One of the most common grouses about Hollywood films today is that they’re too artificial, completely overtaken by pointless, distancing visual effects. The general idea is that people will film a car ride in front of a green screen, creating a distracting sense of artificiality, when they could have just driven in a damn car. But the films of David Fincher make an interesting counterargument. The director is obsessed with digital effects, employing them way more than you’d think—he used more special effects shots in The Social Network, a movie about dudes yelling at each other in board rooms, than were used in 2014’s Godzilla redux, a movie about a gigantic lizard destroying the planet. An insight-packed video from kaptainkristian explores just why, and how, Fincher became one of our best and most prolific special effects artists.
The video gets at the fundamental nature of special effects: What, after all, is the effect the filmmaker is aiming to achieve? For Fincher, the effect is never to awe the viewer but to instead tell the story more effectively and more absorbingly. Accordingly, the enhancements are often totally invisible. In Zodiac, almost every crime scene and exterior shot was digitally modified to make the movie as historically accurate as possible; similarly, the brief, stunning Henley Royal Regatta scene of The Social Network was almost completely created via CG. Even totally inconsequential things—gummy bears bouncing off of Ben Affleck in Gone Girl or Rooney Mara’s hair part in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo—were digitally created after the fact.
It all comes down to Fincher’s perfectionist tendencies. He’s notorious for filming dozens of takes for each shot in his movies, and relying on computers lets him perfect those hard-won images even further. (Almost all of the blood in his many bloody movies is digital for this exact reason.) A willingness to tweak digitally also lets him ensure seamless continuity within his films, which is another way he bucks armchair movie critics in the age of endless Honest Trailers and “Everything Wrong With” screeds. He’s an obsessive making movies about obsessives, and these special effects help him create an all-encompassing mood, which he typically punctuates with a meticulously rendered fountain of digital blood.