This Video Just Changed My Mind About CG Visual Effects In Movies

I've always been one to complain about poorly rendered computer graphics in modern movies. I thought I could easily pick out what was real and what was rendered on a computer. This video makes a compelling argument that there is such a thing is "good" CGI. 

My favorite movie of all time is Jurassic Park. It was the first movie to use CGI on such an incredible scale and it pulled it off. Critics still argue that Jurassic park's CGI is actually better than current CGI. This really isn't totally true, but it's hard to argue that the creation of those scenes with such a small team, under-powered computers, and unreliable software that wasn't really meant to be used in this way, is one of the most incredible feats in movie history. 

Check out what it took to create this monumental movie below.

​Jurassic park certainly isn't perfect but the CGI of the T-Rex at night is still one of the most stunning pieces of cinnema I've ever seen. That's why it's so frustrating to see current movies with multimillion dollar budgets with cartoonish looking CGI. Last weekend I watched Mission Impossible 5 and many of the scenes looked so bad, I couldn't even focus on the plot. 

I've found myself saying that I hate most CGI because It always stands out to me. It pulls me out of the movie faster than bad acting. Well this fantastic video at the top of this article by Freddie Wong set me straight. I don't hate CGI, I hate bad CGI. I hate CGI that was created because "it could be done" rather than because it "needed to be done." So many of the scenes shown in this video look flawless and I would have never guess that any CGI was used at all. Obviously a CGI dinosaur is impressive (and obviously computer generated) but a perfectly rendered helicopter shouldn't stand out to you at all. And that is the sad fact about CGI; if it's good, you don't even notice it. 

If you're interested, check out this hilarious video of some of the worst CGI in recent years. 

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Anonymous's picture

Nobody cares about CG quality... I mean movies are about stories, you already know before watching them that they are completely fake, realized in studio with actors, and that when characters die in the story, we don't actually kill actors. You know that but you are still caught by the story during the action. The same with cartoons and anime whereas they are less realistic than movies.

So picking parts of the movies to point the poor graphics is the same as picking photographs of Cartier-Bresson to point the poor optical quality and the grain of the film. Yes it's crappy optical quality, but nobody cares because there is a story in it, and the global artwork expresses something larger than just pixels put together on a screen.

Lee Morris's picture

I can't agree that "nobody cares" because we know that movies aren't real. I like when a movie is done in a realistic way that feels plausible. The best scifi movies are the ones that feel plausible.

mark millar's picture

Agreed. Plausible in an emotional / story way as well as a visual, F/X way.

Joe Watson's picture

Couldn't disagree more. Of course people care about CG quality! I can't even watch the Star Wars prequels they're so bad.
Sure, Jaws is my favourite film of all time, I can forgive Bruce the shark because I was a kid when I first saw it and those memories never leave you. That said, the great white scene in Kon Tiki looks amazing, I'd kinda love to see a redux version of Jaws with a realistic shark (or do I?).
Freddy below puts it well.

Jennifer Kelley's picture

I agree completely. The CG in the Star Wars prequels are every bit as awful as the acting. But, I pulled out my VHS of the originals and the effects are pretty bad too. I can see obvious cutouts around some of the flying spacecraft. They got rid of that when they released the digitally remastered set so I think people have forgotten or maybe never even saw the original versions.

Kim Smith's picture

Very true. Case in point - George Lucas's most recent Star Wars films. Over-use/poor use of CGI was just part of the problem - poor character development was the biggest disappointment. One love/hate exchange between Hans & Leia contained more charm than all the players put together in I, II, III. They had no soul/personality/likability

Freddy Oropeza's picture

I'm CG professional, been doing for a while, and an avid photography enthusiast, I agree on the story point. As far as good and bad cg, people only form opinions around bad cg because that's what can be noticed as CG, good CG, which you probably see on daily basis and probably don't even realize it goes unnoticed, and there lies the art of good CG. Same goes for Photographers and compositors, there's good ones and there's bad ones, budgets and art direction determines which get put to work.

Alessandro Bondielli's picture

You said it perfectly when you used "it could be done" vs "it needed to be done". That's exactly the problem, but also the video, even if is very good, seem to disregard a little bit this aspect.
Pick for instance The Hobbit movies. It can't be said that is bad CG. I mean there are some breathtaking visuals in these movies. The real problem is that CGI is incredibly overused. Apart from the movie itself, that as a Lord of The Rings movies and Tolkien book fan I found lacking of pretty much everything that made great the old trilogy or the book, you can notice that CGI is even in places where it shouldn't, like a couple of wide shots of people arriving on horse (I remember one in the second, when they arrive at the forest, and one where there is Gandalf and Radagast on the sledge stopping in a forest in the third). And those ar not bad as themselves. But they made me immediately think of "why the fuck shouldn't you film this shit on whatever the hell green screen you want, it can't be that hard. But film it for god sake". The final battle also, when the dwarves, as good as they are made, and they are good, if you pick a frame you can't clearly say it's CGI, can't stand a chanche vs filming the real actors and then use a different background, fill the scene with enemies or everything you want.
So maybe a big part is played by the laziness of producer and the overconfidence that you can make everything on a computer and it will look real.

Jennifer Kelley's picture

My exhusband is a CG professional and used to make the 3D models and textures for objects used for these purposes and many of my friends are animators for major studios. There is an extraordinary amount of good CGI in movies, going a few decades back. For example, my mother was absolutely convinced that Gary Sinese had no lower legs after we saw Forest Gump. But there is also so much bad CGI and it is at times distracting from a movie. I think a lot of really bad CGI happens when the studios outsource. Their standards for hiring in house team is very high, but a lot of times something simple will get outsourced or the studio will want to throw something in without enough time to prep. For example, someone who worked on the Fast and Furious movies may spend an considerable amount of time at a race track or drag strip or hanging out with car clubs. But for something like the deer scene in The Ring 2, they don't really send their team to do prep work, they may outsource the 3D models and textures, they may even outsource that scene altogether. And a lot of things may get thrown in after they spent their budget. There are a lot of reasons. But I do think if you are spending $100M on a movie, I shouldn't be able to see the dark outline from a green room.

Anonymous's picture

Pro CGI for environments, matte paintings, extras, etc. (George Miller style...)
Pro Practical Effects for creatures, humans, etc. (Within reason, or a blend of both.)

I think this was the case for most of the movies Freddie said were done well.
Side note: Obviously Gravity differed from this formula, but none of us have actual Space experience, so we basically believe the way movies portray it. (and the CG in Gravity is so well done, it is easy to believe!)

Connor Katz's picture

CGI is not just for movies. Lets face it, photography – leaving film aside – is just capturing pixels. In the end it doesn't matter how those pixels are created. All those movie scenes you see with the principle photography on a green screen and then CGI backgrounds, same thing applies to a single frame, i.e. photography.

CGI is a bit of a beast to learn – it makes Photoshop seem like a child's toy – but thats primarily because the concepts are new. However, once you get your mind wrapped around the principles and techniques its not difficult, it can be time consuming for sure, but the images you can create are limitless.