CGI: An important tool for filmmakers

Dakota Mize

Ghost in the Shell (2017)
Dakota Mize
Dakota Mize

Computer-generated imagery is an essential tool in the production of movies, but sometimes it can look obviously artificial. The best kind of CGI is the CGI that the viewer doesn’t even know is there.

An example of the extensive use of CGI would be in most establishing or wide shots of a cities or towns. There may be cars driving or people walking in the background, but most of the time they are digitally placed by artists. Many of the buildings or other pieces of the cities can be modified to look however the artists want them to. An example of a heavily edited city would be in Ghost in the Shell. In this case CGI works because the CGI, while looking crazy and over-the-top, fits the overall style of the movie.

CGI also works for vehicles used in car crash scenes since it is safer to digitally crash the vehicles rather than actually crashing them with stunt drivers. However, using real cars can provide the movie with more realism. Mad Max: Fury Road blended practical effects with CGI to produce a gorgeous realistic vehicle chase sequence.  

The advancement of CGI has granted the ability to create movies that were nearly impossible to create before. A few examples would be Gravity, Pacific Rim or Avatar. Gravity producers used CGI to put Sandra Bullock into space, while Avatar producers used it to create a new world full of life. One of the reasons these movies succeed in the use of CGI is the size of their budget. Studios can hire the best graphic designers in the world if they have a large budget.

Avatar’s budget of $237 million and a production period of four years helped the movie to succeed where others might have failed because of a lack of funds or time. Studios that have a low budget and rush the development CGI are creating a formula to become the next Sharknado.

CGI is mostly used for objects but people can be made or enhanced from it as well. For example, Tarkin in Rogue One was played by Guy Henry, who looked similar to the original Tarkin, Peter Cushing. The studio used Henry as a reference or starting point, and then digitally overlaid Cushing’s face onto the actor’s. The use of CGI to create Tarkin has received some backlash from fans. I thought he looked a little glossy, but was well-done overall.

The largest problem with modern blockbuster films, besides the lack of plot originality, is bad CGI. Bad CGI is easily noticeable and can take viewers out of the experience. CGI is a necessary and important tool for producers, but viewers should hold studios more accountable for bad CGI because there’s no excuse for it in contemporary Hollywood blockbusters, especially after what some of the previously mentioned movies have achieved.