I saw Beasts of the Southern Wild this week and absolutely loved it. It’s easily the best movie I’ve seen all year, maybe in many years. I mean: definitely weird! Definitely a little “huh?” in parts! But certainly no more so than The Dark Knight Rises, and if we’re willing to suspend disbelief for Christopher Nolan, then certainly we can extend that suspension to this handcrafted gem. I highly, highly recommend it. And I went in knowing almost nothing about the plot, so I’ll pass along almost nothing here.
I’ll post instead about this bit, which is entirely behind the scenes, and entirely delightful. From an interview with the movie’s director and special effects coordinator:
[Director Benh] Zeitlin mentioned Cinefex when we spoke to him. Can you talk about the magazine’s influence on your work?
[Special effects coordinator Ray] Tintori: I have this collection of Cinefex magazines that are all out of print, and they’re from the 80s to the early 90s. It’s completely my secret weapon. They’re magazines I had when I was a little kid that I would obsessively look over before I could even read. I would obsessively look at these pictures and think, this was a still from a film and this was the crazy contraption they had to build in order to pull off that image. But as I got older and learned how to read, the actual articles themselves are just incredibly dense, they go through every single shot in a film like Ghostbusters, or like Indiana Jones 2, Tron… every single effects film that came out in the 80s. There is an incredibly detailed, meticulous, clinical description of how they pulled off that shot, and almost as importantly, everything they did that didn’t work.
Back in those days, every effects shot was like a puzzle. You really needed to figure out how to do it. It wasn’t like, “Oh, we’ll just use this plugin, we’ll use this render farm.” You had to start from scratch every time. They were constantly trying to outdo each other. So every time we approached a shot in this film, it was like, let’s just scour through this stack of Cinefex and just see how they approached similar things. There are techniques we used in Beasts that were taken from so many different kinds of films. Like, there’s this one scene where there’s a very low-hanging sun in the back, and I got that from the sequel to Space Odyssey. They described that they had made a painted backdrop, cut a hole in it, and put a light source behind it, and that was a sunlight source.
I’m not going to link back to the source interview, because it contains spoiler-esque pictures of the movie’s monsters. You can obviously find it easily with Google if you really want to, but since I had such a wonderful time seeing this gem of a movie—this crazy contraption made from old Cinefex spreads—without any preconceptions at all, I’ll encourage you to do the same.