Cgi Video Essay

Are computer generated visual effects really ruining movies?

We believe that the reason we think all CG looks bad, is because we only see “bad” CG. Fantastic, beautiful, and wonderfully executed CG is everywhere - you just don't know it. Truly great visual effects serve story and character– and in doing so are, by their very definition, invisible.

There are plenty of movies with bad VFX, and occasionally a bad movie with great VFX. But you ever wonder why you almost NEVER see a great movie with awful visual effects? Even classics with practical effects that look dated to our modern sensibilities - we don’t really seem to mind those - and audiences certainly didn’t at the time.

Maybe it’s because we don’t have much to complain about when it comes to great movies - the craft and storytelling so enchants us that we’re not, in the back of our minds, looking for an easy scapegoat. And when we think about a great movie, we think about story and character– and if the visual effects aren’t perfect, we forgive it. So maybe the reason why people seem to think visual effects are ruining movies isn’t really a problem with visual effects… Maybe it’s a problem with the movies themselves.

For more reading, take a look at Cinefex (http://www.cinefex.com/), which is a quarterly published by the VFX industry that goes into incredible depth and detail about the VFX process for current movies. FXGuide.com (http://www.fxguide.com/) is a great blog about visual effects with great interviews and articles. Finally, if you're really curious where the best visual effects are - don't look at the Oscars. Look instead at the Visual Effects Society awards (https://www.visualeffectssociety.com/ves-awards) and nominations - they are awards judged by the people who know VFX best - artists actually working in the industry.

And if all this discussion about visual effects has set your heart aflutter, do me a favor. Next time you go see a movie, stick around and look at the credits and marvel at how many artists work goes into the visual effects for your typical movie. It’s astounding, and probably much more interesting than some lame post credits sequence, anyway.


VFX Breakdowns From:

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (DSH)

Gravity (Framestore)

Iron Man (ILM, The Orphanage, The Embassy)

Jurassic Park (The Stan Winston School)

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Digital Domain)

King Kong (Weta)

The Avengers (ILM)

Independence Day

Rango (ILM)


Movie Clips From:

  • Transformers
  • Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace
  • Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
  • Rise of the Planet of the Apes
  • Avatar
  • X-Men Origins: Wolverine
  • Jurassic Park
  • Dark Knight Rises
  • Mad Max: Fury Road
  • The Mummy Returns
  • I Am Legend
  • Forrest Gump
  • Game of Thrones
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
  • Lone Survivor
  • Ugly Betty
  • Independence Day
  • The Avengers
  • King Kong
  • Zodiac
  • Iron Man
  • Rango
  • Final Fantasy - The Spirits Within
  • The Matrix Reloaded
  • The Matrix Revolutions
  • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
  • Kon-Tiki
  • The Abyss
  • Titanic
  • Star Trek: Into Darkness
  • Lucy
  • Edge of Tomorrow
  • Godzilla
  • The Social Network
  • District 9
  • Gravity
  • Transformers
  • Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
  • The Day After Tomorrow
  • Alice in Wonderland
  • Life of Pi
  • Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope
  • The Invisible Man
  • Jaws
  • Jason and the Argonauts
  • Clash of the Titans
  • Labyrinth
  • The Matrix
  • The Frighteners
  • The Mummy
  • 300
  • Batman Begins
  • A Trip to the Moon
  • Elysium

David Fincher has directed a number of masterful films, but one of the things that’s most impressive about his work is the amount of CGI that slips into the background. A new video essay from Kristian Williams, aka Kaptain Kristian, takes a look at how the director uses CGI to serve his stories.

Some of Fincher’s films have more CGI than your average blockbuster. Kristian points out that The Social Network contains more digital shots than Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla. In most blockbuster films, it’s easy to see where that VFX budget goes: huge explosions, alien planets, or fantastic action sequences. In Fincher’s films, however, those details are often hidden in the background. You’re not supposed to see them, because they’re designed to be invisible, reinforcing the look of the surrounding world.

Take Zodiac, for example. Rather than use an established shot of the Golden Gate Bridge to show that the film is set in San Francisco, he re-created a period-accurate city skyline. In Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, a gap in Lisbeth Salander’s bangs was digitally generated, because the scene was shot over several days, and he wanted to make sure that the shot looked consistent. The same goes for blood: anytime you see someone bleeding in his films, it’s digitally rendered. This gives him the ability to quickly reset a scene and film another take.

Other film bloggers have pointed out Fincher’s intense focus on the small details. Every Frame A Painting’sTony Zhou dedicated a video to his film style a couple of years ago, noting that he uses a precise hand behind the camera, largely eschewing handheld camera movement.

Both essays point out that this helps give audiences a certain sense of place, whether it’s the relative distance between characters, or the authenticity of the location presented in the scene. They also note that it’s difficult to tell what elements are real, and which have been generated digitally. The result is that the CGI in Fincher’s films serves the story, rather than the other way around.

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