“VFX has forced screenwriters and storytellers to be more imaginative”: panelist at VFX Summit 2021

During a panel discussion on the impact of VFX technology on modern storytelling in film and interactive media at VFX Summit 2021, the experts opined that the happy marriage of technology and storytelling is the reason for amazing new content that keeps the audience glued. The VFX Summit (18-19 November), a gathering of creative minds of the global VFX industry is a part of Asia’s biggest digital entertainment festival IndiaJoy held virtually from 16-19 November.

On the second day of the event, the participants got a sneak-peak into the minds of industry leaders like HAZIMATION co-founder, director/producer Haz Dullul, Mohawk College professor, writer and story editor Atul Rao and Nishabdham movie director Hemant Madhukar. The session was moderated by Domain 3.0 VFX producer, digital producer Praveen Kilaru. 

According to the speakers, storytelling has changed, rather evolved in the last few years with the advent of OTT platforms, technological innovations and so on.

“In terms of craft, I think story-telling has improved enormously. It has changed because the bar is high, both visually and in terms of storytelling,” said Rao. 

Today’s content has to be engaging and visually appealing. 

“I think VFX has forced screenwriters and storytellers to be more imaginative,” Rao, known for Marvel Animation series Wolverine & the X-Men exclaimed.

Gushing over the multiverse building of Marvel films and how technology has aided them, Dullul said, “The whole multiverse of Marvel, animated shows, with live-action, with limited series like Loki, I can’t imagine what it’s like to be in that writers room. That must be an insane writers room. You couldn’t do that level of universe building in the case of Marvel back in the 90s or 80s. Now you can, because of technology and because we can visualise things quicker.”

He further pointed out the Netflix show Squid Games, which did really well. The reason is that we haven’t seen anything like that before and ‘people are taking more risk now’. Reiterating about the same show, Kilaru said that even if you keep aside the VFX, ‘just the way of storytelling, is a very engaging, new and very modern way of telling a story’.

Dulull who started his career in visual effects for film and TV, before transitioning to directing and writing drew everyone’s attention to the existing negative practices. 

“Because you can do a lot in visual effects, a lot of filmmakers, even producers or financers use the term – ‘fix it in post’. I hate that term. You shouldn’t have to fix up in post,” he exclaimed.

According to him, visual effects should be an extension of the creative process. A certain level of education is required to highlight this. When a VFX supervisor works closely with the director or the showrunner, it becomes easy to figure out how visual effects could be used not only to maintain the story but also take it to another level. In today’s context of Virtual production, we all know it isn’t just an LED wall with an amazing CG environment, there is a lot of work to do in order to get the content up there in advance. The way of budgeting visual effects has now changed. 

“Now you have to finance the visual effects upfront, with virtual production coming in,” Dullul said. He pointed out that use of software like Unreal is bridging all the gaps in the whole filmmaking process.

Putting weightage on the importance of storytelling, Rao said, “When I see a movie with beautiful special effects and bad writing, it breaks my heart. I feel a lot of other good things could have been done with the money spent.”

Madhukar spoke about the south Indian film industry where filmmakers like S. S. Rajamouli invests for about two-three years to make a film. But young filmmakers normally write a script and then think about including some VFX and everything is later finalised depending on the budget. He feels there is still a lack of awareness about how to proceed with using visual effects and get it done at the right budget. 

The panel at VFX Summit agreed that everywhere in the world ‘financing’ a film is the main concern but with the advent of state-of-art special effects even this is now being taken into consideration at an early stage, as compared to bygone years.