CGI vs Practical Effects

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mfunk9786
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CGI vs Practical Effects

#1 Post by mfunk9786 » Tue May 19, 2015 7:08 pm

Can I just say something aloud? It's 2015. There are so many people here bemoaning the useful and restrained use of CGI effects in this film as if this hasn't been something that has been practiced and improved upon for a quarter of a century at this point in action cinema history. I would go as far as to say it is unfair to go into a mega-budget film like this in 2015 and think that it's going to be a Michel Gondry joint, utilizing myriad budget-conscious camera tricks, or stop motion - CGI is used here for stylistic purposes and to create scale where there is not at times, but this is a film that embraces having its stunt performers actually getting up onto the ropes and bungee cords and vehicles and creating as much in-camera razzle dazzle as possible before utilizing CGI's flexibility to fill in gaps rather than leaning on it to build the film from the ground up. If y'all wanted an action film without CGI, aren't there plenty of those from three and four decades ago?

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Re: Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller, 2015)

#2 Post by Cold Bishop » Tue May 19, 2015 8:23 pm

I think the problem facing this film is the same that befalls many films with sequences that are purportedly practical but end up looking computer generated, namely that filmmakers can't help but touch them up with CGI. Which is fine. It's how CGI should be used, to paper up cracks and hide strings and build on the toolbox of practical work. With that said, it seems that once filmmakers are in the booth, they can't help but tinker too much and go too big and push things into far too slick dimensions.

It's similar to the creeping inescapability of photoshop in photography. And similarly, as our eyes have grown accustomed to CGI in action scenes, I think our minds, when faced with confusion, tend to interpret any state of overt polish as being digital.

To me the most distracting moment weren't even the action sequences but the lavish set, particularly that big room with all the wheels and gears, which struck me as a green-screen tableau. Perhaps a heavier use of mattes and miniature, bolstered by CG, would have made a more convincing set. Perhaps, however, Miller did just that, in which case see above.
Last edited by Cold Bishop on Wed May 20, 2015 8:50 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller, 2015)

#3 Post by mfunk9786 » Tue May 19, 2015 9:27 pm

Knowing that CGI isn't going anywhere though, that it is very much a part of the toolbox - how does one ever enjoy one of these sorts of movies for the rest of time? Not to be too hyperbolic, but it seems strange to shut yourself off from an entire era of films simply because of the materials that comprise them, it's sort of a parallel to those who'd claim they could never enjoy a silent film, or a subtitled one. I'm not trying to open a Pandora's box of arguing about whether a movie like this should ever be compared to a great silent film, so I sort of wish I hadn't said that, but I'm just trying to open a general discussion about the topic since I've seen numerous people here wag their finger at this movie in particular for its use of CGI and it started me wondering.

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Re: Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller, 2015)

#4 Post by Arrow » Tue May 19, 2015 9:50 pm

I haven't seen Fury Road, but I think I can speak to your point about shutting one's self off from an entire type of cinema. I've struggled with this myself as there have been several recent films I've wanted to like but couldn't engage with because the action sequences had such an overload of information they literally gave me a headache. Even The Lego Movie, which I otherwise enjoyed had far too many scenes of action that I wasn't able to follow.

I'm going to see Fury Road on Thursday so I'll share my thoughts then, but I suspect my aversion to these sequences may even be more biological than anything as my eyes and head end up in pain.

I guess it's not even so much the CGI, but that with that technology available, there's no limits to what can be done and it invariably results in outrageous, quick edited sequences that pull me out of the movie. I don't fault the filmmakers though as it may be just me.

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Re: Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller, 2015)

#5 Post by lacritfan » Tue May 19, 2015 10:15 pm

Mad Max and Road Warrior were visceral and intense in no small part to the low budget "dirty" look to them, you could practically smell the exhaust and feel the dust in your mouth. I just think the CGI in Fury Road makes it look (and feel) a little too "clean" and wish Miller had gone back to his roots on this.

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Re: Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller, 2015)

#6 Post by captveg » Wed May 20, 2015 12:24 am

I find it hilarious that this film - THE major Hollywood action film that uses the least CGI in probably a decade - is the straw that breaks the proverbial back when it comes to accepting CGI effects in films. I mean, what? It's a miracle that this film isn't 80% CGI/20% practical instead of the reality of being the opposite.

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Re: Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller, 2015)

#7 Post by domino harvey » Wed May 20, 2015 7:31 am

Unless I'm missing something, no one in this thread is doing what mfunk and you are decrying (calling out all CGI use in toto). People are just rightly pointing out that praising a film for being mostly practical effects doesn't mean anything when the results aren't much different than a film overly reliant on CGI. How does that equal Death to CGI?

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Re: Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller, 2015)

#8 Post by tenia » Wed May 20, 2015 8:28 am

IMO, Fury Road is the proof that you can do very impressive action sequences without heavily relying on CGI, and in an era where many movie-goers are nostalgic of the 70s/80s action movies such as Die Hard, Predator and co where the SFX were mostly practical ones rather than CGIs, I think that yes, Fury Road is lighting the fuel as to how CGI can be avoided if wanted.

Also, I strongly believe that the heavy use of CGI gives a certain texture to movies which create further distance between the viewer and the movie itself. I don't want to go in the way of saying "if Transformers had less CGI, it would feel more real" because, well, that's a sci-fi movie so it isn't realistic by definition. But I also understand how practical SFX can create a bigger impact on the viewer.

Many times, during Fury Road, the fact that it was mostly practical effects during the car chases was really showing. And that was impressive.
Whereas you'd see a CGI-based movie and think "meh, that's only CGI, no biggie".



On a different matter, Fury Road also shows how one can create a creepy unsettling movie without having to rely on gore and blood.

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Re: Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller, 2015)

#9 Post by Lost Highway » Wed May 20, 2015 9:40 am

Complaining about CGI has become the most boring topic on film forums as far as I'm concerned. The defenders of "practical effects only" are looking at the past through rose tinted glasses, ignoring the thick matte lines around actors and objects in opticals and the creased, rubbery quality of lube covered latex flopping around. Most of what we see in modern effects films would have been throughly impossible pre-CGI. Of course there is good and bad use of CGI, but then the same is true of practical effects. My formative years of film watching was pre-CGI but I just don't feel that nostalgia for practical effects. For every Alien or Close Encounters there also was a King Kong 1976 and a The Swarm.

I certainly wasn't sitting there, trying to figure out what was and wasn't CGI in Fury Road. I think it's a flawed film and not quite the masterpiece some are claiming it is but that's not because of its effects. Of the four Mad Max films it's the most spectacular looking and as an piece of world building it's absolutely stunning, comparable to Jodorowsky in its inventiveness, weirdness and attention to detail.

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Re: Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller, 2015)

#10 Post by tenia » Wed May 20, 2015 11:25 am

Lost Highway wrote:The defenders of "practical effects only" are looking at the past through rose tinted glasses, ignoring the thick matte lines around actors and objects in opticals and the creased, rubbery quality of lube covered latex flopping around.
Part of it certainly comes from misplaced nostalghia while forgetting about visible cables and awful matte paintings.
However, in the case of Fury Road, these practical effects are simple car chases done not in CGI in front of a green screen (though I guess some were) but real cars done with stuntmen in real places (much like Remy Julienne was doing in the 80s with some James Bond).

And in this case, I'm a defender for avoiding CGI because practical effects are perfectly efficient there. No opticals, no latex, no matte paintings. Again, this shows in Fury Road in many car crashes.

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Re: Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller, 2015)

#11 Post by Arrow » Wed May 20, 2015 12:47 pm

Lost Highway wrote:Complaining about CGI has become the most boring topic on film forums as far as I'm concerned. The defenders of "practical effects only" are looking at the past through rose tinted glasses, ignoring the thick matte lines around actors and objects in opticals and the creased, rubbery quality of lube covered latex flopping around. Most of what we see in modern effects films would have been throughly impossible pre-CGI. Of course there is good and bad use of CGI, but then the same is true of practical effects. My formative years of film watching was pre-CGI but I just don't feel that nostalgia for practical effects. For every Alien or Close Encounters there also was a King Kong 1976 and a The Swarm.

I certainly wasn't sitting there, trying to figure out what was and wasn't CGI in Fury Road. I think it's a flawed film and not quite the masterpiece some are claiming it is but that's not because of its effects. Of the four Mad Max films it's the most spectacular looking and as an piece of world building it's absolutely stunning, comparable to Jodorowsky in its inventiveness, weirdness and attention to detail.
Even with bad practical effects, you are still looking at real images, even if you can tell it's a matte painting, it's a filmed 3D object and at least to me, it doesn't stand out as artificial as much as CGI. It's the transposition of real and CGI that pulls you from the world being created. Now that being said, especially in recent years, CGI can be used to create remarkably realistic effects. I think when people are complaining about it, it's usually in reference to Transformer type levels of CGI that are so artificial looking I'd rather see anything else.

Also, as I mentioned early, I think a lot of this is personal preference, because I've encountered many people who think Transformers looks great. I like a lot of bad movies, so it's hopefully not a pretentious thing, but I can't get engaged with a film that over uses CGI, especially in fast paced action.

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Re: Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller, 2015)

#12 Post by Lost Highway » Wed May 20, 2015 2:59 pm

Arrow wrote:Even with bad practical effects, you are still looking at real images, even if you can tell it's a matte painting, it's a filmed 3D object and at least to me, it doesn't stand out as artificial as much as CGI. It's the transposition of real and CGI that pulls you from the world being created. Now that being said, especially in recent years, CGI can be used to create remarkably realistic effects. I think when people are complaining about it, it's usually in reference to Transformer type levels of CGI that are so artificial looking I'd rather see anything else.

Also, as I mentioned early, I think a lot of this is personal preference, because I've encountered many people who think Transformers looks great. I like a lot of bad movies, so it's hopefully not a pretentious thing, but I can't get engaged with a film that over uses CGI, especially in fast paced action.
The effects aren't the reason why I can't engage with the Transformers films, everything else is.

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Re: Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller, 2015)

#13 Post by Arrow » Wed May 20, 2015 3:08 pm

Lost Highway wrote:
Arrow wrote:Even with bad practical effects, you are still looking at real images, even if you can tell it's a matte painting, it's a filmed 3D object and at least to me, it doesn't stand out as artificial as much as CGI. It's the transposition of real and CGI that pulls you from the world being created. Now that being said, especially in recent years, CGI can be used to create remarkably realistic effects. I think when people are complaining about it, it's usually in reference to Transformer type levels of CGI that are so artificial looking I'd rather see anything else.

Also, as I mentioned early, I think a lot of this is personal preference, because I've encountered many people who think Transformers looks great. I like a lot of bad movies, so it's hopefully not a pretentious thing, but I can't get engaged with a film that over uses CGI, especially in fast paced action.
The effects aren't the reason why I can't engage with the Transformers films, everything else is.
Well, there is that, it was just the best example I could think of where the CGI is so overwhelming you have to look away from the screen.

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Re: Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller, 2015)

#14 Post by mfunk9786 » Wed May 20, 2015 3:42 pm

How is something made of plastic or something painted onto wood planks any more real than a computer effect?
Arrow wrote:Well, there is that, it was just the best example I could think of where the CGI is so overwhelming you have to look away from the screen.
It won't hurt you, you know. It's just special effects.

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Re: Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller, 2015)

#15 Post by DarkImbecile » Wed May 20, 2015 3:50 pm

While I love good practical effects and share the distaste for the laziness and conformity with which most CGI is deployed now, I do think our view of practical effects can be skewed by a bias toward remembering only the best examples from pre-1995 or so (your Things, Aliens, Road Warriors, Die Hards, etc.) and selectively ignoring/forgetting the ugly, fake, and lazy practical effects that made up the majority of non-classic genre films released in the same period. If in thirty years we look back on the 2000-2015 period with similarly rose-colored glasses, only thinking of the films that used CGI creatively, effectively, and in service of an excellent film, we may think, "God, if only Hollywood would drop UHD10KHDR5D-VR and go back to what really worked..."

That said, the key element of CGI usage that is bothersome to me is the enabled laziness that others have pointed out; deciding "I'll just have one thousand robots attacking a dozen superheroes!" is A) far easier and less compelling than working out a new way to make action feel kinetic and exciting and new (not to mention meaningful) and B) far less interesting to watch than similar laziness forced to take place in reality. Because zeroes and ones can do anything, if they're not being used interestingly there's no enjoyment for the viewer in asking "How'd they do that?" Even if Mad Max weren't as comparatively entertaining and well-choreographed as it is, it's still far more interesting to watch real cars crashing into each other in the desert than obviously fake cars doing the same from a hard drive, as in some of the more recent Fast and Furious movies. Same with actual costumed casts of thousands battling each other vs. Hobbit-style animated warfare, or real people using athleticism and skill to pretend to beat the shit out of each other vs. animated people doing the same: even in a bad movie, it's more interesting to watch, and in a good movie it can make all the difference.

Others have mentioned being "taken out of a movie" by poorly used, obviously fake CGI; speaking for myself, even with the best, most engrossing movies there's always some fraction of my brain thinking about the film as a film. So when I'm watching the bridge scene in Sorcerer, for example, it's amazing both because that scene is thrilling in the context of the film and because it's awe-inspiring to think about the realities of filming that scene, so both the part of my mind that's "in the movie" and the part that's holding back in reality are engaged. With CGI, it's so much harder to have both sides engaged, because the answer to "how did they...?" is always "on a computer". If anything, the current freedom to create anything on a screen makes it harder to wow an audience, because it actually has to be deployed imaginatively and with purpose, and not just for the empty spectacle which might prop up a mediocre movie if done practically. When CGI is used in such a way, it's just as memorable and powerful as anything else, but when it isn't, it's just hollow in a way that practical effects rarely are.

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Re: Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller, 2015)

#16 Post by Arrow » Wed May 20, 2015 3:59 pm

mfunk9786 wrote:How is something made of plastic or something painted onto wood planks any more real than a computer effect?
Arrow wrote:Well, there is that, it was just the best example I could think of where the CGI is so overwhelming you have to look away from the screen.
It won't hurt you, you know. It's just special effects.
Well it's actually real, and depending on how something is filmed the far more complex texture of an actual object does translate differently than computer rendered image. Again though, special effects teams have come along way from the cartoon Yoda in the Star Wars prequels ( which was arguably a step backwards in f/x.)

As to your second point, as I mentioned earlier in the thread, it does hurt me, which again, is likely just me and I would not champion against films or effects that give me a headache, but was just responded honestly to your inquiry.

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Re: Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller, 2015)

#17 Post by pzadvance » Wed May 20, 2015 4:02 pm

mfunk9786 wrote:How is something made of plastic or something painted onto wood planks any more real than a computer effect?
I mean, come on, it's at least occupying the same physical reality as the rest of the film, which can go a long way towards hiding the effect. The major problem with CGI for me is that it lacks cohesion with the actors and environments that were actually filmed in a real space in front of a camera.

One of the most extreme (and, admittedly, obvious) examples of CGI dissonance would be the Star Wars Special Editions, where films that are steeped in a 70s/80s aesthetic in the costumes and set designs are suddenly forced to incorporate glossy, rubbery, 21st-century computer animation. As a result, the films can't possibly hope for the same level of verisimilitude that they had without such intrusions (when I recently saw the unaltered stuff for the first time, it was a revelation).

To me, this is the same problem that any film with full CGI characters or stunts faces: as photorealistic as the CGI is getting, it's still ultimately a dressed-up version of the same effect from Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

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Re: Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller, 2015)

#18 Post by Zot! » Wed May 20, 2015 4:32 pm

The real problem with CGI is that it gives people with bad taste unlimited options, whereas a practical effect was costly and time consuming enough to impose the necessary creative restrictions, and force a filmmaker to have a vision. The entire workflow of a film is upended. You can fix it in post, fix it for the DVD release, fix it 25 years later. Some people are capable of handling this unrestricted freedom, but apparently most are not. I can't thing of too many artistic triumphs from this era of unfettered free will. The many beautiful digital restorations that have been faithfully done to older films may be the exception.

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Re: Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller, 2015)

#19 Post by MichaelB » Thu May 21, 2015 2:35 am

The "physical reality" aspect is why a stop-motion animator like Jan Švankmajer has refused to work with CGI - on more than one occasion he's said that he needs the physical, touchable object in front of him in order to do anything meaningful with it.

You could certainly recreate something like Dimensions of Dialogue in CGI, but it would lost a lot of the potency that comes from the knowledge that you're watching actual (and fragile) fruit, vegetables, books and utensils contorting themselves into these bizarre shapes, slicing bits off (and out of) each other and mashing each other up.

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Re: CGI vs Practical Effects

#20 Post by aox » Thu May 21, 2015 9:28 am

I always think of CGI as a tool and not a showpiece. The best example I can think of is the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Those films at the time (they have aged) integrated CGI so well. As opposed to the Star Wars prequel trilogy which felt like watching a video game.

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Re: CGI vs Practical Effects

#21 Post by mfunk9786 » Thu May 21, 2015 9:42 am

But doesn't this all circle back to the same concept as practical effects, as Lost Highway mentioned?: If they're done well, they can be great. If they're not, they can detract from one's enjoyment of the film. So why does bad CGI get such a poor reputation that good CGI suffers blowback from it, while even mediocre practical effects walk away scot-free?

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Re: CGI vs Practical Effects

#22 Post by StevenJ0001 » Thu May 21, 2015 11:09 am

mfunk9786 wrote:But doesn't this all circle back to the same concept as practical effects, as Lost Highway mentioned?: If they're done well, they can be great. If they're not, they can detract from one's enjoyment of the film. So why does bad CGI get such a poor reputation that good CGI suffers blowback from it, while even mediocre practical effects walk away scot-free?
I think there are other factors at work besides the quality of the effects.

CGI, good or bad, is aesthetically different from practical effects, good or bad, and some people simply prefer the aesthetic appearance of (and the emotional reaction provoked by) the latter. I prefer the look of film to the look of digital images in most cases--not because I'm allergic to modern technology, but just because it's my preference.

The appearance of practical effects and stunts carry more emotional heft for me than even the best CGI--they seem more "real," even when they aren't executed perfectly or are dated (in older films, for example.)

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Re: CGI vs Practical Effects

#23 Post by Thornycroft » Thu May 21, 2015 11:29 am

It's odd this has all come up in relation to Fury Road given it's probably one of the better showcases of good, unobstrusive CGI in years. Charlize Theron's mechanical arm (and lack thereof) is absolutely seamless and never draws attention to itself.

I think the recent Thunderbirds reboot might be a good reference point for discussion given its interesting blend of practical and computer effects. Just from watching I would guess that most of the sets are practical models while the characters themselves and various other effects are CGI. Things like water and sand clearly stand out as genuine, I'm not sure how noticeable it would be to most people but the photography doesn't try to resolve all the scaling issues and there's no CGI enhancement to hide the texture of the tiny plastic trees. The janky nature of the original is gone, but the handcrafted feeling remains. I'm not sure I would refer to it as nostalgia, but when I sat down to watch the first episode and realised the extent of the modelwork it brought back the excitement the show gave me as a child. Seeing something that's clearly real, even if it's clearly also a scale model, makes you feel like you could reach out and touch it. The feeling carries over into sequences that are almost entirely CGI (such as those set in space), the tactile connection has already been established.

It's probably why even mediocre or poor practical effects carry a sense of charm to them while equivalent CGI can be nigh unbearable. The shoddy modelwork from Italian genre cheapies like Starcrash and 2019: After The Fall of New York is engaging whereas the flat computer-generated landscapes from modern sci-fi schlock are tiresome. There's no tactile connection, no physical engagement.

Perhaps one of the great ironies is that modern CG artists get worked to death creating modern blockbusters (not to mention the companies they work for having to close down after being forced into a bidding war by the studios) and their work looks effortless enough that viewers don't often consider the round-the-clock shifts required to create it, while almost any practical effect immediately gives a sense of the physical and creative effort that went into putting it together.

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Re: CGI vs Practical Effects

#24 Post by jindianajonz » Thu May 21, 2015 11:30 am

There are also rare times where the effort that goes into creating a practical effect is immense enough that it enhances the movie itself- would Fitzcarraldo really be the same movie if they had just CGI'ed the ship over the mountain? Or would Apocalypse now have the same heft if they had just green screened southeast Asia into the movie?

Generally though, when CGI is done well (as in it doesn't stick out from its surroundings) I don't have a problem with it. I don't think we've gotten to the point where we "appreciate" CGI yet, but I'm guessing a few decades down the line people will look at some of the finest early examples in the same way we currently do with early Disney animation.

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Re: CGI vs Practical Effects

#25 Post by lacritfan » Thu May 21, 2015 11:50 am

Yeah, I'd like to point out my gripe isn't a broad CGI vs practical one. It's specifically with Fury Road because the first two were known for down and dirty practical stunts and got excited when I heard Miller was coming back and it sounded like he was going back to his roots. I suppose it would be like if Ray Harryhausen was still around, said he was coming out with a new stop motion movie and there was CGI in it that distracted from the stop motion, well I'd be a little disappointed.

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