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CGI: Are Movies Better or Worse?

By: Shae White

How many movies have you been to that had CGI? Did you think the Computer
Generated Imagery enhanced the movie or was the false imagery over the top? Now,
don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love the Marvel movies and all its fantastically false
perceptions of reality but sometimes I think a movie could have been better with less
CGI. According to Techopedia, Computer Generated Imagery “is the usage of computer
graphics for special effects in movies, printed and electronic media,” (Techopedia.com).
I’m not going to claim that CGI is ruining movies as it really is just a tool…but are film
makers using the technological tool too much? Are movies better or worse because of
the usage of Computer Generated Imagery?
“In movies from the ‘70s onward, Computer-Generate Imagery (or CGI) has
become a constant tool for visual effects artists. Today, the multibillion dollar CGI
industry has the ability to create characters as well as crowds, and entire sets as well as
the explosions that destroy them.” Sara Davis wrote in an intro to amc’s article “Movie
History – CGI’s evolution from Westworld to The Matrix to Sky Captain and the World of
Tomorrow” (amc.com). In a multitude of sites, Michael Crichton’s Westworld (1973) is
credited as the first major motion picture
with Computer Generated Imagery. And
interestingly enough, the movie would
then inspire the sequel, Futureworld
(1976), which gave audience the first 3D
imagery without requiring 3D glasses.
Back then CGI was just rising with the
advent of computers and thus usage of
CG was limited. In fact Crichton only used
CGI to show what it was like in the eyes
Figure 1 Michael Crichton's Westworld released in 1973. The
robot gunslinger’s vision was the first use of 2D CGI. of Yul Brynner’s gunslinging robot. The
robot’s vision being described “…as “a bizzare, computerized image of the world” with
“flashed-up calculated figures”…” (How Michael Crichton’s “Westworld” Pioneered
Modern Special Effects). However, despite the film’s success, the rest of the industry
was slow on the uptake.
As a matter of fact, Futureworld (1976), followed it’s predecessors footsteps in
using CGI to show a more technologically advanced society. This time the movie took
the step in the direction of 3D imaging, opening the door for several other movies. Seen
when the main characters, played by Peter Fonda and Blythe Danner, watch the making
of robots for the adult-themed parks. And in that form CGIs usage remained the same
through the ‘70s and into the ‘80s until 1982 with the releases of Star Trek II: The Wrath
of Khan and TRON. Star Trek II marked the first all computer generated visual effect. The
scene in which the “Genesis Effect” (birthing of a planet) was simulated, a one minute
sequence was the first of its kind. Along with using particle rendering and fractal-
generated landscaping, a fiery effect was achieved. TRON was the first movie to use CGI
at any notable length of time. The most notable being the lightcycle sequence in which
Steven Lisberger created
futuristic, computerized
motorcycles.
The films in the ‘80s
were less original but there
were plenty of films
enthusiastic to benefit from
the new special effects
techniques innovated in the
‘70s. However, with the
Figure 2 CGI lightcycle sequence from Steven Lisberger's TRON, released in 1982. The
declining ticket prices and
first movie in which CGI was used for any notable amount of time. the rise of production
costs, the stars weren’t aligned for the industry to properly capitalize on the usage of
newly minted CGI techniques. According to a 1980’s Film History, the “average ticket
price at the beginning of the decade was about $3 and over $4 by the end of the
decade, while the average film budget was over $18 million.”(filmsite.org). But
obviously the didn’t stop directors from using computer generated imagery. And it
certainly didn’t hold back on giving us some notable movies like The Empire Strikes Back
and Raiders of the Lost Ark.
While CGI was used in movies like Star Wars and TRON, special effects largely
consisted of stop motion and people in suits. It was really until Terminator 2 and Jurassic
Park the CGI was mixed with the live action of filming. Now, I think we can all admit that
the ‘90s decade brought about one of our biggest inventions for personal computing:
The Worldwide Web. On top of that
Bill Gates and Microsoft began to
revolutionize the usage of personal
computers. Between the rise of the
internet and the constant release of
newer and better operating
systems, a plethora of applications
made programming and computer
generated imaging easier and easier.
And continued on into the 2000s
where CGI is now as common as the
Figure 3 The first 3D, Computer Generated main character, the T-1000,
movies themselves. from Terminator 2: Judgment Day.
We could go on about the use of CGI all day but that’s really not going to answer
the question: Are movies better or worse with the usage of CGI? Seeing as the answer
will mostly be personal opinion based let’s get to analyzing actual movies. Now, having
looked at several lists I can honestly that a majority of critics mark Star Wars, The Lord
of the Rings trilogy, Jurassic Park, and The Matrix as some of the best films with CGI
special effects. And I can’t say I disagree with them. Granted, I haven’t seen Jurassic
Park in well over 5 years, I willingly admit that what I do remember of the movie was
fantastic and realistic given the time
period it was released in. The Matrix is
admittedly one of my favorite movies,
and obviously a lot of the things done in
that movie could not actually physically
be done. In my honest opinion the CGI
was well blended if a little choppy at
certain points and aided rather than
took away from the story telling…at least
Figure 4 Gollum, or also known as Sméagol, a creature completely in the first and third one. The sequel,
obsessed with the one ring from Peter Jackson's acclaimed Lord of Matrix Reloaded, has been talked about
the Rings trilogy.
as CGI mistake but we’ll talk about that
later. The flow of action in The Matrix often consisted of slow-motion bullet time. The
makers of the film used still cameras and suspended the actors on wires to capture the
action and then fine-tuned the scene using CGI. The Lord of the Rings series was one of
my favorites. The story took place in a completely fantastical place with creatures of
myth and legend. While Jackson used most of New Zealand’s terrain to capture certain
shots the many creatures that roamed Middle Earth didn’t exist and was left to CGI to
create them believably. In all of the above mentioned movies the CGI never once took
away from the story.
Now on the other hand there were some movies where the CGI was so bad it was
difficult to watch and the end, while maybe it was a good premise, the special effects
just make it so challenging to ever even think of watching again. For example,
Catwoman with Halle Berry. Now as far Batman villains go she’s not my favorite but I do
enjoy the banter and relationship those two have; granted the Catwoman movie was an
origin story but that’s beside the point. I loved the story and Halle Berry’s portrayal of
the sexy, part feline women was on point but the CGI and special effects made it hard to
sit through. Admittedly as a 10 year old watching the movie was pretty easy because
you could care less about special effects but as an adult it’s pretty bleh.
Another example would be The Mummy Returns. I’m no Brendan Fraser fan but I
did enjoy the first one and while this one was enjoyable those final scenes Rick
O’Connell, Brendan Fraser character, fighting The Scorpion King and the death of the
main antagonist Imhotep were just down right painful to watch. Seeing as I wasn’t really
watching that movie at 7 and didn’t see it until I was older the horrible CGI was just
painful to stomach. I mean let’s be honest, the army of Anubis looks like toys running
across sand and The Scorpion King was probably the worst of it. It was Dwayne
Johnson’s face computer generated onto the scorpion version of a centaur that looked
plastic and like a play prop in a movie.
In the end all I can really say is that CGI is best used as a tool to aid the
storyteller. Special effects are great when blended well with the live action shots and
actors but can take away from the enjoyment of the film if poorly melded. Sometimes
studios take it too far and the use of CGI and special effect is over the top and undercuts
the real action of the movie like in The Green Lantern. Ryan Reynolds character’s suit
was completely CG and took away from his commanding aura as a superhero. But other
times the CG really takes hold and moves the story forward like Inception. To conclude I
believe that used the right way movies can be better with CGI.
________________________________________________________________________
Works Cited
 Acuna, Kirsten. "How 4 Minutes Of CGI Dinosaurs In 'Jurassic Park' Took A Year To
Make." Business Insider. N.p., 11 July 2014. Web. 12 June 2016.
 Davis, Sara. "Movie History - CGI's Evolution From Westworld to The Matrix to Sky
Captain and the World of Tomorrow." Amc. N.p., 1999. Web. 12 June 2016.
 Dirks, Tim. "Teen-Oriented Angst and the Dawn of the Sequel, with More
Blockbusters." Amc Filmsite. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 June 2016.
 Dirks, Tim. "The Era of Mainstream Films and "Indie" Cinema, the Rise of Computer-
Generated Imagery, the Decade of Re-makes, Re-releases, and More Sequels." Amc
Filmsite. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 June 2016.
 Gallucci, Michael. "'Futureworld' - A Look Back At The First Movie With 3D CGI."
Diffuser. N.p., 7 Feb. 2014. Web. 12 June 2016.
 Guerrasio, Jason. "RANKED: The 23 Best CGI-enhanced Movies Ever." Business Insider.
N.p., 15 Apr. 2016. Web. 12 June 2016.
 Price, David A. "How Michael Crichton's "Westworld" Pioneered Modern Special
Effects." The New Yorker. N.p., 14 May 2013. Web. 12 June 2016.
 "Live Action Films with the Best CGI Effects." Ranker. Ed. Randolph. N.p., n.d. Web. 12
June 2016.
 Rothkopf, Joshua, and David Ehrlich. "The 10 Worst Special Effects in Movie History."
Timeout. N.p., 09 June 2015. Web. 12 June 2016.
 Skells, Colleen. "The 15 Worst Special Effects in Blockbuster Movies." Screenrant. N.p.,
03 Aug. 2015. Web. 12 June 2016.
 "Computer Generated Imagery (CGI)." Techopedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 June 2016.
 Utichi, Joe. "20 CGI Classics - From T2 to Batman Begins to Wall-E." Rotten Tomatoes.
N.p., 11 Aug. 2008. Web. 12 June 2016.