Film Feature: Hollywood’s Pixel Revolution

The relationship between CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) and films has been a strained one, for both parties. CGI is condemned for blighting films with awful effects, ruining the experience for film goers. After all, the ‘reality’ of movies definitely suffer when it’s clear the cast are standing in front of a green screen rather than actually being pursued by malicious robots.

However, conversely, the movie industry could be blamed for tarnishing the name of CGI. With the budgets of movies expanding constantly, it can be argued that movie studios ought to be able to pay for quality special effects. Investment into special effects makes sense- the talent of expensive actors can be easily offset by unconvincing computer generated imagery.

Therefore, I am in favour of the use of CGI in films. Perhaps terrible CGI effects- such as the dinosaur run in King Kong– can ultimately overshadow all the merits of a movie. However, it would be wrong to view all special effects as being alike. Who realised that the scene in Jurassic Park, in which Lex nearly falls into the artificial teeth of a remarkably over-sized velociraptor, was performed by a stunt double? The real actress’ face was added afterwards. Not all special effects are created equal- some are poor, some are brilliant.

Further supporting CGI, there are indications that the public has accepted it as being part of the movie experience. In recent years cinemagoers have rewarded studios which produce movies filled with CGI: Avatar; The Avengers; Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows- Part 2; these are among the most lucrative films ever produced. Each of these films had CGI in essentially every single scene (with respect to Avatar, there were many scenes in which there was no human presence at all.) Critics of CGI can yell all they want, but CGI has been widely accepted as being a key ingredient of a profitable film.

Furthermore, without CGI the movie experience could be a painful time for all involved. Imagine Iron Man wandering around in a cardboard suit. Imagine watching a game of Quidditch where the Harry Potter cast run around on the grass clutching broomsticks, occasionally jumping to give the impression of flight. Such a farce would result in movie watching becoming as embarrassing as seeing an actor on stage forgetting his lines and reciting his shopping list instead.

Another argument in favour of CGI is one of practicality. If people want novels to be adapted into movies, CGI generally has to be used. The imagination of the writer is not bound by such a frivolous thing as reality, nor do they consider the difficulties of translating their stories to the big screen- for instance, Meyer’s sparkly vampires. If readers want their favourite books to be showcased on the silver screen, most of them have to accept the fact that special effects will be required. The current trend of dystopian movies are heavily reliant upon CGI, it is a requirement in the creation of a new world. Some directors can’t even create a historically based film without adding a few CGI effects.

Therefore, the fury which CGI provokes in the most die hard film fans may be fostered by the over-reliance of directors upon this film technique. It is, in some respects, easier to simply draw a few hundred people into an unimportant scene instead of hiring extras. Besides, computer generated images don’t have rights and never complain of being bored.

Ironically though, perhaps it would be wrong to state that films with exceedingly poor CGI are immediate failures. For those with even a mediocre taste of movies, the word Sharknado may elicit a groan yet, regardless of the simply unbelievable flying sharks, it managed to achieve cult status (a large twitter following.)

Another point to consider is that CGI can be viewed in the same way as movies themselves- there are terrible movies such as Sharknado, and emotionally charged films like Dallas Buyers Club; there’s an Academy Award for Special Effects demonstrating that brilliant use of computer images in films is lauded, just like powerful acting performances.

To conclude, CGI is not a perfect science. However, it is being perfected. Watch Blade Runner and then Gravity, the difference in the quality of the special effects is immediately transparent. CGI and movies may have a tumultuous relationship, but the 21st century has seen them become nearly interlinked. The cynics cannot hold back CGI now. The pixel revolution has won over Hollywood.

[Megan Morrison]

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