Watching Madagascar III and Brave made me thing of this thread. The animation is impressive, but when I watched these films (especially the former), they feel driven by the technology—as if the animators envision these scenes or situations and then build a film around those moments. In other words, the clever and appealing possibilities that the technology can realize comes before the actual story, character or some personal vision. In other words, I wonder if the computer technology is largely becoming a huge distraction, skewing the priorities of filmmakers—especially those who make animated films, action/adventure and sci-fi. Well, you can see my bias, but what do others thing? Has computer technology done more harm than good for cinema?
I’d say so.
Since anything is possible now, special effects aren’t so special anymore. To me the fantasy movies of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s were amazing – even though some of them had some pretty iffy effects. We knew it was hard for the filmmakers to achieve it, and it made us wonder “How’d they do that?”
Now we always know how – unless it was done practically (and sometimes even when it was people assume it was digital).
Plus this is aided and abbetted by the huge glut on fantasy/sci fi movies made possible by CGI.
To me the fantasy movies of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s were amazing – even though some of them had some pretty iffy effects. We knew it was hard for the filmmakers to achieve it, and it made us wonder “How’d they do that?”
At the risk of contradicting myself, I’m not sure I agree with you. (By “fantasy,” do you mean films with knights, wizards, etc. or are you speaking more broadly?) The “iffy effects” did hurt the films—unless the story and characters were exceptional. Honestly, I don’t think a lot of the stories and characters for the films that depended on effects were all that great (but maybe mentioning specific titles will cause me to change my mind).
For me, I don’t think knowing the way filmmaker create effects ruins them—it’s the quality of the story and characters and the way they use the effects in the film. For example, I think filmmakers can overuse cgi, making the film look unrealistic and lifeless. Knowing when and how much is important, imo, and not all filmmakers do this well.
By fantasy films I meant basically films that take place in a world other than the ‘normal’ one we live in – I meant it to include science fiction, monster movies etc. Yeah, I guess fantasy wasn’t the best word… I should have said special effects films.
There were a lot of films hurt by iffy effects, but then there were the triumphs too, like Forbidden Planet, King Kong and pretty much everything by Harryhausen (though his stories weren’t great), Dragonslayer etc (yeah I’m a stopmotion fanatic basically). Star Wars, Raiders, Bladerunner, Alien, Robocop… on and on.
I don’t hate CGI – in fact I love it when it’s done well and well integrated into a good movie, but it seems to me 2 of the best examples of this were done at the dawn of good modern CGI – Jurrassic Park and Starship Troopers. I’d say most of what’s been done since then has been a step back from that level. Oh, great use of CGI in T2, but the CGI itself was not really up to par yet.
I have to say that, in my own opinion, most of the movies done since CGI has really become amazing are merely spectacles rather than good films in which the effects support the storytelling. I guess when you’re dealing with a ‘special effects film’ you can’t expect it to have a Cassablanca level story, but I feel like just about anything I mentioned above (the old movies) has a much better story than say the new Clash of the Titans (haven’t seen its sequel yet, and not eager to).
And I know it’s not the CGI that’s to blame for the way today’s blockbuster effects films are being made – there are a lot of reasons. So I’m restricting my own comments to what I call ‘special effects films’ – meaning basically sci-fi, monster, horror (are they basically the same thing lol?) and the Tolkein-style films being made today. I think with films like that you can lower expectations about story – I mean I can enjoy Dragonslayer in a totally different way from Citizen Kane – the story still has to be satisfying in some way though.
But you did make me think about something – back in the day the special effects films came along pretty rarely, and we waited with baited breath (those of us who are big fans) – and when the latest Harryhausen hit the theater we were excited in a way I don’t think today’s youth are when the next CGI flick hits the multiplex. Today there’s too many coming out too fast, so they’re no longer special, plus for the most part they’re not being made as well as the older classics.
Maybe since so many are being cranked out now there are some that stand up against the special effects classics of yesteryear – but they;re just lost in the sea of mediocre to terrible CGI films? I’m sure there are a few, but I’m having a hard time thinking of a CGI comparison to Alien or Bladerunner. (Haven’t seen Prometheus yet, but from what I hear it doesn’t stand the comparison).
DARKM@TTERS said: “Jurassic Park”
Isn’t that crazy? I also think that Jurassic Park is one of the best examples of the way CGI should be used. I was floored by it almost 20 years ago (20 years ago!!!) and still think it looks pretty good now, especially compared to a lot of the stuff that currently comes out.
CGI is def the negative. Editing and Grading in the the positive effects imo. (along with stablization etc.)
So I was thinking it might be even maybe slightly net negative cause CG is so bad but then I thought of Music.
DIGITALy created or engineered music accounts for many of the most refreshing, original unique and captivating soundtracks of the Aughties and beyond.
On top of all that DIGITAL restoration?
Net Positive. no question.
“DIGITALy created or engineered music accounts for many of the most refreshing, original unique and captivating soundtracks of the Aughties and beyond.”
Obv. almost everything is mixed and tweaked using comp. technology but for examples of specific pieces that fit my description off the top of my head: Thomas Bangalter (Irreversible, Enter the Void), Dust Brothers (Fight Club), ReznorRoss (otherfincher). DaftPunk(TRON:Legacy), Heil (Tykwer), Craig Armstrong, Don Davis
“…they feel driven by the technology—as if the animators envision these scenes or situations and then build a film around those moments.”
And that’s different from the way films (indeed all narrative art) have been made throughout history… how?
Menu said all the secrets behind the enigmatic painting have yet to be revealed.
“Our laboratory is trying to uncover da Vinci’s techniques. We particularly want to understand how he painted his shadows, the famous Sfumato effect,” Menu said.
I foolishly thought this was just about CGI!
Oh absolutely – digital compositing and grading are extremely beneficial – as is digital editing (something I keep reminding myself George Lucas has given us when I start to get too angry about him).
Back to the CGI itself – it’s done some good and some bad things. But I find it impossible to talk about most of it without including the entire complex of factors that have been introduced along with CGI that have also changed the way filmmaking is approached. So I’ll just include all of it.
CGI has made an entirely new level of visual effects possible – as well as character animaion at an unprecedented level of realism/complexity.
But why is it that, in the vast majority of the CGI creature type films, said creatures move too flippin’ fast and totally ignore the laws ot physics, even though they’re rendered in extreme photorealistic detail? This is one of those things that isn’t related directly to the technology itself, but what the CGI pipeline has allowed – namely because changes can be made to the animation itself at any stage, producers have the ability now to step in and say “I want it to move more like Spiderman”. Producers – not just directors or animators. Well ok – directors too – but that’s what a director is supposed to do. Producers should stick to producing IMHO.
“Yeah but – how come Spiderman suddenly moves different when he goes into CGI? Isn’t that pretty obvious?” “People love that stuff.” "I don’t know – looks pretty weird and fake to me… ""Shut up and do it! Spiderman was a huge success – are you gonna argue with that?" "But – have you seen what people are saying about it online – everybody is wondering why he suddenly isn’t affected by gravity and inertia the same way as he was in the rest of the movie.. " “Who signs your paycheck?”
Another thing that’s unfortunately been ushered in alongside CGI is the video game connection. It seems every major CGI action movie is written in tandem with the video game that will accompany it and setpiece scenes are created specifically for the videogame – case in point the multi-level lava-pit Medusa sequence in Clash of the Titans. Or the similar multi-level Kong / V-Rex fight scene where they’re falling through the vines. This is blatantly marketing at work, on the level of some ad exec in the 80’s saying “Hey – we can make a cartoon that’s actually a half-hour commercial for a product line and call it Transformers!”
To talk about the fully CGI films like the ones you mentioned in the OP Jazz, Pixar is making some of the best movies in decades because they understand how to tell a good story and create good characters – both in story terms and visually. But how many crappy half-baked fims are being cranked out with silly talking animals that are poorly designed visually and don’t work as engaging characters and are stuck in terrible stories?
So yeah. there are good points and bad points.
And since I mentioned above that I love the stopmo – digital technology has also brought stopmotion to an entirely new level of perfection, with digital ‘framegrabbers’ that allow animators to see their work and compare each frame to the ones immediately before it – they can eliminate pretty much any jitter that used to be an issue in the pre-digital days, and of course it also benefits from all the same computer technology that’s used in CGI films – compositing, grading etc.
There’s something to be said for restrictions forcing directors to be more inventive with their storytelling. But I believe the positives outweigh the negatives.
There are directors like Lucas who do a lot worse when they have the ability to project directly from their brain to the screen, and that’s an issue of limitations creating the need for diversity of creative influence.
On the whole I think the increase in technological scope opens far more doors than it closes.
I don’t think what you mention in your post is anything new. Hollywood’s been guilty of constructing films around one or two scenes as early as King Kong.
CGI = laziness, and cheap laziness at that… aka, a studios “wet dream”.
A tool is only as useful as the person who wields it. It’s only used as a short cut by people that don’t understand it. Peter Jackson has had a tremendous amount of CGI in all his films in the last ten years. Without remarking on the specific overall quality of the final film, I don’t think many people would seriously suggest that they are without merit. Also, it always seems like the biggest and loudest people against computer animation know the absolute least regarding it.
the clever and appealing possibilities that the technology can realize comes before the actual story, character or some personal vision
What’s wrong with films that put the emphasis on visuals above story and character? Do you have the same criticism about Kurosawa’s Dreams? CG movies didn’t invent that trend, they just opened a whole new realm of possibilities.
I don’t mind visual or aesthetic emphasis over other elements, but those visuals better be high enough quality to justify it. I do not believe I have ever seen any full-blown CGI rendering of a person or an animal that I can even believe, much less find pleasing to look at. And I’m talking everything from Toy Story to P.J. to that dino in Tree of Life, all looks fake as **** to me.
I have no second thoughts about this, for action films that involve super heroes nd outlandish comic stuff, yes they did good for vidualuzation purposes but to industries that ate either not very literate in art or cinema they are a very bad influence (example Indian Cinema)
But why is it that, in the vast majority of the CGI creature type films, said creatures move too flippin’ fast and totally ignore the laws ot physics, even though they’re rendered in extreme photorealistic detail?
I don’t know if the CGI entities are ignoring laws of physics, but they often look fake, which hurts the film, imo. One of the reasons I like Jurassic Park is the way it balances CGI with real props (and maybe more judicious use of CGI). When a film uses CGI for every aspect (the background as well as the creatures) and uses it for the entire film, my sense is that these films don’t work as well (e.g., the recent Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe adaptation).
Malik said, Without remarking on the specific overall quality of the final film, I don’t think many people would seriously suggest that they are without merit.
My feeling (and this is speculative) is someone like Jackson gets too enamoured with the CGI and its possibilties and that leads him to take his eye off the ball (read: the story and characters). For example, in a film like King Kong, the most interesting part of the film was the relationship between Kong and the girl. But then there’s that fight sequence between Kong and the dinosaurs (or some other creature). I like a good fight scene, but this seemed like a frill. But I didn’t think the story or the characters were handled well in that film. (I could say the same for the Star Wars prequels, particularly the second film.)
Hollywood’s been guilty of constructing films around one or two scenes as early as King Kong.
But that’s not a good example, as I think that’s a solid film, one where the effects support the film.
To me Jackson’s problem isn’t just with CGI – he doesn’t seem to know when to stop. With anything. In fact, comparing the original King Kong with his bloated remake shows exactly what I mean – the original is widely regarded as being an excellent story – tight pacing, nothing extra. Why did Jackson decide to stretch out the boat journey and go into great detail on the backstories of all the characters, even extraneous ones? And why stretch out the fight scenes and the brontosaur stampede etc so long and to the point of absolute ridiculousness? (aside form catering to the video game crowd and designing in video game setpiece scenes)
I think he doesn’t really understand how to make a good compact movie – he has lots of great ideas (something he shared with Lucas) and knows how to stage spectacle – but doesn’t understand that less can be more. And, like with Lucas, he’s too important now and has built his own empire where he’s surrounded by yes men who don’t tell him when he’s going too far. And for both of them the CGI is too powerful of a goad – it seems to make them salivate and they lose objectivity.
So I’d say the CGI itself isn’t the entire problem, but it exacerbates his pre-existing condition. It’s like a drug that makes him crazy and that he’s addicted to – there needs a methodone clinic for directors like Jackson and Lucas.
To me Jackson’s problem isn’t just with CGI – he doesn’t seem to know when to stop.
So I’d say the CGI itself isn’t the entire problem, but it exacerbates his pre-existing condition. It’s like a drug that makes him crazy and that he’s addicted to – there needs a methodone clinic for directors like Jackson and Lucas
Yeah, you could be right. (I agree with your take on KK and love the drug-addiction metaphor) However, Heavenly Creatures was a decent compact movie—one that didn’t utilize cgi. But The Frighteners was another mess. LOTR was a bit more controlled, although the ending of Return is another example of Jackson “not knowing when to stop,” I think. (The CGI is a bit excessive, although it doesn’t get in the way of story or the characters—but maybe that’s because he felt a big responsibility towards the story and characters.)
@AXELUMOG“I don’t mind visual or aesthetic emphasis over other elements, but those visuals better be high enough quality to justify it. I do not believe I have ever seen any full-blown CGI rendering of a person or an animal that I can even believe”
I agree. But full-blown 3D renders aren’t the sole use of CGI, or even the most common use — just the most noticeable use. For every film that uses CGI to create 3D monsters, there are a dozen that use it to hide modern landmarks from the wide shots in period pieces, to make more convincing day-for-night, to make houses look more decayed and worn than they really are, to put human or animal eyes on the animatronic monster. When used these ways, CGI can make a movie seem much more natural and involving. It’s the necessary fact that the best uses are the invisible uses that gives CGI a bad name.
But regardless of CGI’s use, computers provide hundreds of other functions that open up new creative opportunities. The obvious are digital editing and digital filming, which allow for more experimentation (in both shooting and editing) than film can. But the functions that never get discussed (or praised) as much as they should are computer-controlled camera movements, and the shockingly high framerates digital filming allows for. Case in point…
Excerpt from BBC’s “Life”: computer-controlled camera filming at 8000 frames per second, fast enough to capture a lizard running on the surface of water.
There’s a great essay by Walter Murch, the editor of [i]The Conversation, Apocalypse Now[/i] and [i]The Unbearable Lightness of Being[/i], that uses painting as an analogy for computer use in filmmaking, an excerpt:
“Is the complete digitization of the art and industry of cinema something that will be ultimately good for it? To even attempt an answer to a question like that, we need to find some analogous development in the past. The one that seems closest, to me, is the transformation in painting that took place in the fifteenth century, when the old technique of pigments on fresco was largely replaced by oil paint on canvas. Some of the greatest, if not the greatest, triumphs of European pictorial art were done in fresco, the painstaking process whereby damp plaster is stained with various pigments that, as they dry, bond chemically with the plaster and change color. One need only think of Michelangelo’s frescoed ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, the pictorial equivalent of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. A great deal of advance planning needs to be done with fresco. Its variables – such as the consistency and drying time of the plaster – have to be controlled exactly. The artists who worked in fresco needed a precise knowledge of the pigments and how they would change color as they dried. Once a pigment had been applied, no revisions were possible. Only so much work could be done in a day, before the plaster applied that morning became too dry. Inevitably, cracks would form at the joints between subsequent applications of plaster. The arrangement of each day’s subject matter had to be chosen carefully to minimize the damage from this unpredictable cracking. It should be clear that fresco painting was an expensive effort of many people and various interlocking technologies, overseen by the artist, who took responsibility for the final product. The invention of oil paint changed all of this. The artist was freed to paint wherever and whenever he wanted. He did not have to create a work in its final location. His paint was the same color wet as it would eventually be when dry. He did not have to worry unduly about cracking surfaces. And the artist could paint over areas that he didn’t like, even to the point of reusing canvasses for completely different purposes. Although painting in oils remained collaborative for a while, the innate logic of the new medium encouraged the artist to take more and more control of every aspect of his work, intensifying his personal vision. This was tremendously liberating, and the history of art from 1450 to the present is a clear testimony to the creative power of that liberation – and some of its dangers, which found ultimate expression in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, with the emergence of solitary and tortured geniuses like Van Gogh. The nature of working with film has been more like painting in fresco than oil. It’s so heterogeneous, with so many technologies woven together in a complex and expensive fabric, that filmmaking is almost by definition impossible for a single person to control. There are a few solitary filmmakers – Jordan Belson comes to mind – but these are exceptional individuals, and their films’ subject matters are geared to allow creation by a single person. By contrast, digital techniques naturally tend to integrate with each other because of their mathematical commonality, and thus become easier to control by a single person. I can see this already happening in the sound-mixing work that I do, where the borders between sound editing and mixing have begun to blur.
— Walter Murch, new afterword for the revised edition of In the Blink of an Eye
It’s not the tools that are killing cinema, it’s how they are used.
Jazz – This thread is very much in line with your previous threads questioning whether knowing too much about film can spoil your enjoyment of film.
Generally, I would agree with this (and, ultimately, I probably do agree with this), but I just wondered if the tools actually make it harder to stay focused on the right priorities.
This thread is very much in line with your previous threads questioning whether knowing too much about film can spoil your enjoyment of film.
I known I cover the same territory, but I don’t think this one is closely related to “knowing too much.” What connection do you see?
“I just wondered if the tools actually make it harder to stay focused on the right priorities.”
I think bad filmmakers will always be bad filmmakers, with or without the toys. I know what you mean about staying focused but I think for the true storytellers, this is a non-issue.
“What connection do you see?”
Fear of progress?
I know what you mean about staying focused but I think for the true storytellers, this is a non-issue.
Are you saying they’re impervious to distraction and temptations?
I’m not against cgi completely. I think it’s been great for sci-fi and superhero films in many ways, but many of these films have weak stories (and I’m not expecting some great drama), and I just feel like some of this is related to the tools. Think of it this way. Action oriented films get by with spectacular action. Prior to cgi, these films relied on complicated and dangerous stunts, blowing things up and spectacular set pieces. In a way, these effects may have distracted filmmakers from story and characters, but I get the sense that with computer effects is more filmmaker friendly, easier to control and manipulate, compared to big stunts and explosions. It gives the filmmaker more control and more possibilities.
On the other hand, gaining more knowledge—which, in this case, is related to developing a keener sense of quality—can make enjoying films more difficult. But, ultimately, that’s not going to prevent me from continuing to hone my ability to appreciate films.
“Are you saying they’re impervious to distraction and temptations?”
No but I think a true master’s talent will eclipse all that. I wish I had an example to give but I don’t at the moment. But I do recall thinking, “that movie was good in spite of…”
“I’m not against cgi completely. I think it’s been great for sci-fi and superhero films in many ways, but many of these films have weak stories (and I’m not expecting some great drama), and I just feel like some of this is related to the tools.”
Maybe but I don’t know that I’d blame CGI for weak stories. Even without CGI, you can have a movie with a crappy story. I do agree with you that “the enemy of art is the absence of limitations” (as Orson Welles once said) and CGI definitely broadens a filmmakers limitations. But it just comes back to how it’s used and in a way, it forces the filmmaker to be smarter and understand the toys he has and how best to use them. As a counter example, look at Ted. That movie uses a lot of the same technology that is used in Avatar and couldn’t have been made 30 years ago (and if it were made, it probably would’ve been done with puppets). And it’s a great movie. Highly entertaining and the CGI is used in a smart, effective way.
Maybe but I don’t know that I’d blame CGI for weak stories. Even without CGI, you can have a movie with a crappy story.
Right. Maybe I’m mostly thinking of fantasy/sci-fi/superhero type of movies. One of the biggest challenges for these type of films is bringing the worlds to life, especially the fantastic elements. (I think sci-fi/fantasy writers have a similar challenge.) I feel like CGI allows them to solve all these problems in a relatively easy fashion, and that can distract or take up too much of their time and energy. Basically, I think sci-fi/fantasy filmmakers have two challenges: to create stories and characters AND create the world they inhabit. Generally, both are important, but I get the sense they sometimes care more about the latter or they get too caught up in the latter.
“Basically, I think sci-fi/fantasy filmmakers have two challenges: to create stories and characters AND create the world they inhabit. Generally, both are important, but I get the sense they sometimes care more about the latter or they get too caught up in the latter.”
I think filmmakers who make sci-fi/fantasy films generally tend to be more interested in the latter to begin with. I think that’s part of why they make these films.
In my opinion, CGI is bad when it is overused and when the technology or the material is not ready enough to look decent on the screen.
I am personally not a big fan of both CGI and digital, neither 3D. I hold a strong belief at least a generation has to pass for all these three to develop to the degree, at which they will become a good alternative to the conventional film, practical stunts and 2D. Moreover, sometimes I prefer watching these conventional films because of the feel and grasp they have both in terms of cultural effect and the representation of the medium of film.
For instance, I was pretty disappointed when watching Hugo, the film about very early cinema, in 3D, especially when I was not even impressed by its effects. 3D does not by any means improve the quality of the film. It certainly has the effect on the cinematic experience, but is this effect really good? Even Avatar, with all the great CGI work that enabled Cameron to create his own world, still lacked much in the story. I left the theatre thinking of how, in spite of all the beauty I had just witnessed, I was still so disappointed with the most vital aspect of any film. And that was the movie the audience had been anticipating for a decade.
On the other hand, I really liked the fact Paul Thomas Anderson shot The Master on a 65mm film cam. As visible in the recent trailers, it gave a very reminiscent vibe similar to films of the 70s-80s, particularly Forman’s One Flew Over The Cockoo’s Nest. This beats 3D any time, in my opinion.
Noteworthy, I can recall Nolan’s Inception as probably the finest combination of story and tech-packed visuals/action for the last couple of years. He aptly realized that visuals and technology are tehre to serve the story first, not vice versa. In addition, I also liked the cinematography in Drive, which was digital. Yet, the film did a good job at avoiding CGI and, instead, taking the route of practical stunts, which looked superb.
Moreover, I suddenly thought of Kubrick’s 2001, which even nowadays looks phenomenal to me, thanks to not only the most advanced technology at that time, but also Kubrick’s obsession with precision and details, which made the film such a great experience even when watched on TV.
Today’s big visual effects event just quickly becomes next weeks whatever. I don’t think the level of technology available out there is inherently bad but the climate that has been created right now has made many filmmakers lose sight of technology as tool and not the end in of itself.
It’s not all bad though, technology is liberating budgets for independent filmmakers, we’re able to just plain see films easier than ever before across the globe. I have hope that technology can still be used as a powerful storytelling device in the coming years from the bottom or independent scene. Even in the studio system there’s been some examples of holding back, like Nolan forgoing 3d, using primarily physical effects or a greater amount of physical set work on Prometheus than one might expect.