Has CG had its day?

Rob discusses whether the days of ‘wow’ factor in CG have passed

All right, you can stop now.

I saw Transformers this weekend and after sitting through nearly two and a half hours of a movie that felt like watching somebody else playing a computer game I came out of the cinema feeling underwhelmed and flat.

What I mean by that is that there was no ‘wow’ factor to the thing. By having so much going on and having such a movie spectacle it’s like throwing everything you can do with CG on screen, with explosions, robots, more explosions, and the usual Michael Bay subtlety going on. The entire affair seemed clinical, personality free and really just quite dull, a fireworks display of pixels without the hotdog or jacket spud of entertainment or enjoyment.. 

In my opinion it seems that by bunging everything through a computer that cinema has shown the ‘man behind the curtain’, that anything and everything has that digital tweak added to it. The spectacle has superseded the ‘magic’ that is actual storytelling as the most important element to a film

There is no ‘how did they do that’ factor in films doing the rounds at the cinema, Wolverine was bland, Star Trek was cursed with wobbly camera syndrome and Transformers as mentioned was just a excuse to make money back for the R&D investment they did for the Transforming sequence they did in the last film.

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Seeing a Ray Harryhausen film, a Hammer horror or Toho monster movie we all know they were models but how did they do it? Camera trickery, composition, bits of rubber all blended together in a mix of magic but now as we all know it is pixels there is no sense of wonder any more.

Seeing Optimus Prime fifteen years ago on screen would have been impressive and given you that jaw dropping moment. Think back, remember when you first say a dinosaur in Jurassic Park, that’s what I’m taking about – when was the last time you went into the cinema and had that feeling? To paraphrase Jeff Goldblum ‘just because you CAN do something doesn’t mean you have to’

CGI in today’s movies is so commonplace and overused that frankly it’s lost its appeal. Again remember when you first saw ‘liquid metal’ on screen, first in Flight of the Navigator and then of course Terminator 2 – this effect called ‘reflection mapping’ has been around for the best part of twenty years and when it was used, it was used to effect – to quite literally show you something you had never seen before. However now it’s used on adverts for cleaning products. It’s the same with ‘Morphing’ and even ‘Massive’: how often now have we seen CG armies against each other?

CG has become cheap, easy and even throwaway. Accessible software packages such as Motion Builder, Maya, 3D Max and even motion capture software is in the reach of most people and while it still takes skill and dedication to master these pieces of software which have become commonplace tools of the trade, the imagination needed it seems is sometimes lacking.

Pixar it seems have managed to blend the two – classic stories and the use of CG – to the best advantage. Their films, no matter how short, have a special spark of magic that shows how to use computers in movies to their very best advantage. Take two 2009 films – Up and 2012. Comparing a Pixar film to a end of the world film might seem like oranges compared to lemons – but think about it; which movie will draw you in the most, which one will have you smiling and immerse you in the experience? I am certain it won’t be the one that has earthquakes and aircraft carriers falling on the White House, but the one using the tools of CG correctly to have chubby scouts and grumpy old men floating around in a house covered in balloons.

CG, as it stands needs to go through another revolution. We know you can have it all on screen Michael Bay, Stephen Sommers, Peter Jackson, James Cameron and Steven Spielberg, and with legendary FX houses like ILM and WETA, we understand you have pushed to boundaries of technology to the limit.

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You can make orcs fight elves in medieval battlefields, the Hulk fight the Abomination or have the army fight Decepticons in the sand dunes of Egypt; you can send us into space as an Avatar or have us far underwater where Mega Sharks fights Giant Octopus (okay, maybe not that one). We get it, now that we can do all of this to the point where we really cannot tell what is real and what is not.

Shouldn’t it be time to get back to the drawing board or word processor and actually work on the scripts?

See also:Matt Edwards on this summer’s underwhelming blockbuster releases;The 50 best movie SFX;The 24 worst movie SFX of all time;