The title of this post and my previous post is an exaggeration of course. I want to over-emphasize my point, because I’m hoping that it might reel people in. Just like scope creep on programming teams, special effects will sneak in to your work or your team’s work if you’re not careful. This will surely muddy up the picture.
Pretty soon, you’re animating a bunch of special effects, eating up render time like nobody’s business, clogging up the farms and wasting unnecessary dollars hiring effects folks. I’m sure you’ll get some good explosions, airplanes might blow up, and look! There’s a black hole eating a mothership. But will the audience care about the people in that ship?
If you’ve seen the new Star Trek, you’ll know that in the first scene, James Kirk’s father sacrifices himself to save his son and his wife. The film makers took that time to get the audience emotionally invested in the film. That’s why towards the end you care that the Enterprise is being sucked into a black hole because you care about James Kirk and James Kirk is in that ship. Only then can you go ahead and animate the black hole scene. That’s a good use of special effects, but the special effect was set up by the story. Special effects never stand on their own.
2012 is a good example of a movie that doesn’t stand on its own because it relies on special effects to tell the story. But the special effects in 2012 were not story-driven. You might say, “but Jimmy, the story in 2012 is that the world is ending, so the effects were story motivated.” My response is: the world is ending is not a story. It’s a scenario. Towards the end you stop caring about the catastrophic events because you don’t care about the character.
The special effect has to be supported by the story. If the story doesn’t call for effects, then don’t use it.