Practical FX Return to Hollywood? February 02 2016, 0 Comments

A recent New Yorker article titled, "Hollywood's Turn Against Digital Effects", has gotten some traction among cinephiles online.

At the top of the article a caption to a production still from Mad Max: Fury Road reads, "Thanks to films like “Mad Max: Fury Road” and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” elaborate C.G.I. is out and old-fashioned practical effects are in."

But is that really true?

We say yes and no, but mainly no. And we definitely think it's misleading.

While Fury Road was heavily marketed as not having (much) CGI, that is simply not the case. There is TONS OF CGI in the film. Watch any of the behind-the-scenes and you can plainly see this:

From the New Yorker article...

" Andrew Jackson, the movie’s visual-effects supervisor, told fxguide, “I’ve been joking recently about how the film has been promoted as being a live action stunt-driven film.… The reality is that there’s 2,000 VFX shots in the film”—out of about twenty-four hundred shots total."

So yes, there are great practical effects and real stunts in the film - and that is the point lots of people are trying to make. And we agree, that's awesome. But...

Many also believe there wasn't much CGI, and they've come to believe that CGI is "bad". 

Bad CGI is bad. Overuse of CGI is bad (and a major problem with most Hollywood action films). But good CGI - and invisible CGI is great (and our favorite kind).

When we say "invisible CGI" we're referring to shots like Charlize Theron's arm (seen in the first video above) or the CGI desert environments, etc. Those never feel out of place. They never feel overdone. And, they never pull you out of the story.

However, overuse or overdone CGI - like in pretty much ALL the recent Marvel films, and very dubiously to us - in Zack Snyder's Man of Steel - can look great at first (and it is well done), but then gets old quick: 

It's almost as if the Suits in Hollywood told Snyder we need a 5 minute long fight scene. Seeing this in the theater actually made us bored.

The new Star Wars movie on the other hand is of course largely CGI (no it wasn't actually shot in outer space like Gravity - we kid, we kid), but then many of the creatures were practical puppets.

However, not all.

Several of the key ones like (SPOILER ALERT) Snoke or Maz (both motion capture performances) and that squid creature thing that almost eats Finn when we first see Han and Chewy on the Millennium Falcon - kind of sucked in our opinion, well, not Maz - but definitely the other two.

It will be interesting to see if more filmmakers gravitate towards practical FX mixed with CGI instead of mainly CGI and actors simply shot on green screen. 

Shooting something that is real always looks better. Always.

But of course if it doesn't exist, like say, one of the Transformers - then okay, let's go with CGI. And btw, that is great CGI work in those Transformer films. But, it ends up being so overused that it loses it's power for us.

But we digress.

The moral of the story? Just use CGI wisely (and sparingly if at all possible). :)

Too much of a good thing really is too much.


Speaking of practical effects, make sure and check out our live-action 2nd Unit™ footage featuring real tree branches and more (in our Elements collection) and real movie extras crossing the frame (in our Extras collection).

And be sure to read the entire New Yorker article here.