CGI: Clichéd Graphics Irritate

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Monday, March 28th, 2016
Nicholas Kim

Nicholas Kim

With the advent of modern movie technology, one would expect the pace of innovations within the movie industry to increase at an exponential rate. Unfortunately, however, the innovations of the past are quickly becoming the clichés of the present.

With computer-generated-images (CGI), the figures that appear onscreen are presented as real, and accepted by human characters. They became the industry standard in Jurassic Park, when artificial dinosaurs roamed across a seemingly real landscape, wowing the characters that “saw” them. The spectacle has become so ubiquitous that any film about aliens or other similar characters must use computer graphics to depict such creatures. 

This obsession over CGI was also seen with the Lord of the Rings villain, Gollum, whose catchphrase “My precious!” became an instantly-recognizable reference. To make the films, director Peter Jackson employed Andy Serkis, an actor, to wear motion-capture equipment so that his movements would be recorded. Even before Lord of the Rings, with the return of the Star Wars franchise, director George Lucas also used CGI to create the universally-hated Jar-Jar Binks. 

Speaking of motion-capture technology, there has recently been a surge in its use, in part thanks to Jackson. The 2011 animated film Mars Needs Moms, for instance, used facial recognition technology to replicate actors’ expressions. Unlike in more traditional cartoons, this contributed to a film that seemed incredibly awkward, even creepy. Indeed, according to the Huffington Post, many critics suggested that the film suffered because of the “uncanny valley,” a rule which states that trying to replicate human features will lead to a strange effect upon viewers. 

In this way, movies have used the clichéd form of CGI to create “characters” that directors present as real, which, along with other elements, asks the viewer to embrace the artificial for the actual. 

When the Star Wars series was originally created, it was lauded for the use of figurines, as seen in the original trilogy’s use of miniatures to represent star destroyers, TI-fighters, and other elements of the Star Wars universe. However, in more current manifestations, the use of CGI has actually accentuated the artifice, rather than downplay it, making the entire project a lesson on how not to tell a story. 

Additionally, a common cliché seen in modern movies is the use of effects that obscure the action, pretending to show reality when showing only fiction. In last year’s film Into the Storm, the use of “realistic” and unsteady camera work made the film try to appear amateurish, although it was obviously the work of professionals. 

The result was a half-hearted attempt to engage viewers with a sentimental story, but one that failed since the action -- in this case a tornado that ravaged a small town -- was hidden from view thanks to the “hand-held” technique. 

In short, the act of making up for story with technology is the main problem with much of the new know-how. In trying to replace reality with graphics, filmmakers get so far away from us that they are no longer relevant to our lives. They lack the tactile truth of earlier films, and even when their spectacle does amaze, the substitution of spectacle for story leaves us feeling empty. 

Written by Nicholas Kim, Seoul International School (SIS)

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