Fan Suspicion of Digital Effects

Prince’s Digital Visual Effects In Cinema discusses the tension over practical and digital effects fostered by the rise of digital special effects to prominence. In the early 90s, films such as Jurassic Park began to employ digital special effects to accomplish tasks which previously required the use of practical effects such as animatronics. Prince highlights Jurassic Park’s use of CGI in concert with practical effects to help bring to life the film’s shockingly realistic dinosaurs. By the early 90s, the craft of digital visual effects had advanced to the point where digital effects constituted a viable replacement for practical effects in some areas, and even exceeded practical effects in others.

Jurassic Park employed digital visual effects as an aid to practical effects rather than a total replacement. The continuing rise of digital visual effects has nonetheless inspired fear in some film industry members that digital techniques will eventually completely eclipse practical ones in efficiency and realism, leading to practical effects vanishing from the industry.

The industry members of whom Prince writes do not stand alone in their fear for the future of the film industry. As an active member of a variety of different internet fandoms, I commonly see expressed the belief that digital effects are somehow inferior to practical effects. Star Wars creator George Lucas has proven a particularly popular target for fans as a result of the prequel trilogy released in the late 90s and early 2000s. As Prince tells us, Lucas relied extremely heavily on a variety of practical effects during the filming of the first Star Wars trilogy, as the use of digital visual effects had yet to become particularly effective. Lucas realized Star Wars’ many exotic sci-fi space battles via models and stop-motion filming. By contrast, the Star Wars prequel trilogy employs CGI in spades. The recent remastered re-releases of the original Star Wars trilogy also incorporate numerous new CGI effects to supplement the original practical effects.

I frequently see Star Wars fans taking umbrage with Lucas’ shift to an emphasis on digital effects, particularly in regards to his modifications to the original series. The image at right exemplifies this commonly-expressed attitude within the fandom. 1365601531096Many fans appear to see digital visual effects accomplished with the use of a green screen as somehow lazier or possessed of less merit than physical effects. After reading Prince’s work, I find this attitude somewhat curious. Prince tells us at some length that digital visual effects can integrate near-seamlessly with practical effects, to the point where many viewers do not even notice the difference, such as with many of the effects in Forrest Gump. Digital visual effects also still require intensive effort, a point Prince makes clear with his discussion of the difficulties in realizing a truly three-dimensional image and bringing it to a two-dimensional viewing screen.

Practical effects certainly seem superior to digital effects in some areas. As Prince tells us, Christopher Nolan’s insistence on on-location filming adds a sense wetatopof tactile realism to Nolan’s films. Physically placing all of the actors in the same space also serves to avoid the problems of actor morale encountered by The Hobbit. Unlike The Lord of the Rings trilogy, which used practical effects to make hobbits or dwarf characters appear shorter, The Hobbit made widespread use of digital visual effects to trick viewers. Actor Ian McKellen nearly had a breakdown as a result of acting out a scene in which he speaks with other characters completely alone , saying that “I act with other people. I don’t act on my own”. Practical effects can also have great cult value; fans of the Japanese Godzilla series have come to love the films’
traditionally cheesy use of actors in rubber suits to represent the series’ many bizarre monsters, examples of which can be seen below at left.

While practical effects have very concrete and real merits in some areas, many fans seem to dislike on a fundamental level the idea of digital visual effects as a replacement for practical effects. Is there a trend to somehow see digital visual effects as less meaningful because they are created via work at a computer rather than more tangible physical labor?


Godzilla vs. Megalon (ゴジラ対メガロ) original Japanese trailer

“Star Wars in 3D”, Bastard Son of Zeus

“The Hobbit’s Gandalf almost proved a greenscreen too far for Ian McKellen”, The Guardian.

“VFX Animator Broke Down and Cried Over Hobbit Green Screens”, Something Awful.


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