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Last Updated: Wednesday, 27 April, 2005, 07:34 GMT 08:34 UK
'Imperfect' effects shine in Hitchhiker's
By Darren Waters
BBC News entertainment reporter

Cult 1970s hit The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy has finally made it to the big screen - with 21st Century visual effects.

The Hitch-Hikers Guide To The Galaxy
The film contains more than 500 special effects shots
The Hitchhiker's film is full of "imperfect" visual effects, says Matt Johnson, one of three effects producers at Cinesite who worked on the movie.

He is not being critical of the 500 effects shots in the film, which involved more than 120 people over a two-year period.

There is nothing wrong with the visual effects - in fact the effects are among the best things about the movie.

But Mr Johnson is explaining the stylistic approach his firm was asked to use by director Garth Jennings.

"One of the key challenges was to make sure the visual effects kept in with the style of the movie, the performances, the sets and the basic look of the film," Mr Johnson says.

"We didn't want perfect effects."

The look and feel of the film's effects were driven by Mr Jennings' vision, Mr Johnson adds.

The Hitch-Hikers Guide To The Galaxy
I would go so far as to have the Benny Hill theme playing in the background while they were animating
Matt Johnson
"Garth would often see early visual effects and say 'that's fantastic but it is too perfect,'" Mr Johnson says.

A classic example was the Heart of Gold spaceship - ludicrously modelled on a teapot, it comes across as a less than reliable craft.

"One of the things I would always say when we were animating the space ships was to make the space ships 'fly funny'.

"So I would go so far as to have the Benny Hill theme playing in the background while they were animating - just to get everyone into that slightly whacky mindset of the film."

No-one watching Hitchhiker's will feel like they are experiencing 2001: A Space Odyssey - with effects that have a slightly wonky, endearing quality to them, often suffused with humour.

In an age in which digital wizardry can be so flawless that they feel cold and artificial, Cinesite has worked hard to give the effects a human quality.

"There are lots of things, like re-creating natural problems such as sun glare or fogging, in the sequences to help them sit in with the visual style of the movie."

The Hitch Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy
Both versions of Marvin The Paranoid Android appear in the film
Some of the film's effects appear on screen for mere seconds but involved months of work.

"The crab is a completely CGI [computer generated] character and only exists in the computer," says Mr Johnson.

"Garth was very specific about the way the crab jumps and how his hands move. We spent a long time trying to get the look and the movement of the crab right.

"It's only in the film for a short time but it is six or seven months of work."

We see these things hundreds and hundreds of times and you would go mad if you didn't have a bit of fun
Matt Johnson
The most impressive visual effects sequence in the film is undoubtedly the tour of the Planet Factory taken by Arthur Dent and Slartibartfast.

In it, the two men travel through a warehouse the size of a galaxy filled with a host of different planets under construction.

"The Planet Factory is nine months worth of solid work - about 15 to 20 people working on it," Mr Johnson says.

"The backgrounds are a combination of very elaborate paintings to computer-generated structures and gantries."

It is a stunning sequence and, in common with the film, is filled with humour - the eagle-eyed will spot a planet in the shape of Douglas Adams' head.

The Hitch-Hikers Guide To The Galaxy
The Planet Factory sequence was among the most complex
"He had his face scanned before he passed away. It's one of those things for the fan boys.

"Garth was very much trying to be as true to Douglas' vision as he could be." The director insisted on a number of fan-only treats.

Some of the detail is astounding - easily picked up when pointed out in an edit suite, but rather more subtle and fleeting when watched in a cinema.

"There's a Las Vegas planet with flashing neon signs, a Douglas Adams planet, all sorts of details in there which warrant repeat viewing," Mr Johnson says.

"We do inevitably put layers and layers of stuff in that you know is there.

"We see these things hundreds and hundreds of times and you would go mad if you didn't have a bit of fun and put the odd bits and pieces in which are within the context of the film."

Such details will pass most cinemagoers by - DVD-lovers will get their chance to pore over them for hours, with plenty of hidden visual effect treats still to be discovered.


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