looks one way in the movie. Then the Brainstorm team rewinds to show us what the flat looks like in real life. Which is funny. It’s such a small detail – the look of a building – but Scorsese has them change it completely, adding bushes and a brick façade over what’s really just a plain, white apartment building. It makes the residence seem warmer, perhaps a bit more upscale. But the original building in the "before" shot looks perfectly British, and I’m not sure anyone watching the film would have stopped on that building and thought, "Oh, c’mon. There’s no WAY that lady lives in such a building." A small detail, and one that might have cost Scorsese a chunk of change. Presto! Your budget disappears on little cosmetic changes.
The effects work is great, but not seamless. The prison surrounding the tennis courts looked added on in the theaters. I was happy to see it as part of this reel, confirming my suspicions.
You wouldn’t normally consider Wolf an effects-driven picture. But this reel reminds us of how much post-production work now can be done in Hollywood to give a filmmaker the shot that they crave, even if it’s nearly impossible to stage with physical props and actual people. So long as that was a real candle in DiCaprio’s ass. Some things just can’t be faked digitally with corrupting the artistic intent of the scene.
The Wolf of Wall Street just won DiCaprio a Golden Globe. It’s in theaters now.