Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Case Against CGI

(Note: This doesn't apply to computer animation movies such as Pixar.)

CGI or, Computer Generated Images, is quite popular in movies right now. And why wouldn't it be? CGI lets filmmakers create anything they can imagine! Back in the day, that kind of power didn't exist. You were restrained by the limits of technology. You wanted a dinosaur in your movie? Ok, but it was going to look terrible.

So is there any downside to CGI? At first it seems like there isn't. Sure, perhaps the cost is an issue, but for large budget movies it seems like it's a great option! But there's a very good case against CGI.

You see, the first issue with it is the fact that it's not real! I mean, sure, CGI has gotten to the point where we're almost out of the uncanny valley (the point where things look realistic enough that they look creepy), but even if we do get out of the uncanny valley, there's still issues with it.

This was the big problem with Star Wars I, II, and III. Take a look at these two pictures.

Now you see, the bottom one from A New Hope feels real. Luke, Leia, and Han feel like real people, in a real room, in real danger.

The top one, when you see it, you probably think "OOH! COOL! That's some dang good effects!". Yeah, you're right. The Star Wars prequels did have amazing effects. (The originals had good effects for the time too of course.) The problem is it brings you right out of that scene. And that happens over and over again in the prequels. You know it's not real because it isn't real. In the original movies, things weren't CGI, they were real. They were on sets. Real, physical sets.

But in the prequels, every scene had CGI in it. A lot of CGI in it. And sure, it looked cool the first time you saw it, but the original movies are still good today.

The second point, looking again towards the prequel movies as an example, is the fact that it makes acting really dang hard. Let's face it, a lot of the acting in the prequels was really terrible. Especially in Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones. But I really don't think it was the actors fault. It has to be really hard to act when... Well... There's nothing there. Literally, nothing there. I mean seriously, CGI means that what the actor is looking at is essentially a blue stick.

Thirdly, it's over relied on. HELLO AVATAR! Seriously, I enjoyed that movie, and it was pretty. The technology behind it was great, but the story was not what you call gripping and compelling. Like I said before, technology is a tool. Think about, say, Terminator. Terminator is a much, MUCH, better movie than Avatar. Terminator was made before CGI existed in the form it does now. Terminator had a great, compelling plot, and really gripped you and pulled you into the story. It was awesome. You were certainly never thinking about the technology behind the movie while watching it. So what happened to that James Cameron? Did you forget how to write a good story, so you just made Dances With Smurfs?

Now I'm not saying CGI should be done away with. What I'm saying is filmmakers need to use it, not abuse it. I get it, I really do. It's a shiny new toy. Who doesn't want to play with a shiny new toy? The problem is CGI is a tool. Filmmakers are trying to pass of CGI as a painting. CGI is a paintbrush.

Oh, and of course, I gotta mention things like this:

That's bad for entirely different reasons of course.


  1. Back in my day, CGI didn't stand for Computer Generated Images. It stood for Cabbage Game Intelligence.

  2. Excellent post, Ben, and I'm not just saying that because I happen to agree with you. :-)

  3. Avatar's story stunk and yes the whole movie was CGI. And yes the clip above stunk even more I had to cover my nose.