Book Review: Fiming the Fantastic – A Guide to Visual Effects – Author Mark Sawicki

FILMING THE FANTASTIC: A GUIDE TO VISUAL EFFECTS CINEMATOGRAPHY
(PAPERBACK)
Written by Mark Sawicki
Published by Focal Press
Publication Date: 2007
Format: Black / White / color images – 312 pages
Price: $47.95

I’ve had my share of work in the FX and movie industry, so I’m always on the lookout for great books that offer alot. I had heard about “Filming the Fantastic” that seemed to escape me at local book stores. As most folks will do a casual flip thrus to see what’s inside, my immediate response was “wow”! With color pictures through- out, graphs, charts, examples and all kinds of reference material I knew this is the book to have if you have any interest at all in film magic, special effects or behind the scenes trickery. These days most of these style books are usually dedicated to a particular program …After Effect to be more precise..so while you get a full overview of how to do things in the programs you still lack basic reality concepts in getting things done.

Mark Sawicki has provided sort of a magical secrets reference to real world practical approaches. Things like just properly analyzing the camera and the multiple uses of its lens and settings is an art in itself. The concept in uses of perspective is revealed under several circumstance of camera work. Right away we are introduced to an effect of showing a crashed plane in the middle of the street which by photographic standards looks pretty convincing. Then as you delve further into the explanations and accompanied photos you get the secret use of miniatures to fake the effect and camera view. These are not only great learning tools but introduced a whole level of thinking that commonly eludes straight forward digital approaches. Let’s also not forget that using some of these off the cuff techniques is vital to films on a tight budget.

One thing that was evident was that this book should be tackled in portions There is just too much to consume in a front to back reading. I could see this book being a required reading for a college effects course or in just movie making general. Though before you write this one off as old school it’s far from that. Mark takes on digital masking, digital cameras and an assortment of pros and con relationships.

Matte painting gets full attention as it’s demonstrated in technique in how to execute it on the computer and in the real world. Anyone remember those “Wizard of Oz” sets? Well we’ve grown quite a ways from just simple painting to a rather collected approach on using both old and new methods to get the job done. With today’s programming entire sets are built around green screens and replaced with digitally created sets in post. It’s a world of mystery that is easily understood for those willing to do the work. What I thought even more interesting was the level of measurement and detail that is used to getting a shot perfect in camera, in focus, in color correction and in lighting. Yes, you should appreciate the masters of this work as they provide that level of disbelief that is need in today’s rapid filmmaking market.

Lighting trick and work arounds are also examined. Stop motion is given a proper section and how it implements into animation and studio cinema. Is it technical enough? I would have to say yes…very much so ..however it’s within grasp for those who take the time to read it thoroughly. Much of this might fall wayside if not for the accompanied illustrations and photos which really bring the effect into perspective. And speaking of perspectives…. alot of this revisits that concept with superimposed shots taken for later usage.

An extremely knowledge book, this is for sure a must have volume for filmmakers. I would say even if you have no intention of Fx work, the training is still essential to working with your hired talent better. And who knows….. you may pull a few tricks out of your sleeve to mention something that wasn’t even being considered. Focal Press not only offers this book but a very vital and well written collection of books of the filmmaking subjects. You would be best to spend some time in theircatalog and picking up a few volumes. “Filming the Fantastic” is directed at both professionals and novices as a basic essentials type of read.

Check out other books at: Focal Press
Available at Focal Press
Available at Amazon

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