is the effect of CGI in films actually getting worse?

Andy001z Posts: 3,395 Ambassador
edited August 2015 in Practical Filmmaking

Ok, not my thought, but one kicked off at RedShark News  and discussed in this YouTube vid It raises some interesting points. I agree completely with the Hulk example, using a real background allows my brain to relate with the scene, where as a fully CGI one means I might have no experience of. Of course I know I have never been to Mars or been on an alien space ship, however these are kind of OK to CGI as my brain says, yep ok that looks kinda right.

Anyway thought I'd share with the community.


  • Kadri
    Kadri Posts: 168 Just Starting Out*

    Those movies are bad plain and simple. Old movies had bad mattepaintings,  miniatures,bad rear projections etc. You can make a good movie even with some degree of bad effects. But no good effects will make a bad movie work.

    For me Prometheus is a bad movie for example.Good effects but bad character choices that aren't meaningful coherent and with a stupid Erich Von Daniken  plot.

    If the prequels of Star Wars were any good nobody would complain about the CGI in them. Look at the Superman movie from 1978 it does have many effects that are so obvious. But the movie is not bad.

    The problem could be more investigated as some point out that because of the freedom of CGI directors use unbelievable camera moves etc...

  • Stargazer54
    Stargazer54 Posts: 3,756 Ambassador

    Good find! @Wurminator

    If you love the film, you'll forgive less than stellar effects, but no Oscar winning effects will ever fix bad storytelling.

  • EdMichalski
    EdMichalski Posts: 40 Enthusiast

    Thanks for sharing Wurminator. All very valid points.

  • Aidin
    Aidin Posts: 109

    I saw RocketJump's video earlier today and thought it really did have some valid points. Every part of making a film is a small part of a large craft, but all of them are indescribably important. You can't make a good movie with great VFX but sloppy writing. Everyone on a film set, down to the catering department, is a branch on the towering tree that is filmmaking, which is why any negative aspects of film as a whole can't be blamed on just one part of the crew. I just think everyone's being a bit hard on VFX. It's a tool, just like any other, like lighting, audio, writing, that can be used right or wrong.

  • Aidin
    Aidin Posts: 109

    Film is like a big tree, and each aspect of it (lighting, writing, VFX, editing) is a branch on that tree. If the tree falls, there's no one branch that you can blame, but the trunk of the tree. So I don't think Visual Effects are the cause of all bad movies.

  • Triem23
    Triem23 Posts: 20,590 Ambassador

    This video actually came up in another thread a week or two ago, and, if I find that other thread I'll cross link them, because last time this came up some others had some good input.

    To restate my own take, VFX do not make or break your movie, your storytelling makes or breaks your movie. If the audience doesn't care about the characters the film will fail.

    As far as a lot of current VFX goes, I think the argument that a fully-CGI environment pulls the audience from a story holds up until one examines, oh, any animated movie ever. The audience can emotionally engage with a drawing if the story and characters are good. In a "Live-Action" film integration of CGI requires, basically, two things. Lighting has to be a reasonable match, and the style of the CGI has to blend with the live action.

    I can use Peter Jackson's "Hobbit" films (Ok, just the first one. I never bothered with the second two after the mess the first one was.) and "Pacific Rim." as examples of CGI integration.

    Hobbit doesn't work that well--there's all kinds of bad lighting, and, in the other thread based off this video, I took a promo image for that movie and ripped it apart. The lighting doesn't match between elements, and a lot of the CGI camera moves are "impossible" shots that distract from the storytelling. The all-digital shots don't blend. Aside from that, Jackson never really made us care about the Dwarfs, except for maybe the one with the love interest (don't get me started..), or Bilbo, or Gandalf or, well, anyone, really, except Gollum!

    Pacific Rim works with it's CGI. Why? Del Toro had ILM create virtual camera platforms around the CGI stage and had ILM ground their cameras on those platforms. The CGI sequences feel grounded by the realistic camera placement, and, more importantly, match the style of the non-CGI shots!

    Using Hulk as an example--look, it's a 15-foot-high green man, and it's never going to look "REAL," no matter how well he's rendered and textured, but he's a 15-foot-high green man, which is close enough to what a human should be that he's always going to look fake. That's just a problem with Hulk. Iron Man we'll accept, because that's armor over a man, and it's farther removed from "real," thus easier to accept.

    As far as the larger issues of "films getting worse," I blame a lot of the new reliance on overseas box office. Films are being stripped of emotional subtlety and complexity because those aspects won't play as well to a non-Western audience. To avoid cultural differences we're getting films gutted to simple, basic, black/white storytelling with plenty of action, because actually exploring, say, where the hell that Black Widow/Hulk thing in Avengers 2 might have come from, might not play. Black Widow's potentially interesting/complex background suddenly becomes "I can't have kids." Because that's EASY TO EXPLAIN AND TRANSLATE! And kid issues are a hack, easy-to-hit emotion button that works almost every time. Who cares if Thor has a totally unmotivated impulse to go take a bath and have a vision (of Vision). It doesn't matter that the entire film was motivated by Scarlet Witch messing with Black Widow's head because Whedon--let's punch lots of robots!

    It worked. That film made tons of money for what's, sorry, not a very good story. Wow, the main dramatic surprise is that the guy with the wife didn't get killed? Not playing to an obvious trope isn't a clever plot twist, guys, sorry.

    There's still a better movie in 1982's Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan with all of it's matte lines, and hand-roto'd phasers and explosions, a couple of dodgy sets, and a liberal use of stock footage than there is in 2013's Star Trek: Into Darkness.

    Wrath of Khan had clearly defined personal stakes, motivations, and consistent story logic. Spock's death is beautifully set up and executed, and it works because of the obvious respect and care that Kirk and Spock share, and the absolutely in-character sacrifice Spock makes. Spock's sacrificial actions require him to perform technically complex actions while gloved, fighting the effects of radiation, and that little bit where Spock stands, straightens his uniform then walks into the wall heightens this--poor Spock had to accomplish these adjustments with his eyes burned out! Even the "cheat" used to set up the return of Spock a movie later is supported by previously existing story threads about Vulcan mental powers. AND let's not forget that, while Search for Spock reunited Kirk with his best buddy, it took and entire movie to get there, and it cost Kirk his sun and his ship--Kirk pays a price for his victory.

    Into Darkness actually follows a loose cause/effect chain (unlike the 2009 mess), but... There's so much in that film that doesn't make any sense within that universe's story logic. Oh look, in the previous film Kirk was a cocky jerk who needed to grow the F up and get some maturity, and in Into Darkness, Kirk in a cocky jerk who needs to grow the F up and get some maturity. Um... ok...The only reason one would think that Kirk and Spock are friends is because Real Spock said in the last movie, "No, really, you guys are friends." Because Spock narcing out Kirk over Prime Directive violation followed by another damn 45 minutes of sniping? Those guys aren't friends yet. Kirk's act of sacrifice is to go kick something. Spock's anguished scream of "Khaaaaaaan!" shouldn't have gotten the laughs it did in the theater, except the audience was damn well aware that a great Kirk/Spock bromance hasn't been supported by these films, so who cares? Anyway, Kirk gets better because, um, Khan blood and a Tribble, or something. Again, no one cares. Never mind that those two Trek movies have introduced personal transporters that can beam from Earth to Q'oonos, and have introduced a magic anti-death drug, thus destroying any need for a Starfleet to exist, and killing all story tension because death has a vaccine... Lots of stuff got blowed up real good!

    Also, this:

    Pointless underwear shot.

  • Setiawan
    Setiawan Posts: 31 Enthusiast

    If I may share from Video game point of view (still enjoy watching those trailers etc but rarely playing games right now), recent video games has more detail, more realistic texturing, etc... an improvement of real-time graphics, but all story are similar, and gameplay are similar, first person views... boring...

    But then, when I spotted this article, I curious with one title: 'To The Moon', it was made using classic RPG engine, but the story is good (to me) as I watched whole recorded scenes...

    Another share, from Eastern film world, China, the original 1986 'Journey To The West' TV 2-season series is the most success show until today and my parents still fond watching that show. The show still airing every year across China. The VisualFX that time was more limiting by today's standard (or even Hollywood's standard), and even though there are newer remakes series with more complex graphics, so those mythical creatures can appear more realistic (even though I can spot it too CG-ed many times), the classic one is still a favorite choice.

    Some newer movies of similar titles are too focusing on the VisualFX factor and finally twisted the original story too far. Some may like the new one, but some may turned away (can't accept the twisted story)... 

    In older time, making VisualFX is challenging, so we only left with a story factor to tell.

  • Kadri
    Kadri Posts: 168 Just Starting Out*

    Wurminator, yes that is more how i feel about VFX 

  • Andy001z
    Andy001z Posts: 3,395 Ambassador
    edited August 2015

    @Wurminator funny got that RocketJump video from a FreddieWong tweet last evening, funny how these things come up together. Thanks for the post link.

    @Triem23 thanks for your lengthly reply, all good points. Might I just go back to what the orginal premis of the video was about (I think) which was to much CGI can disconect the audiance from the scene. Now I realise some moviews do this very well and some very badly. But making more and more of the envoirment VFX and not layed over the top of real world can loose some of the real world grittyness. I think it very much depends on the moive, the scene and the director.

    All, thanks for replyies.

  • Andy001z
    Andy001z Posts: 3,395 Ambassador

    Just to add the Rocket Jump video is really spot on, it kind of backs up the point, which is Great VFX is that which is stuff you just accept as realy world or don't notice it. Oh and great movies arn't always about great VFX.

  • KirstieT
    KirstieT Posts: 1,187 Staff

    "Great visual effects serve story and character" is probably my favourite quote of that entire video. So true, and the weight he's managed to put behind the message with his influence has really hammered the point home for a lot of people. 

  • SimonKJones
    SimonKJones Posts: 4,448 Enthusiast

    The video mirrors what most people said in the previous discussion here about this subject. If a film's bad, the CGI gets unfairly blamed when it's almost always a problem with the writing. If a film's good, nobody even notices the CGI - and if they do, it doesn't matter.

    Rocketjump's video hits the nail on the head: all it ever comes down to is whether the film is any good or not.