”They ask me what does Benjamin Button have to do with the Future Film Festival, what a question!” bursts out Oscar Cosulich, the art director of the kermes which presents the Italian Premiere of the film of David Fincher. Justifiably disappointed, because the ‘special effects’ always make you think of something heavily-noisy like ‘travel to the centre of the earth’ or ‘King Kong, 20 meters tall’. Young as in Kalifornia.
Instead, the special effects applied to cinema will always be visually less invasive. On the other hand, it’s enough to reason by fresh mind on Button/Pitt in his 20’ies, from ‘Thelma & Luise’-style features or ‘Kalifornia’: Rejuvenation is not a certain fruit of the make-up artist, on the contrary if we talk about the make up, we need to talk about the digital make up elaborated on the computer.
The plot of the film is marked as: the story of a man, who is born in his eighties and whose age flows on the contrary, event inspired by a narrative of Francis Scott Fitzgerald from the 20’ies. From New Orleans to the end of the First World War until 21st century: The film is the story of a man not very ordinary and of the places which he discovers along his route, the loves which he finds and looses, the joy life and sadness of death and what remains further than time.
”It’s the life of a man ” says the scriptwriter Eric Roth, ”which is very extraordinary and normal at the same time. What happens to this strange person, also happens to all of us.”
The mask of Pitt
The film has received three Oscars, among which there is the best special effects, supervisioned by Eric Barba, who collaborated with Fincher since 2003, when they worked for the advertisement of Adidas. The effects have been developed by Digital Domain, which is already awarded for Titanic.
The principal challenge was how to have Brad Pitt act from start to end, because the actor had the role by the condition of impersonating Button in all phases of his life. For the first 52 minutes of the film Pitt never acts himself.
What the public sees is a digitally aged copy of the face of the actor generated on computer: Pitt acts all of the facial expressions of the lead-actor at a separate part and the guru of he special effects draws them onto a digital mask which faithfully reproduces the movements in order to apply to the face of the animator on the set.
On the invasion of the eyes
The challenge was only apparently simple. The digital domain knew the reproduction of Pitt as old had to be so credible that the public shouldn’t realize anything. They had to overcome repulsion effect, which the observer tries on anthropomorphic human reproductions, which are not perfect. This so-called ”zombie” effect which renders the personality of Romero unappealing even though it’s more humanoid than C-3PO of the Star Wars.
And there is still room for the recitation. All the expressions are the fruit of the choices of the actor, which are based on his talent and experience. Having said that, seeing the behind the scenes of the film which shows Pitt immobile with the cameras aimed on his face to capture his movements, makes a certain effect.
But the future may relieve the artist form also from this job, because the animator promise to make giant jumps forward developing the techniques used for Benjamin Button and aim to reproduce the eyes the mirror of the soul of men- perfectly, the ultimate stronghold which keeps its originality to reproduce serially.