How CGI and SFX went from This to That and Why That’s Good.
Many films in the past used models and practical effects to create explosions or, as an example, a space war surrounding and targeting a death star. Now. With the technological advancements in film making, these are needed less. To make explosions realistic they are sometimes done using practical effects as well as models, but most things are now done using computer generated effects. The costs of having practical effects and many actors is generally less than using a computer to generate such things. And the magic that CGI allows immerses a viewer into a movie, and once seeing the difference in the original and the result, there is larger appreciation for the people who take us to magical worlds, cities where superheros exist, and a galaxy far far away.
Where Things Started
Yul Brynner’s 1973 Westworld was one of the first practical applications of computer generated imagery, and the pages for the guide in the TV series of Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy (1981) seemed to be created using a computer, and were in the correct style, but in fact were hand drawn. It was when in 1982 that Tron was released, a film that relied much more on CGI than films before it, showing the first complete 3D scenes made by a computer. While creating Toy Story, Pixar’s normal 10 people grew to an, amazing at the time, number of 150 (Plus, 2015). This movie was the one to put CGI in history, it holds the place for the first completely CGI film in history and with its well-developed story, great profits, and fans of the franchise that still love the film and its successors, is a well-deserved and worshipped accomplishment, taking CGI to infinity and beyond.
Thing Used to be More Difficult and Costly
In the 1960 film directed by Stanley Kubrick, Spartacus, 8,000 active duty Spanish soldiers were loaned to film battle scenes, standing in as Roman soldiers (IMDb, n.d.). Mentioned in the trivia section of Spartacus’ IMDB page, is one of the many large costs of the film, due to of the use of practical effects and large crew. It can also be found that the budget spiralled from 5,000,000 to 12,000,000. Using a computer program, many people can be placed into the scene without even needing to put details on them because they are in the background or in a shot that flies over their heads. Whereas creating a human is hard for a main character, creating many to fill up a crowd is not. An example of a computer generated battle can be found in Game of Thrones’ episode 9 season 6 where they did in fact create a large scale battle scene for the ever-so-popular TV show, you can see a behind the scenes look at this here.
Nonetheless, SFX and CGI Aren’t Easy.
Special and Computer generated effects are not easy though, they take a lot of time and effort from the people creating them. Take an example from Disney’s book, making these amazing effects is difficult sometimes, difficult enough that they have engines specifically for rendering certain things such as hair (Quicksilver) and water (Splash Internally). These movies run on a lot of processing power, the technical supervisor for Disney’s Moana stating that “A typical home computer has between one and four cores. We peaked at 55,000 cores on Big Hero 6. Our high on this movie is 76,000 cores running full tilt.” (White, 2016). If that doesn’t say that these effects have come far, then how about that rather than SFX makeup to create an old Benjamin Button, they created him using CGI (Seymour, 2009). These aren’t easy, but when done right can be seamless, the big explosions may obviously be special effects based on common knowledge, but the little fixes and changes are not noticed. Scenes that are supposedly filmed in a city when they are, in fact, not, for example: a busy freeway, isn’t quite so busy and Robert Downey Jr rarely ever has to wear the Iron Man suit, instead doing everything in a motion capture suit (Wong, 2015).
All in all, the technological advancements in the film industry have created much more opportunity and a larger range of genre and ideas that can be put into play. Where previously many things were done using practical effects, costing more money, or were made using models because there was simply no other way, now such things can be done using a computer. Although it is not easy either, and uses a ton of processing power to do, it brings things to life and creates magic.
To finish things off, please feel free to watch the video below to see just how amazing SFX/VFX/CGI are.
If you enjoyed this article and would like to read more on the subjects mentioned, or see any of the effects I mentioned, here are some links to articles and videos that may interest you: