Behind the Scenes with Bernhard Kimbacher: Creating Movie Magic
Based on The New York Times bestselling true story of heroism, courage and survival, Lone Survivor tells the incredible tale of four Navy SEALs on a covert mission to neutralize a high-level al-Qaeda operative who are ambushed by the enemy in the mountains of Afghanistan. Faced with an impossible moral decision, the small band is isolated from help and surrounded by a much larger force of Taliban ready for war. As they confront unthinkable odds together, the four men find reserves of strength and resilience as they stay in the fight to the finish.
To coincide with the home entertainment release of Lone Survivor, The Fan Carpet recently had an opportunity to go behind the scenes of cinema and explore the world of invisible effects with Image Engine compositor Bernhard Kimbacher. From The Incredible Hulk, Watchmen, District 9, and Elysium to most recently Lone Survivor, Bernie shared with us his insider’s perspective on creating the magic of cinema, the Lone Survivor shoot and his thoughts on the industry and world of moving images.
How did you come to work in visual special effects?
I started at Image Engine seven years ago, and then moved into compositing. One of the things I realised very early on when I was working on District Nine is that I particularly enjoy working with real elements. The more subtle invisible effects are perhaps more my forte than plate work and the CGI side of things. Whilst I still work on some heavier CGI films like Elysium, what I enjoy the most and thought I could specialise in are the invisible effects.
Can you talk us through your experience of Lone Survivor?
Well let’s start with the shoot on Lone Survivor. The interesting thing on this shoot was the non-factors. It wasn’t a straight forward shoot if you look at a movie like Elysium, which is far more evolved. You know what needs to be done and so you know what your work is going to entail. The interesting thing on Lone Survivor was we’d have to prepare for a lot of different optical scenarios, and so we would take a lot of reference points throughout the shoot of which we probably only used a very small percentage. This was just because at the day of shooting we just didn’t know what we would need in the end, which made the shoot particularly interesting.
You have worked across the various genres. Is there a particular genre which appeals to you?
I enjoy character and story driven movies, which are a little lighter on the visual effects. I also enjoy working on projects where there is an opportunity to work with filmmakers that don’t have those big budgets yet, because the good thing in this respect is that by having more of a direct line with the director you have a greater impact on the final result. That’s way more satisfying to me personally than working on the bigger effects movies.
Were you fan of movies growing up?
Initially I came from a computer science background. Film always interested me, but it didn’t occur to me to pursue it as a career. So I fell into it fairly late, and it was after studying computer science, and then being dragged into the 3D world by accident that triggered this career route.
You are part of these large scale films and yet you appreciate smaller character dramas. Is there more freedom in independent filmmaking or do the restrictions offset the freedom filmmakers are afforded?
The budgets are a lot smaller, and the time constraints are a lot tighter. But it forces you to be more creative, and to make the best use of the resources available to you when you don’t have all the ones you need. So it forces the creativity more than on a big budget movie where you can explore all the different avenues. So that’s an interesting challenge for me to help a filmmaker who doesn’t have the budget, to get more out of what he does have.
Are budgets to high or should they be cut and could cinema be better served by smaller budgets?
It is an interesting question and a tough one to answer. Personally I would say that’s probably true because I like watching those smaller movies. I guess I can only answer that from a personal point of view, but for me I would say yes because I enjoy those films more and it brings a higher level of creativity to the process.
For those who haven’t seen Lone Survivor on its theatrical run, what can they expect?
I was quite surprised because it is a gritty movie. Obviously it tells a true story that is both brutal and sad. It is a tense movie and it will keep everyone on the edge of their seats. The good thing is that it doesn’t feel as long as it is, and Peter [Berg] did a great job of capturing the intensity. In America especially it is an unusual war film because it is objective. It just tells the story rather than judging it, and I think that’s a fresh twist and an interesting way of doing a modern war movie.
Looking ahead are there any films you’d like to work on or a direction you’d like to explore?
Just to continue to work on the invisible effects and character driven movies, but also on the lower budget projects. That’s the road I want to go down where I can work with filmmakers that are not so savvy with effects because I enjoy helping filmmakers to understand what goes into the process in order for it to work.
A lot of people are afraid of visual effects, especially new filmmakers who don’t have much experience. When they think of visual effects they think of the movies where your eye is drawn to everything on screen. That’s part of the selling point of the movie, and filmmakers can be afraid that there movie is going to turn into something like that. It’s about educating them and showing them at it’s not necessarily always like that, because you can use special effects as a very subtle tool to tell the story rather than to take away from or take over the story.
LONE SURVIVOR IS AVAILABLE NOW TO OWN ON BLU-RAY AND DVD