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Behind the Mind-Blowing Visual Effects of INTERSTELLAR and Future of Virtual Reality Films



Filmmaker and visual effects expert Matthew Gratzner discusses his work utilizing innovative practical effects techniques on Interstellar, and also explores the next cutting-edge technology on the cinema horizon – full virtual reality movies.

Gratzner begins by outlining the differences between practical effects vs. digital computer-generated imagery (CGI). When digital effects started to become relevant, he says that he and his business partner were “geniuses” for starting a visual effects company focusing on miniatures in 1995 when most of the other ones were going out of business.

“The real focus was, when the studio saw what you could do with digital work, it was something that was going to replace everything… it was very expensive. The reason we didn’t jump into it is that it was cost prohibitive,” he adding that his company has never had investors,BANK LOANS, etc, but was self-funded.

But this gives his company – New Deal Studios – the freedom to do whatever it wants, and also the freedom to experiment on the effects side, as well as the content side.

“With digital work, it started to put a lot of the companies like ours out of business because the studios didn’t want to do it that way anymore – and they felt they could control the image all the way to the end,” Gratzner said.

“My take on all visual effects is, you do whatever works best for the shot. I still to this day believe that visual effects is nothing more than a magic trick – you never want to show your hand. If you have one shot that’s primarily digital, if you can the shot should be practical, maybe mixed with digital. You should always be moving it around.”

He adds that ideally, the audience should never be able to say, “‘Oh, that’s just an animation, or oh, that’s just a model, or just a stunt person on wires.’

“The challenge with today’s visual effects is because so much of it is done on theCOMPUTER, I sort of feel it’s just animation. The differences between some of the heavily animated sequences in today’s films vs. a Pixar film is a very thin fine line.”

Gratzner said his company has had great success mixing practical effects with CGI. “It’s not like everything has to be miniature, I also don’t believe everything has to be CG.”

One advantage of working in CG is that the studio you can keep working with the material right up until near the film’s release, but with practical effects, they are pretty much stuck with what was created on film.

“But it always comes down to this – and I don’t care if it’s digital, I don’t care if it’s live action – if the characters aren’t compelling, if the story’s not compelling, no amount of glitz and jingly keys of visual effects is ever going to get an audience to like the movie.”

Gratzner is one of the industry innovators in virtual reality (VR) beingAPPLIED to film production and he discusses this exciting emerging technology, which eventually promises to let cinema viewers use their iPhone to experience a VR film.

He also speaks about the virtual reality filmed short The Mission, which was shot in just two days and they were basically making things up as they went along, since there are no VR films to compare with.

“What you have become is you (the viewer) are the camera. So as the director, how do I make you look where I want?” he said.

“It’s just a different style of directing. Is it impossible? No, it’s just different. But the audience, everyone I’ve shown The Mission to, they kind of look where I want them to look. So they get that it’s a very immersive experience in a sense. The whole purpose, though, is it puts you in a movie, that’s the difference – it puts you in the film.”

TheAPPLICATION of VR technology can be used in the full production of a film, or also as extended content in addition to an entire feature, Gratzner said.

“This is virtual reality, but I also sort of think it’s kind of immersive reality. Because what we are shooting is real – something about The Mission and Kaiju Fury as well – both of these productions, and actually Black Mass, everything you see through the viewer is real,” with minimal CG effects added.

Watch the full interview to also hear Gratzner talk about directing his first feature, Hot Bath an’ a Stiff Drink, which hearkens back to the more family-oriented westerns of the past.


Matthew Gratzner is widely respected within the entertainment industry for his artistry and business acumen—a rare pairing of skills.  Best known for feature-film visual effects work, Matthew has also directed numerousCOMMERCIALS over the last decade. Currently Matthew is finishing post on two feature films in the western series Hot Bath an’ a Stiff Drink and is attached to direct and produce a big-screen adaptation of the 1970’s English TV series, UFO. Matthew is also pioneering immersive cinematic Virtual Reality storytelling by directing and producing the ground-breaking first action-adventure short, The Mission (short) (2014), in conjunction with Jaunt VR. As a Visual Effects Supervisor and co-founder New Deal Studios, Matthew received an Emmy nomination for his work on the Tom Hanks/HBO miniseries From the Earth to the Moon and a BAFTA nomination for best visual effects for The Aviator.

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