Sunday, January 24, 2010

CGI: The Bane of a Good Story

It seems like movies today are flooded with CGI effects.  Some movies are entirely made on the computer, while others use subtle elements of computer generated imagery.  Now without the miracle of computers, it would be quite impossible to have a lot of the movies that we have today, superhero films especially, but sometimes it seems that filmmakers go out of their way to use effects whenever possible, even when they are unnecessary, either because it is ‘the thing to do’ or because of cost/time restrictions.

I’m a huge fan of traditional techniques whenever possible, not because I can’t create computer effects, but because it simply looks more real to me.  As subtle as some CGI effects are, you can always point them out (Yes as good as Avatar is, it still ‘looks’ computer generated).  There is always something wrong with the physics or texturing that never looks quite right.  It looks good, but not quite natural.  Now, hang a guy from a trapeze wire or get a stuntman to jump from a building and it looks real, why because it is!  Real things have no choice but to follow the laws of physics weather you want them to or not.

Good examples of this are the new Spider-Man films.  Below is a great clip of Spider-Man swinging.

Even with Spider-Man super strength it’s hard to believe that he could swing so fast and so high.  Swinging from web to web probably wouldn’t look quite like that, but I understand it would be a little hard to get a stuntman to do what Spidey can do.  Other other hand, look at The Dark Knight.  Whenever possible Christopher Nolan would use real explosions, real stuntmen and traditional effects.  It’s flawless and one of the best looking modern films I have seen.  Below is a great clip on one of the hardest stunts performed in the film.  they talk about how easy it would be to use CG effects, but they stuck to traditional techniques.

When so many computer effects are being used in every film, it’s hard for the spectacle to leave an impression anymore.  I’m not surprised when the 50 foot whatever comes out and attacks because you can model anything on a computer workstation and spit it out on the screen with virtually the same ease as any other creature.  It comes down to how you use the creatures, models, effects.  Do they progress the film forward or do they distract the viewer?  The topic of this post is not “Bashing CGI Effects”, but it will be interesting to see when the average moviegoer catches on and gets bored of such effects, will there be an underlying story there to keep them entertained?

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