Almost 30 years later, the special effects of Zemeckis’ film are still as successful as ever.
W9 will rebroadcast tonight Forrest Gump, the Robert Zemeckis classic worn by Tom Hanks, Robin Wright, Sally Fields and Gary Sinise. A tour de force rewarded with 6 Oscars: best film and director for Zemeckis, best adapted screenplay for Eric Roth, best actor for Tom Hanks (his second after that received for Philadelphia), better editing for Arthur Schmidt and better visual effects for the team of Ken Ralston, Industrial Light and Magic, the company of George Lucas. It is precisely the VFX that are analyzed in the video below, precisely those of the scene where Forrest meets President John Fitzgerald Kennedy at the White House.
The effect, regularly used in current blockbusters, has almost become “commonplace”, but in 1994 it was rare in the cinema: Tom Hanks had to play against a blue background, repeating his scene multiple times in order to record it under all angles to be able to digitally integrate JFK. The two characters can thus shake hands on the screen, two decades after the death of the president. “If we want to integrate Tom Hanks and JFK in the same plan, it has to be perfect”, explains Zemeckis in the preamble, before the actor recounts his experience with a laugh: “Tom never told us how it was going to work, exactly. I had to shake an imaginary hand over and over again. Bob was like, ‘Look in that direction, turn around there, there you go, shake, shake, shake, okay .. . ‘I was stuck in a hellish loop! A real automaton. I was like,’ Come on, hang me on some wires, like that, I can play this while taking a nap! ‘”
Tom’s gaze indeed had to be perfectly aligned with that of the President from the archival footage, and his hand also had to be positioned to the millimeter. Then, to make JFK’s lips stick to his cue, their movement was computer modified. Finally, so that the modern images, shot in color, can be mixed with the archives modified in black and white, the grading made it possible to adjust the lighting of the two sequences. Ditto for another sequence, in color, this time, with Richard Nixon.
Robert Zemeckis: Beyond Appearances
On a related note, the scenes with Sergeant Dan’s legs cut off were also filmed using blue pantyhose so they could be digitally erased. Overall, the special effects of Forrest Gump are less conspicuous than in Who wants the skin of Roger Rabbit, Death suits you so well or the achievements in performance capture of Robert Zemeckis (The Pôle Express, The Legend of Bewulf, Welcome to Marwen…), but they are present, and precisely successful because we forget them. If Forrest can travel through American history and touch the audience as much, the spectator must be immersed in the story, that he no longer thinks about the making of the VFX, even if these required meticulous work and many digital retouching.
Forrest Gump: why Robert Zemeckis’ film is unforgettable