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Filmmakers Recreate Awesome Star-Wars-Era Special Effects

New cameras allow indie filmmakers to use old-time special effects on a cut-rate budget.

Filmmakers Recreate Awesome Star-Wars-Era Special Effects

Watching the stylish trailer for C, you could be forgiven for failing to realize that you’re looking at a set made of cardboard and milk crates. But that’s exactly what it is. Derek Van Gorder and Otto Stockmeier’s science fiction film about an idealistic flight officer gone rogue is being shot on a shoestring budget, so they make up for a shortage of materials by being long on craftsmanship.

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The ultra-low budget means no money for CGI. Instead, they’ve turned to older effects techniques, working with miniatures for the exterior shots, and exploiting tricks of light and depth of field to create the darkened interiors of the spaceship. Though CGI is not involved, none of this would be possible without the latest digital technology.

Thanks to the improved low-light sensitivity of contemporary digital cameras, the team is able to exploit techniques that would have once required massive lighting rigs, with the attendant massive budgets. “[It] allowed us to take a new approach to studio shooting,” says Van Gorder.

For model shots, the improved sensitivity means they can narrow the aperture, which keeps more of the ship in focus, so that it looks less like a miniature. This kind of setup used to require so much lighting that models melting on set was an occasional hazard. For the interior shots, their lighting fixtures use inexpensive gear like regular fluorescent tubes, flashlights, Christmas bulbs, and home video projectors, all light sources that would have been too dim to film with in the past. The result is the ability to create highly controlled lighting on set at almost no cost.

Beyond budget, the big appeal of these effects is that they evoke the signature look of science fiction films from the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, says Van Gorder. While much contemporary science fiction has turned inward and gone gritty, C is intended to be a movie that returns to the excitement of space exploration and an enthusiasm for the future. Van Gorder says that both digital and analog tools have a place in modern filmmaking and that, for indie filmmakers, the exciting thing is that CGI is no longer the only option.

“I think this fits with the theme of our film, which is all about appropriating the technology around us and putting it to work for progress,” says Van Gorder, “Ultimately, the tools are a means to an end–they’re not important in and of themselves, what matters is how you use them.”

They’ve passed their funding goal on Kickstarter, but you can still pre-order the film and support the project. They’ve already worked out a budget for turning that extra money into higher productions values–but not too high, of course.

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