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How Has CGI Changed The Film Industry?

a CGI dragon firing flame

Computer Generated Imagery, commonly known as CGI, has changed the world of cinema. We saw its full potential when the gap between animation and real-life films got smaller. But what makes CGI so important for the film industry and how has CGI influenced the world of cinema, let’s get to know everything in this article.

What is CGI?

CGI is a technology that is used to create animation and special effects in film and televisiondigitally. Today, its usage is vast – be it video games, movies, commercials, television programs, shorts, and simulators, CGI can easily be seen everywhere.

Imagine the ever-famous movie, Avatar, without the CGI effects – would it have those gorgeous visuals and aesthetic scenes? No!

The Beginning of CGI

Computer animations that we see today on big screens began in the 1970s when the visual effects and short animations were made using the layering of 2D images. This was done to create pleasing animation that people would love to watch. The first prototype of a digitally-rendered 3D hand was made in 1972 by co-founders of Pixar, Ed Catmull and Fred Park. It marked the beginning of the foundation for countless effects and animated masterpieces that followed.

Furthermore, with the invention of the Phenakistoscope and the Zoëtrope in the early 19th century, drawn images were brought to life. These devices helped in creating the illusion of motion by displaying a continuous sequence of photographs or drawings in progressive phases of that motion. This was from where the modern world took the idea of smooth computer-generated graphics that would later change the film industry.

Although the earlier films that feature special effects, such as the first Jaws film was cringe-worthy, people still loved the concept.

Traditional techniques of animation such as stop-motion evolved into 2D or 3D Cel-based animation. One of the stop-motion movies, Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, is a fine example of the earliest CGI technology. The movie was hit with both adults and children, but short-lived. In 1995, two years after the release of The Nightmare Before Christmas, Pixar Studios released Toy Story. It was the first-ever full-length CGI movie made in the history of cinema, and everything just changed after that.

Stop motion was ditched by Steven Spielberg in favor of CGI for the movie Jurassic Park. His intention for considering CGI over stop motion was to create the stampede, a CGI’s time and money-saving effect that is too good to be ignored.

CGI started from merely deformation and reformation, but now it has come to the point where feature-length films rely on this amazing technology to make the dreams of directors come true.

Although CGI has been around for only 4 to 5 decades, it is such an integral part of the film making in the modern world. It opens up a path for ideas that isn’t otherwise possible to be shown or experienced without a good imagination.

Entire Films Based on CGI

CGI was used sparingly until the late 1990s, but in the year 1995, this technology peaked when Toy Story, afirst full-length CG film, got released. Only a small team of animators brought to life the characters we have loved throughout our childhood, Woody and Buzz Lightyear.

The movie was a big hit, so Pixar followed this breakthrough project by making more CG animation movies, such as Monsters Inc., Finding Nemo, and Toy Story sequels.

CGI Recreating Scenes from History

After stepping into the 21st century, CGI reached new heights as animators and technicians used computer graphics in action films to recreate true events that were important in history. Thanks to CGI, in 2001, it was made possible for the audience to visualize the Japanese attack on a US naval base in Pearl Harbor.

The attack’s footage was filmed using two shots of the USS Arizona and a plethora of visual effects to model the complete sequence, insert smoke plumes, and create body simulations.

CGI Creating People

The audiences were amazed once again by the magic of CGI when a fully-rendered CG character appeared on the screen. It was just like something seeing impossible in front of your eyes. Motion capture, a strand of CGI, allowed the film industry to recordthe movements made by objects or people.

Gollum, from the movie Lord of the Rings, was the first-ever motion-captured character that appeared on the big screen in 2001. High tech computer graphics and traditional animation were combined with artificial intelligence software to replicate Andy Serki’s movements and assign them to Gollum’s.

Eight years later, in 2009, the world of CGI took a pioneering step when a cutting-edge CGI movie, Avatar, awed crowds with its unique and innovative style. Motion capture was combined with facial capture to ensure that each facial reaction of the actor can be replicated and rendered.

The Shortcomings of CGI Movie Effects on the Film Industry

Everything that provides some advantages has its shortcomings as well, and CGI is no exception. With box office bombs like Valerian and some other CGI movies released before it, questions are being asked as to whether the film industry is doing things excessively. The story of the movie Valerian revolved around the social interaction between human colonizers and indigenous aliens.

Although the movie is centered on a wonderful tale, it was marred by the excessive use of CGI effects. The effects used in the movie tried to convey the ideas that the filmmaker had in his mind. For a majority of people, the exaggeration of CGI effects is a complete affront on realism in movies. Many see it as a downfall of realism in the movies.

No quality acting and excessive usage of green screen action and effects can lead to failures. According to experts, when digital technologies are overused in the movie, film directors tend to become overly lazy. Hence, CGI has practically affected every major aspect of filmmaking.

Due to all the focus being on CGI, directors no longer have to apply more effort to give their best. While technology helps in saving money, movies are becoming quite unrealistic to watch. In most cases, the exaggeration of ‘fake characters’ just makes the movies look lifeless.

In essence, those movies turn out to be great in which CGI effects are not abused. For instance, we simply cannot imagine Spider-Man swinging from one skyscraper in New York to another and doing other stunts without CGI. Which means, it did a great job there. But we cannot say this for other movies that try to put fake scenes in the movies forcefully.

Best Examples of CGI

1. The Vision of an Android (Westworld)

When talking about the movies that revolutionized special effects, Westworld typically comes first on the list. Not because it has some of the best CGI effects, but because this movie was the first step towards the use of advanced technology in filmmaking. Although the raster graphics used in the movie to simulate the titular android’s vision is a 10-minute task for today’s animators using high-end software, it was a completely different story back then in 1973.

Two computer masterminds decided that it would be a lot easier and cheaper to use unprocessed footage to put effects on rather than animating the effects from scratch. They took the footage, separated each frame into tri-color, converted them into various blocks, and then used the power of the computer to combine them all together. In addition to that, they also added basic tone values for each block.

Don’t consider this movie as cringe-worthy, instead appreciate the efforts of the masterminds who tried to do something different when there were no high-tech software and tools available.

2. Futureworld

The Sequel of the movie mentioned above, Futureworld also broke new ground by going one step ahead and featuring a CGI-rendered 3D object. This movie is the first one to do so. Therefore, we considered it important to mention it in our list.

3. The Matrix

Let’s cut straight to the point – the gentleman who created this super amazing CGI film, Edwin Catmull, went on to become the co-founder and president of one of the world’s biggest computer animation company, period. Therefore, the CGI effects used in the movie are simply wonderful.

Some more top CGI films:

  • The Jungle Book (2016)
  • Wall-E (2008)
  • The Incredible (2004)
  • The Lego Movie (2014)
  • Despicable Me (2010)
  • How to Train Your Dragon (2010)
  • Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

Final Verdict – Future of CGI

There has been an intensified attention in CGI and virtual reality that has led us to some incredible new innovations for society as a whole. If you think that today’s CGI movies have fantastic visuals, then wait for the next wave.

Several CGI films have been made recently that are so much realistic. Since the technology is already evolving in this area, the feel of realistic CGI will open up a whole new cinematic world for us to explore.

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