Tuesday, March 20, 2012

CGI is where it's going

So there's some angst in my generation, the past generations, and so forth about the rise of CGI in films and its abuse where some films are entirely CGI save the people playing the characters. Personally, I don't have a problem if the story is nice and/or if it was meant to demonstrate in exquisite detail some intense action and/or grand beauty of something. The problem comes from our changing perception on how films should be made and done and even what should be given emphasis in films or should it have a middle ground and so on. I'm specifically talking about anything made by George Lucas who notoriously applied more and more CGI to the prequel Star Wars flicks till everything but the non-clone humans were CGI.
In the past, there have been a number of jumps that have been taken in relation to motion pictures the least of which don't even include the introduction of motion pictures for entertainment. Can you imagine how many people were equally fascinated and repulsed by the idea of actors not playing parts in front of a live audience? Forget that its becoming commercialized, it was crazy to think that people would want to go see people having already done something but not be there in the theater and because its recorded, it can't be changed in any way to liven it up and it'll age quick, who can keep their interest in something like that?

A few decades later, they incorporated sound into the mix and then that really stirred some emotions. Charlie Chaplin, famous silent film star, said something along the lines of films having dialogue would be the equivalent of a piece by Beethoven having lyrics. And again, it was an attack on an art form and style which had been so popular where in silent films, people could express their emotions strongly because there was little other way to do so and it still retained that theater and opera style. Nevertheless, people learned to love it.

Over time, other things came like color films, advanced sound systems, digital cameras, better prop setups made of things other than wood and plastic, etc. and again and again, the older generation would resent it while the newcomers would embrace it wholeheartedly. For example, I hear people complain about how hyped up with effects the new Star Trek was but I wonder how the fans of Captain James T. Kirk felt about Star Trek:The Next Generation with a sleeker ship, a holodeck, Klingons with crests on their foreheads, etc.

In the case of Star Wars, there has been a 20 years or so gap between the sequels and prequels where the original utilized a lot of up to date tech to make all the models and sets in its time. So I don't understand what people were expecting with the prequels, dated special effects and scenery, something out of a 70s film and slow moving fight scenes/space battles? They're as bad as the Trekkies who flip out over the new Star Trek tampering with their nostalgia of the original series, a series which like the original Star Wars films was quite EPIC, don't get me wrong on that.

I've also noted something which may have some truth to it. I've heard people say the CGI made everything look so fake as if the metals, plants, animals, etc. that were shown in the Star Wars films were real and these people have actually seen them. What they saw in the original films were sets and props made of plastic, wood, earth metals, etc. so in other words, not from a galaxy far far away and certainly not what the people in the stories are pretending their structures and props are actually made of. It is a case of reality being unrealistic or in this case, a fictional reality. Here's a funny example:


Part of us getting so used to the old style of props and sets is that we assume that is what it looks like in real life or in the case of a fictional universe, what it would like it were real. When Lucas updated the films, he got to use technology which he didn't have before and so he could make everything look cleaner and shinier and more futuristic and maybe that's what durasteel and ferrocrete (Star Wars jargon) actually look like as opposed to styrofoam painted gray (not that the millennium falcon was made of styrofoam). I guess people preferred the styrofoam though b/c it all looked so "fake" in  the prequels.

Going away from Star Wars, I'd like to point out that there's been somewhat of an increase in more animated films becoming full CGI films as opposed to hand drawn cartoons of the old days. They still have them but I really do enjoy these new CGI films a lot as well. I don't think either should really go away but if one becomes more common as it seems like it is becoming, I wouldn't fret if it still delivers a good story with good characters.

In all, I think if a film decides to use a heavy amount of CGI for something, its not something it should be judged on. Its just nitpicky and if people actually cared about about that, then we wouldn't have had any progress in film making or even in classical theater as people want everything to look real while being real or whatever. There are better things to consider when saying if you like a film. The film should not be denounced for it and it should not be praised solely for it.

BTW, This angst kind of reminds me of UAVs, believe it or not. People debate whether human pilots are necessary anymore and whether or not they should be put in harms way as opposed to a drone. Now these drones are operated by humans but you don't necessarily need a full pilot's license to operate them. People who are full pilots complain that its not real flying b/c it isn't the same feel and doesn't allow the same freedom but if they fly a UAV, they say it does work like actual flying, just not physical forces and such. I'm not for either side as I'm sure there's more to it but UAV's have become quite useful in our arsenal despite an older generations misgivings about it and they have proved themselves useful.