David Fincher has directed a number of masterful films, but one of the things that’s most impressive about his work is the amount of CGI that slips into the background. A new video essay from Kristian Williams, aka Kaptain Kristian, takes a look at how the director uses CGI to serve his stories.
Some of Fincher’s films have more CGI than your average blockbuster. Kristian points out that The Social Network contains more digital shots than Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla. In most blockbuster films, it’s easy to see where that VFX budget goes: huge explosions, alien planets, or fantastic action sequences. In Fincher’s films, however, those details are often hidden in the background. You’re not supposed to see them, because they’re designed to be invisible, reinforcing the look of the surrounding world.
Take Zodiac, for example. Rather than use an established shot of the Golden Gate Bridge to show that the film is set in San Francisco, he re-created a period-accurate city skyline. In Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, a gap in Lisbeth Salander’s bangs was digitally generated, because the scene was shot over several days, and he wanted to make sure that the shot looked consistent. The same goes for blood: anytime you see someone bleeding in his films, it’s digitally rendered. This gives him the ability to quickly reset a scene and film another take.
Other film bloggers have pointed out Fincher’s intense focus on the small details. Every Frame A Painting’s Tony Zhou dedicated a video to his film style a couple of years ago, noting that he uses a precise hand behind the camera, largely eschewing handheld camera movement.
Both essays point out that this helps give audiences a certain sense of place, whether it’s the relative distance between characters, or the authenticity of the location presented in the scene. They also note that it’s difficult to tell what elements are real, and which have been generated digitally. The result is that the CGI in Fincher’s films serves the story, rather than the other way around.