Monday, 21 September 2009

The Rise and Fall of CGI.

I picked Batman Begins at Asda at the weekend, and as I was watching it on Saturday night, I remembered a story that Michael Caine related about the films development. He was watching a panoramic shot circling Batman, who was standing high on a gargoyle near the top of a skyscraper. He turned to CHris Nolan - the director - and said "How did you get CGI that good?"

To which Nolan replied:

"It's not CGI. We've got a stuntman standing up on the building while a helicopter circles him."

Now, the purpose of this story is not to relate the sheer coolness of the Batman Begins franchise - although its succeeded in making Batman cool again after Joel Shumacher's debacles.

The purpose of this little anecdote is to illustrate the attitude towards CGI in the film industry today. Where once CGI was a novelty, it quickly became a crutch.

Probably the origin of the CGI boom can be traced back to 1996's Independence Day. Whilst CGI had certainly been used before this point, the sheer scale of its usage began to really take hold after this film. After all, who needs deep plots when you can blow up the white house on a weekly basis? Not to say I didn't enjoy ID4 - its a great film, and still holds its own today. But it set a trend where rather than merely using CGI to enhance a film, filmmakers started basing their films around CGI.

More followed. The disasterous 1998 Godzilla remake made the legendary king of the monsters into a Tuna Eating CGI Iguana.

More and more, the marketing of films seemed to revolve around the special effects rather than any actualy plot content. As I previously stated, CGI became a crutch to lean on rather than a tool to be used.

-Yes, I know I'm not giving many examples. Its been a long day.

And somewhere along the line, it began to lose the sheen it had gained from ID4. When you start seeing cities destroyed in every mother movie, soon enough it begains to wear thin. Gradually, CGI fell out of fashion with filmmakers - the notable exception being comic book movies, which, due to their nature, had to rely on the technological breakthroughs that CGI had brought.

Another contribution to CGI's fall was the more smooth integration of CGI into the movie. As it became more difficult to distinguish the computer generated elements from the film, its rapidly began to lose its allure. Its use was assumed, as illustrated by Caine's story, but it was no longer the focus. Gradually movies began to feature less about the special effects.

In some cases it became anathema to even point them out - more marketing effort was put into the fact that films weren't using CGI than those that were.

Perhaps CGI has finally ound its role as a filmmaking tool rather than the focus of movies.

This pointless rant bought to you by:

No comments: