Jurassic World : Let’s talk about the state of modern special effects and examine what people are complaining about.

 

Well guys, Jurassic World is only a few days away, and I can’t tell you how excited I am. But since the beginning of the movie’s promotion, all I see in comment sections is this:

 

The dinosaurs look so fake!! CGI freakin’ sucks these days. Why don’t the dinosaurs look as good as they did in the first movie? Where are the practical effects? Nobody likes CG, it doesn’t look real! It’s a cheap ploy made by untalented hacks who can’t sculpt a model!

Ah, quit your whining.

Anyway, there has been a lot of backlash towards this film saying that the dinosaurs look fake and that there aren’t enough practical effects in the movie. In fact, I’ve been hearing a lot of people condemning CGI in general, and it seems like we are in an age where people are starting to get really sick of computer special effects and are hungry for more tangible effects. And in many ways, I do agree. I love practical effects, especially when they are done well. The Xenomorphs from Alien, the creature from The Thing, and especially the dinosaurs from Jurassic Park; these effects still hold up today and look incredibly convincing in part because they were actually in front of the camera.

However, all this talk against CGI is starting to get a little extreme. I get the impression that some people feel that practical effects are always the way to go and CGI by default is always going to look worse. It also seems that people think that CGI effects are lazy and don’t have any real talent behind them, unlike practical effects that have to be created by hand. This line of thinking I find to be a bit disrespectful.

Yes, practical effects require an immense amount of time, effort, and talent; but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t any talent in CGI. I think people forget that there is an entire team of animators behind computer effects, and each animator is incredibly talented in their own right. You don’t just push a button and *poof* a monster appears, someone still has to build that from scratch in the computer. And it isn’t easy. Computer animation still requires an enormous amount of work and effort, it’s just a different medium.

The biggest problem I think people have with CGI is the fact that we can tell when it’s a computer now and it can take us out of the movie. Unfortunately, that’s just a side effect of time. For the last two decades, computer effects have been presented to us in movies, and when at first they were an incredible spectacle, we have now seen enough of it that we can notice the imperfections. Perhaps we were under the false assumption that as more time passed, CGI would get better and better and eventually we wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between it and real life. Sadly, even though computer animation continues to advance, we’ve just become so accustomed to it that all we can see is the effect.

But we have to remember, that same thing was going on before CG.

Back in the eighties, audiences were starting to notice the seams in the practical effects at the time. Stop motion creatures that once dazzled movie goers were now beginning to look cheesy to the modern eye. Even when the models and animatronics were good, audiences were still seeing the limitations of those effects and that would take them out of the movie. That’s why CG took off the way it did, it didn’t seem to have the limitations the effects of the time did, and it was only as the years went by that we noticed the limitations CG itself had.

Let’s look at this for an example. Do you remember when people complained about the CGI turtles in the new TMNT movie?

People said the characters looked ugly and you could tell that they were fake. Many longed for the animatronic suit versions that appeared in the 90’s film, but let me ask you this.

Watching this again as an adult, without the nostalgia googles on, without the child-like awe you had as a kid watching this movie, answer this question honestly. Did you ever once think that these guys were real? That living anthropomorphic turtle ninja’s were walking among us. No, you knew it was a suit. Yes, they were well constructed suits, but they were still suits.

That’s the thing, no matter what kind of effect you’re seeing, it’s still an effect It’s not real. And if you analyze any effect long enough, then you can break apart the seams easily. We think CGI turtles today look silly, but I’m sure there were audience members at the time of the 90’s film that thought the suits looked silly and couldn’t wait for the time that CGI would advance enough so that one day we could have a TMNT movie that didn’t look like a bunch of Disney Land mascots running around.

The thing is, when you look at a fantastical creature in a film, the rational part of your mind knows it isn’t real. The point is to put that aside and pretend for a moment that what you’re seeing is actually there. That’s the fun of special effect spectacle. You know it isn’t really happening (to tell you the truth, no movie special effect has 100% sold me) but in the moment that isn’t supposed to matter.

Still, people will say a bad special effect will take them out of a movie, and CGI today is starting to become that for them. And yes, I totally understand that. Movies that overuse CGI because they think computers are a cure all magic wish granter that can make anything look  real are tedious to sit through.

I’ll just put this right here.

Yes, the practical effects in Jurassic Park are incredible, and they still look great today. But I think some people overestimate some of the other effects in that film. Take the Brachiosaurus for example. Have you seen that scene lately?

Sure, it’s still an incredible scene, but pay close attention to the actual Brachiosaurus. Seen in modern HD quality, you can tell that it is an obvious CGI model, and not nearly as great as some would make it out to be. It can especially be seen in the texturing. which modern CG has advanced in greatly. A good modern example of that are the creatures from the recent Walking With Dinosaurs movie.

As much as I hate this movie, I must admit that the dinosaurs are probably the best CGI creations I have ever seen. They are intricately textured and blend in almost seamlessly with their live action environment. People who say the CG in the first Jurassic Park is better than anything we have today haven’t really been paying attention to the art form. Then again, this movie was animated by Animal Logic, in my opinion the best CGI animation facility in the world. Forget Industrial Light and Magic, forget Weta Digital, these guys may not have nearly as impressive of a resume but the work they have done id nothing short of awe inspiring.

 

Look at these owls! This was a movie folks, why didn’t any of you watch it?

Look at the detail! This is a freakin’ Lego movie and they went all out.

So the, what side of this argument do I fall into? Well, I’m certainly a fan of practical effects, and I am on the side that says movies need to use them more again (BTW, super excited for The Force Awakens). But, I respect CGI as a legitimate art form that requires a lot of talent and time consuming energy in it’s own right and said animators do deserve our respect. I also understand both styles have their limitations, practical effects work best in smaller spaces and CGI works best in wide angles. I think both should be used to compliment the other, and we shouldn’t be arguing over which style is superior.

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5 thoughts on “Jurassic World : Let’s talk about the state of modern special effects and examine what people are complaining about.

  1. I totally agree with you when you say that Animal Logic is the best CG in the business, and I LOVED the Guardians of Ga’hoole, even if it only covered the first book. They really did make the story come alive, and that was awesome to see.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I never saw Guardians of Ga’Hoole, but I read most of the books. I lost interest in it fairly quickly, though.
    But I agree, the CGI complaints are getting kind of old. A lot of people complaining seem convinced that CGI was used for like 1% (or even less) of the original film (which it clearly wasn’t).
    On a semi-related note, Jurassic World’s website released a photo stream that featured this image: http://www.jurassicworld.com/media/photos/assets/aviary-pteranodon.jpg
    I officially take back everything I said about the Jurassic World Pteranodons being ugly 😀 Look at this beautiful creature! Look at her I say!

    Like

  3. Man, I forgot all about Ga’Hoole! That was an incredible movie. And you’re right, people really do underestimate what CGI can do. Animatronics really just add that final, special touch.

    Like

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