We Need To Talk About The 2000+ VFX Shot in ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ – No Film School


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Marketed as being shot with practical photography, the producers of Top Gun: Maverick seem to be hiding a CGI facelift. 

With the Oscar nominations finally out, it’s time for us to chat about the thrilling blockbuster that had everyone talking about its practical photography. 

Top Gun: Maverick is the highly anticipated sequel promised to deliver a thrilling ride along with stunning practical aerial sequences. And boy, did it deliver to the tune of $1.489 billion (according to Box Office Mojo).

But VFX Voice pointed out that this big screen spectacle needed over 2,000 visual effects shots to achieve its aerial photography. 

Further still, Y.M.Cinema stated that “the visual effects team led by Visual Effects Supervisor Ryan Tudhope has been grounded from promoting the film, and there is unlikely to be any campaign support from the VFX team to add fuel to the nomination fire." Y.M.Cinema even had a few things to say about the cone of silence the VFX was put under.

Even so, Top Gun: Maverick picked up the nomination for Best Visual Effects, among a few others.

'Top Gun Maverick' VFX shots
'Top Gun: Maverick'Credit: Paramount Pictures

So when is practical cinematography still practical? Have we all just been lied to by the marketing team? Let’s get philosophical. 

The Ship of Theseus

Ask any well-informed filmmaker, and they’ll tell you that everyone uses VFX to sweeten the final image, from building and expanding entire sets to removing AC units (and even actors blinking.) Check out this VFX showreel for Only God Forgives. Just be warned, there's a bit of gore here and there.

With Top Gun: Maverick, the entire selling point was that the aerial stunts were all practical. That’s what put butts in seats. That really was the case for most of the cinematography. 

But should movie-goers feel cheated when they eventually discover the massive amount of VFX work that went into Maverick? That depends on when you think the Ship of Theseus is still the ship of Theseus.

The original thought experiment asked the question: When all of the components of a ship are replaced one by one, would it remain the same ship? When would it stop being the same ship? When half of the parts are replaced? Or when 75% of the parts are replaced?

While one could go crazy discussing the Ship of Theseus, it’s a little bit more clear for VFX... barely. Sometimes a practical shot can still be practical even when you add things like weapon exhaust, flares, and vehicle damage. Sometimes, those things just aren’t, well, practical to film in real life. 

Cinematography is a difficult task, even when the image is simple. You have to contend with performances, weather, and even good old fashion talent. Now put all your cameras into a military jet and shoot your sequence into the sky. Think you can get that in one take? We don’t like those odds. 

In the case of Maverick, we can still safely say that the cinematography is still practical. However, the line dividing what is practical and what is sweetened by VFX is still very blurry and will change depending on who you ask. In the end, the final product is a collaboration between all the creatives on the projects.

'Top Gun: Maverick' VFX shots
There are about 3 to 4 cameras in that cockpitCredit: Paramount Pictures

Supporting The Creatives

That being said, we can’t let the hard (and often unseen) work of VFX artists go unmentioned. Did the marketing team and producers of Maverick shun the incredible work of digital creatives? Sure, you can argue that. 

But we happen to disagree that it was malicious, as the VFX team still received an Oscar nomination for its VFX work. For that, we congratulate the artists on their achievements.

Sadly, sometimes you have to fudge the numbers to have a success. Just ask Warner Bros. 

Oscar 2023 Nominations
Oscar 2023 nominations for Best Visual EffectsCredit: Variety

That’s Hollywood, Baby

Selling a movie is hard work. It is almost as hard as making one. Trying to make a profit from that movie? That’s like winning the lottery. 

While the creative talent that goes into each production should not be overlooked, it often is in this business of ours. That’s just one of the many unfortunate sides of show business. 

So, what should we all do? If you feel strongly about this topic, go and see the movie. Support the creatives behind the scenes, and share all that you discover about them with your friends. Creating a community of support goes a long way to see people get more work in the future, even if they weren’t mentioned in the press release.

If you don’t care one way or another, you probably haven’t even read this article.

What do you think about the VFX used in Top Gun: Maverick? When do you think a shot is not practical anymore?

Let us know in the comments!     

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