are CGI effects becoming more 'obvious' the more we see them?

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by andrew markworthy, Apr 21, 2002.

  1. andrew markworthy

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    I'm not sure how to phrase this, but it definitely isn't an invitation to cite 'special effects which really suck'!

    Okay, the background: I was watching Apollo 13 on TV tonight and it occurred to me that some of the CGI shots which previously had utterly convinced me now very obviously look fake. Indeed, over the past few months, I've found it easier and easier to spot CGI work. The same thing has happened to me with other special effects techniques in the past. E.g. when blue screen appeared, I at first believed it, but pretty soon I could see the joins. Now with CGI techniques I often think the superimposed items or people look slightly artificial - generally the surface textures of the object or person don't look 'quite right'. [Incidentally, this happens even when nobody has told me it's a CGI effect I'm watching, so it's not that I'm being primed to look].

    Anyone else finding this, or am I a lone nut?
     
  2. Dan Brecher

    Dan Brecher Producer

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    Tis very true. I think a lot of it is down to how much we know about visual effects techniques these days too. With Laserdisc and DVD, we've been allowed access to the depths of knowledge about how visual effects are created. This can, in a way, be a rather bad thing, so much as that we can be highly critical of an effect that (whilst perhaps not looking very seamless and natural) is an incredible sample of imagination and talent from the computer artist to begin with.

    I feel this way about that glorious shot of thousands of clone troopers standing in order as the transport ships take off behind them in the latest EpisodeII trailer. It's the kind of shot we know now to be only possible with computer graphics, so we instantly know, but it is an incredible shot nevertheless.

    A.I is one film to have the most seamless CG work I have seen in a film perhaps ever, yet it's still obviously CG to me since I know there is no other way to pull of such effects. That said, when it comes to any Teddy shot in the film I am clueless. It's incredible work.

    Dan
     
  3. Dennis Pagoulatos

    Dennis Pagoulatos Supporting Actor

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    I think it's a combination of things...

    We all know more about special effects techniques...especially CGI...since it is so much a part of the culture.

    But I think a lot of movies are being put out there with some really bad CGI effects!

    I could name 15-20 movies that horrified me with their pathetic excuse for CGI! But, the same can be said for hundreds of movies that used bluescreens, models, & puppets!

    FOTR, for example, had some great CGI...but also some horribly bad CGI (most notably all of the long shots of the Fellowship running from the goblin army down in the caves of Moria sequence...looked like a cut scene from Everquest! blech!)

    The bar is being raised higher on every film, and unfortunately, quantity usually triumphs over quality-

    Mummy Returns anyone?? (some of the worst "oh crap, we ran out of time/money" effects in the history of film took place in the last 15 minutes of that one!)

    I don't think all CGI looks fake, as some people do, I think it's another tool that, when used well (as in A.I., great example, Dan!) can do far more to transport a viewer into another world than any other techniques ever could.

    That being said, i highly recommend going to the Star Wars website and sign-up and watch some of the "making of" video clips for AOTC...there are a couple of special effects themed pieces that are amazing! You will be surprised at how much model work is being done! Way more than in the original trilogy...it is seriously unbelievable! Even George Lucas acknowledges that you still can't do a lot of things in the computer...so they proceed to show you how BUSY that model shop at ILM has been these last 5 years!

    -Dennis
     
  4. Wayne Bundrick

    Wayne Bundrick Cinematographer

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    But how many CG effects have you seen without realizing that they are even effects rather than real camerawork?
     
  5. Terrell

    Terrell Producer

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    That's the key Wayne. I can't tell you how many people I've heard or seen misidentify somethingas CGI, when it fact it wasn't. That tells you to think. That the person can't see a difference, and that the CGI is very good.

    There are bad and good CGI. CGI is not so much the problem. Here's why I think people notice it more. Because of CGI, filmmakers and studios have tackled things that have never been done before. Not to mention, filmmaker's imagination runs wild, including things in films that requires a lot of CGI. So, that's the reason there are more CGI-heavy films than before. Not to mention the CGI blockbusters usually make a lot of money. Plus I think we've been unconsciously trained to look at something and say that can't be done with anything except CGI.

    Some people just don't like CGI, regardless of whether it's good or bad. But I think CGI has allowed us to see films that otherwise wouldn't be possible. It also allows the filmmaker's imagination to go wild, knowing he can create his vision. Story is always most important. But in this day and age, CGI is an important and useful tool.
     
  6. Adam Lenhardt

    Adam Lenhardt Executive Producer

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    Andrew: That's funny I was just noticing the same thing last night. I was watching my Independence Day 5-Star DVD. And I could really tell that alot was CG. The compositing work mainly. Perviously, EVERYTHING in that film looked perfect to me.

    Same thing with Jurassic Park. I thought the dinos were perfect the first time I saw it. Now I can tell that they're obviously CG (the JP3 dinos are much better)

    I guess it's sort of how people believed the Harryhausen effects once upon a time too. Now we find them humorous.
     
  7. Luc D

    Luc D Second Unit

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    Ultimately, the job of a special effect is to hide the fact that it is a special effect. It seems now that big budget films that require F/X are trying to make things "overly-dynamic". Unfortunately, the technology isn't there yet and so it never fully looks photo-realistic, and for me, it's distracting. I do think a lot of filmmakers rely on CGI far too much. If not using it means not having that long shot of the "final battle" then it wouldn't bother me.

    There are only a handful of examples off the top of my head where I think CGI really worked: AI, Forrest Gump (if only the last two were better films) and T2: Judgement Day.

    Some of the worst offenders would have to be The Mummy Returns (caught this on cable the other night, the horror... the horror), Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (especially if watched at home and not on the big screen), and maybe because it's fresh in my mind, Blade II.
     
  8. Terrell

    Terrell Producer

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    I still can't tell the dinos are CGI in the JP movies. They look fantastic. This is an instance where CGI made that films possible. Without it, it might have come off looking stupid, from using stop motion.
     
  9. Adam Lenhardt

    Adam Lenhardt Executive Producer

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    You really can't? The lighting seems slightly off on the CG dinos for one, for another, they just don't quite mesh with the rest. The animatronics look great though. And all the CG dinos (save perhaps those pheradactyls) in the third one look great. Haven't seen TLW in a while, so can't comment on those.
     
  10. Steve Christou

    Steve Christou Long Member

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    The CGI monster movie par excellance is Paul Verhoeven's 'Starship Troopers', absolutely flawless cgi effects, superior to any Jurassic Park movie, and should easily have won the 1997 FX oscar, NOT Titanic, where not all the cgi effects were entirely convincing, the Titanic on the ocean in broad daylight with added cgi crew and superimposed real people is a milestone in visual effects cinema, but it still does look ever so slightly too clean, sharp and that nagging feeling in the back of your mind that what you're looking at is just not real.
     
  11. Matt Pelham

    Matt Pelham Screenwriter

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    I was amazed the other day watching Spawn. I remember it looking amazing in the theaters, but now it looks pathetic, especially the "hell" sequeces. I could barely believe it.
     
  12. Dan Brecher

    Dan Brecher Producer

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    The T-Rex scene in Jurassic Park still remains impressive to my eyes. Of course, it's pissing down with rain in this scene which helps, but the transition from CG to the animatronic on set was superb.

    I agree that most of the bugs in Starship Troopers were incredible, Steve. An excellent job.

    I still think Jar Jar Binks is a hell of an achievement in computer effects too. When they first meet him in the forrest in Phantom Menace, you can see the effects of the moist atmopshere in his skin. I never find myself sitting there seeing an effect, I see Jar Jar. Same can be said for Watto, he's a joy to behold!

    Dan
     
  13. Bruce Hedtke

    Bruce Hedtke Cinematographer

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    I think Titanic got way too fussy with the CGI of people on the boat and falling off the boat. They wanted it to look too perfect. I agree that it looked way to clean and it came off as a bit unnatural, whereas the Starship Troopers CGI was impeccable. The scene where Johnny leads his troops down into the base and they are shooting the hell out of the bugs and it seems like they are making great progress and the next shot showing all the bugs storming out of the caves at 10 times the previous number is just awesome. It really made you feel overwhelmed.

    As for the original question, I think CGI has become such a staple in movie-making that there is alot more directors employing it. When it was still a new concept, it was daunting (as well as expensive) and because of that, studios wouldn't finance it so that just anyone could use it. The studios gave the A-list directors the options and since they were more talented and had a better level of control, they didn't go overboard and were able to make the effects shots blend far more fluidly with the rest of the film. Now, CGI is so commonplace that literally any director has it at their disposal-hence, the "bad" or "untalented" directors get to use it willy-nilly and the results often come off as slip-shod and distracting.

    Bruce
     
  14. Geoffrey_A

    Geoffrey_A Second Unit

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    As time progresses and we're exposed to more and more of it, our eyes become more sophisticated, able to detect the flaws that were previously invisible. Take the lost world for example (The original, not the Jurrasic Park sequel). People actually believed those stop motion dinosaurs were real. I can remember first seeing JP and being awestruck by the dinosaurs, now I look at them, and while they still look good, when they're cg I'm aware of it. The problem we're running into now is that our eye has become too sophisticated for the current state of effects. The technology, while movie very fast, hasn't leapt ahead of our visual sophistication again yet, and as such most of us can see cg when it is used.

    I still maintain that cg is best used in short bursts under special conditions of light and action. High light situations do not lend themselves well to cg, low light, evening shots do. Close ups do not lend themselves well to CG, long shots do. Sustained shots do not lend themselves well to cg, shorter shots do.

    I am also of the opinion that with the advent of digital technology, there is now very little excuse not to use miniatures and models whenever possible now instead of cg. The days of matte lines are behind us now, as are the days of optical printers. It is now possible to make intricately layered effects in the computer which can then be printed to film in a single pass. As such, computer effects should only be used, imho, for shots that are physically impossible to achieve with models or any other method.

    It's the misuse of cg that has lead to its current stagnation. Used judiciously, it would probably be a lote more effective today than it currently is. Still, the technology is improving on an almost daily basis, and I have no doubt that cg has some incredible visuals in store for us as the years progress. I look forward to the day when the visuals once again exceed my visual sophistication and I am left in awe at the imagery presented to me.
     
  15. Terrell

    Terrell Producer

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  16. Geoffrey_A

    Geoffrey_A Second Unit

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    The cgi in TPM was of a higher design quality than the Mummy Returns certainly, but the execution was largely lack lustre. I won't say anything bad about Watto, one of the most successful cg actors it's ever been my pleasure to witness, but the gungun battle scenes, the awful E.T. like droids walking around in the bg on the droid command ship, the nearly as horrendous battledroids, all of these were poorly executed. As an animator myself, I was shocked at the lack of care that went into some of these scenes. I was especially disgusted with Jar Jar and the complete lack of weight when he walked. He appeared to float over the ground in the same manner that poor saturday morning cgi shows do. there was no sense of contact between his feet and the ground, no feeling of his legs taking the weight of his body with each stride. It's one of the major failings of cgi today, weightless characters. Lighting is also a major concern. The broad daylight of the gungun battle sequence served to make everything look plastic and fake. he gungun crowd sequences were awful, with every gungun being identical, moving poorly, and interacting even worse. The cycles were blazingly apparent and unnatural. The worst moment of cgi in the film, as far as I'm concerned, is otoh gunga, the gungan city. There isn't a single moment in the enitre sequence when I'm not completely aware that these people were composited into the background. even the timing is off, as obi-wan reacts to jar jar being shocked moments after it occured, an easy flub to fix that wasn't. No, the amount of cg work and the designs, for the most part, are very impressive, but the execution was very poor, and it came as no shock to me when TPM was denied the Oscar for SFX.
    As for starship troopers, I thought for the most part the miniatures were used amazingly well, and is a definite example to look to for how much better models look with computer composiing than straight cg models do. There were, admitedly, several model shots that were handled poorly, but for the most part I was very impressed. The CG on the otherhand. I liked the bug design, kinda. They looked real, which was good, but they all had the same markings, making the crowd scenes a mess. They're effective only by sheer number, but the scene would have been helped by more dramatic differences in the markings on the bugs. Having read the book many many times before seeing the film, I was very hostile towards the film at first, though now I enjoy it a great deal, the best comedy of 97 in my opinion [​IMG]
     
  17. Terrell

    Terrell Producer

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    Well, for one thing that's how Jar Jar was supposed to walk. He was light-footed. They even discussed this in the making of documentary on the DVD. The things that were meant to have weight looked like they did. Remember the animals galloping through the forest. All of those had weight to them. As for the battle droids, I don't see the horrendous CGI you mention Geoffrey. The droids looked fantastic to me, and so did the Gungan battle scene. I don't see how they were poorly executed. What do you mean by poorly executed? And the podrace sequence was flat out amazing. There were a couple of instances of compositing in the lightsaber duel with Maul that seemed slightly out of whack.

    As for A.I., I thought the effects were brilliant as well. I think we have to make a distinction between CGI of things that exist and things that don't exist. For things that don't exist, we automatically say that has to be CGI because it couldn't be anything else. We don't have a barometer of how these non-realistic things should look. But for example in Pearl Harbor, there was CGI of things that do exist. And if done well, we have an idea how they should look. It's harder to pick those out.

    If we nitpick hard enough, you can find flaws in anything. I don't go into a film trying to nitpick the details. You can do that with any film. I only nitpick after I've seen a film a number of times.
     
  18. Geoffrey_A

    Geoffrey_A Second Unit

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    By poorly executed, I mean they didn't look real. It sin't impossible for CG to look real, it just has to be done properly. The whoel battle sequence had a very glossy, plastic look to it. As for Gunguns walking the way they do, I have to disagree. Jar Jar did not walk lightly, he walked weightlessly. If you watch, the are scenes where his feet clearly slide through the ground. It ends up looking like his hips are suspendedby a cable and he glides, with his legs going through the motions but not actually doing anything.

    It's a common problem in cg, often times caused by inexperienced animators who haven't been trained classically. other times it's a function of time and budget, such as on shows like reboot, or war planets (star raiders here in Canada) or beast wars (beasties in Canada), although, inexperienced animators contribute to those productions as well. It's also common with motion capture, a technology not nearly as proven as the industry would have you believe, and in fact many times motion capture data has to manipulated by an animator for hours before it begins to look even remotely right, othertimes the data must be scrapped all together, and the animator ends up just watching the footage instead.

    You'll have to clue me in to where exactly Jar Jar's lightfootedness is discussed, I don't recall hearing it when I watched the dvd. Either way, if they were going for lightfootedness, they failed. This phenomena is not only relegated to the gunguns though, it's clearly prevelant with the battledroids as well. There walk is very flat footed, and as such should display the weight a lot more openly as there's no spring in the foot to absorb the shock. The droids, being metal and circuitry, should clearly weigh a substantial amount, at least enough to have the weight be visiable in the walk. However, they end up looking like a strong wind might blow them away. there's just not enough dip in the hips or squash in the legs (squash being a term we use in animation to denote the bending of the knees in walks).

    Watto escaped this by being a flying character, but even so, you could see the weight in his wings, the pull of his body weight at the base of his wings. This of course, doesn't mean the entire film is like that. There are scenes when Jar Jar walks properly, the animals in the forrest were done reasonably well, although you never get a clear view of foot contact. It's the inconsistency in the quality and care taken with this animation that annoys me.

    It does in the end come down to personal taste and visual sophistication. Being an animator, I'm cursed with the ability to break things down frame by frame just looking at them, a skill all animators develop by repeatedly going through there work frame by frame, running it back slow, finding the problems. It's a true annoyance because it makes it hardr for us to truly enjoy some of these effects, as we see the problems straight away. I can't watch the gungun battle scene without my eye instantly picking out all the repeating cycles of movement in the background, or noticing the way their feet move over the ground, or how the light plays wrong on their bodies. Perhaps for the average film goer these don't appear as prominently, if at all, but alas it is something I have to contend with. Not everyone is going to see it or believe it, but for me it's there and it's impossible to ignore.

    I suspect that as the technology improves and the animators learn from their previous mistakes that it will get better. I truly hope so at any rate, there's nothing more painfull for an animator to watch than a scene where the animation looks like it could have been improved signifigantly with a few minutes of extra effort.

    I agree that the effects in A.I. were very well done, and I stick to the reason behind that being that the majority of them were actual physical effects and not cg creations. AI knew how to use cg, and that's why it pulled it off so successfully.
     
  19. Terrell

    Terrell Producer

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    Well, A.I. and Star Wars are two very different creatures. So it's damn near impossible to create them. As for Jar Jar's weight, I didn't pay a whole lot of attention to how his foot contacts with the ground. But as a CGI creation, he was very good. So was Watto. I think you'll see a couple of new ones in AOTC that will be even better.
     
  20. Adam Lenhardt

    Adam Lenhardt Executive Producer

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    Geoffrey: I think you hit a big thing... it's an immature industry, little over a decade old. You're only in the last couple of years getting college programs on computer animation. The technology may be close to limitless, but it will be perhaps another decade or two before it's full potential is realized. Your work is a cut above others' work because of (atleast in part) your experience. In another decade or so, your work will be even better.
     

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