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Interview: Ben Snow discusses the amazing visual effects of 'Noah'

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Ben Snow is the 4-time Oscar-nominated Visual Effects Supervisor of Darren Aronofsky's "Noah," which arrived on Blu-Ray July 29. Snow talked to Examiner about the challenges Industrial Light & Magic faced while bringing Aronofsky's vision to the screen.

You've done so many massive projects from "King Kong" to "Iron Man" to "Terminator: Salvation." How does your work on "Noah" compare to those films?

(Laughs) It's very different, and that was the appeal of the project. It certainly had scope and ambition [and] was a very different type of film, an important film touching on a topic that is important to many, many people. It gave us a chance to work on a modern twist on a Biblical epic, which [presented] us with a whole array of different challenges and gave us a great artistic challenge.

How was your collaborative process with Darren Aronofsky? I'm sure he had no shortage of ideas.

No, he absolutely didn't, and he's someone who, as an artist, really tries to draw ideas out of the team he is working with as well. He has very clear vision, and he told me that he also wants to be sure he's getting the strongest vision he can out of his collaborators. He demands that you push back, he demands that you have ideas. It's interesting to get to work with that, because on one hand, he's emphatic about what he did or didn't like, but on the other hand, he'd say "I'll tell you when I don't like something, but I want you to put the ideas out there." It was very satisfying from that point of view. It's interesting because some people find that very exciting and stimulating, and I certainly did and most of my team did. That was one of the unique and fresh things about the project, an opportunity to try and be creative with things and to try things that are a little different from what we've tried before.

How did your past film experiences inspire you on "Noah"?

It wasn't so much creative inspiration as it was the technical challenges I faced on previous films, in terms of water. I'd worked with water on many films going back to "Deep Impact" and "Twister" and certainly on "King Kong" I worked with a lot of water scenes. [Also,] Darren was working on a larger canvas than he had before, with more spectacle and action, and he would sound ideas off of us. I was able to draw on a wealth of experience with larger, more effects-intensive action films to provide some of those elements. I think that helped with how we brought some of Darren's unique visions to the screen.

What is more difficult, creating original designs such as the fallen angels (called Watchers in the film), or more photo-realistic designs like the animals on the ark?

Ha! Both of them were among the most challenging things we'd ever faced. With the animals, the problem was the sheer number, with thousands and thousands of animals in a shot, and the shots are so long. Also, you didn't want the animals to be the ones you normally think of, giraffes and lions and that sort of thing. With computer graphics, it's just like making a model or puppet or anything else. You have to make a model, you have to paint it, then you have to make sure the materials look right, the fur and that sort of thing.

For the Watchers, Darren was searching for something really unique, and our crew submitted our ideas. Darren latched onto the idea of a New York sculptor that the production designer has brought on board. He came up with this wild-looking design. For us, part of our skill set is to say "Okay, how do we take that design, and make them so that they can move and build and walk and fight and do something in a way that's physically believable? What design changes do we have to make in order to keep the basis of that design, but works in three dimensions in a way that you can imagine them actually helping build the ark?"

It's amazing how all of the different elements of the film, from the realistic to the fantastic, combine to form a tangible world.

It was definitely something we worked hard to do. There was some discussion of whether we should shoot on green screen or blue screen on this film, so that we end up creating a lot of the background, but I think everyone from the studio on down, Darren and ourselves, really felt that if you could root all of this into some sort of reality, even though there was a fantastical quality to the imagery that we were creating, it would make it easier for the audience to accept and get into the story. Even with the big battle scenes where we were adding these creatures and creating crowds, we still started with the basis of real photography on location, with giant rain bars falling on a couple hundred extras. It gave us a strong basis for then adding in some of these fantastical images. I think the goal was really to get the audience to accept that.

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