Why CG Sucks. ( No, Not Really )

Posted By yonghow on August 9th, 2015

Why CG Doesn't Suck

A pretty spot on video refuting the claim that CG is ruining movie experiences, a sentiment which seems to be gaining traction recently. Watch and decide for yourself :

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Posted in CG, Cinematography, Film

13 Responses to “Why CG Sucks. ( No, Not Really )”

Larceny kilgore

Not convinced. One, the ease of cg has meant that vfx have gotten out of control and have been largely responsible for a de emphasis on good storytelling.
Two, cg is now essentially done by technicians, not artists, so the results lack individuality and creativity. There are no artists today such as moebius, syd mead, Macquarie, or jim Henson who were true visionaries, the whole process has become mechanized and outsourced.

Jason

Moebius and Syd Mead are not special effects artists. I don’t know how personally knowledgeable Jim Henson was about special effects, but the overwhelming majority of actual special effects output from the Creature Shop would have been done by a small army of anonymous artists. Likewise, George Lucas is not a special effects artist. He founded ILM with his money, not his skills.

Now or then, you’ll rarely find a special effects person who is a “true” artist, because special effects is an applied art. Someone like Moebius will have a personal vision because his job is to make original comics and other art that has a strong personal vision. The job of the special effects artists is to interpret and execute the vision of the director (or whoever), not their own. Same for graphic design or illustration. Even for architecture which is closer to art, the “art” part of the building’s design will come from one or a few people, the rest of the execution of the design will come from possibly hundreds of technical people, and the building will be built by construction workers who are typically hostile to art.

I would even argue that today technology has made it so that more of the people doing effects have artistic backgrounds. The people who did practical effects were the kids who were into chemistry sets. But I think today the special effects artists are more likely to be kids who were into drawing and writing. A teenager can have the same programs as the big studios on his laptop and he can make great looking stuff without encountering or being interested in technical stuff.

I think it’s similar with video games. It used to be that video games were made by programmers, and that there were literally no artists involved. Nowadays a teenager can make a simple but good looking video game without any programming knowledge using the same game engines that the big studios use.

I also think that special effects are reaching a point of maturity because the effects are so realistic that the movie going crowds are no longer impressed. It used to be that a single special effect in a big budget movie would drive all interest in it. A good example is Tron which is basically a feature length tech demo, or all those 80s fantasy movies where the big seller was that the puppets were slightly less terrible looking than before. The most recent movie that I can think of where the special effects themselves were a main attraction was Avatar. I think we’re entering a post-special effects age.

Jason

It depends on the type of movie, and if I’m watching a type of movie where it makes sense for certain kinds of visuals to happen, and if CG is the most effective way to make those visuals happen, then that’s good.

But for me personally, if I were making a movie I would avoid CG, effects in general (CG or practical), I would cast amateur actors who are as close as possible in real life to the fictional characters, I would avoid camerawork and music that artificially dramatizes, and I would have dialog and writing as natural as possible. But that’s the type of movie that I, specifically, would want to make, and the aversion to effects is unrelated to the effects themselves.

But for other movies… I know that the new Star Wars movies are going to be by far the best looking Star Wars movies.

Larceny kilgore

Yes I agree that most of the practical effects of yore were also done by technicians, I’m just speculating about why the creative vision behind the effects is so inferior nowadays to the films of the 70s – 80s, that it might be because cg made achieving these impressively realistic effects easy, that the people and studios best able to pull them off were dominated by people with advanced technical skills, and not necessarily the best artistic vision. In essence, that the race for better tech marginalized the role of artistic vision, and that that is the reason we don’t currently see artistic luminaries in Hollywood design and why there are no films that have compelling aesthetic styles these days, like the high tech rubbish of pacific rim for instance. Maybe the effects are technically good, but alien or blade runner are much more original, evocative, and powerful.

Scott

Agreed 100% with this video. Actually i’ve felt this way a long time.
It’s easy to vilify visual effects because they’re in front of our eyes and we can point and complain. But like most things, they’re just a tool. A hammer in the hands of an incompetent carpenter can do a lot of damage. But it’s not the hammer’s fault.

Michael Bay is a fantastic example. i hate him. i truly hate him. He’s the only director who fills me with rage when i watch his films. But the VFX shots in his films are astounding. The combination of practical and digital is unmatched elsewhere. He’s truly a master in that area.
What ruins his films for me are his stylistic choices, and his inability to be subtle.

– My point is that VFX is just one tool in a filmmaker’s arsenal. Films can be ruined in a variety of ways, and it’s the filmmaker’s responsibility to use their tools wisely.

Plus, you certainly can’t blame VFX for any degradation in storytelling. People were making terribly written movies long before computers came along.

King Raoh

If the barometer for what makes a “true” artist is authorship and individual vision, then we’re going to have to excise a large swathe of great artists to fit this definition, a definition that didn’t exist until Modern art came along and tried to rewrite definitions to suit itself. Or we can see it for the rubbish sentiment it is.

And there are illustrators and designers who are sought out for their personal vision. E.g. Frank Frazetta was known for painting covers that often had nothing to do with the story on the pages. The publisher just wanted his art gracing their books.

King Raoh

Speaking of Alien, Blade Runner, and Michael Bay:

Ridley Scott has become a better version of Michael Bay. His blending of digital and practical is superior (Prometheus looks better than anything Bay has ever done), but his eye for scripts and narrative has become almost as bad.

yonghow

Thank you everyone for the lively discussion !

Regarding a point Scott made about Michael Bay, I’ve worked on the last 2 Transformers films and in my experience the live-action plates shot by him and his 2nd unit are always of top quality – lots of practical explosions, sparks and flares, interactive elements that really help us the CG artists blend our robots seamlessly into the plates.

Good plate/CG integration goes a very long way in creating a believable shot, even though in your mind you know giant transforming robots don’t really exist. I’ve had a lot of fun working on those shots. :]

Jason

King Raoh: imo the defining characteristic of art is that it communicates intellectual, or some other kind of, content. An impressionist’s painting of a harbor is art because the type of abstraction is a critical statement about the nature of art (plus all the other things that make impressionism an art movement). Me painting a harbor is not art, it’s just a painting, just an exercise in technique. A good example of how things are/aren’t art is found art and collages where the original items are not art, but through collection and contextualization, meaning is added by the artist and it becomes art.

Unfortunately in english we don’t usually have words to distinguish between the two but sometimes we do. There’s a difference between architecture and buildings. Not all buildings are architecture. And not all architecture is buildings (see archigram, and various theoretical/paper projects).

Likewise not all paintings or illustrations are art. Special effects artists are rarely in the position to inject meaning into what they do to elevate it into art (although the special effects may be an important part of an overall movie which may be art). This is just the nature of their work and it doesn’t take away from how skilled they are at their craft, or our ability to enjoy it. But for example, the prop artists at Pixar seem to have a lot of freedom and some of the choices they make add layers of meaning to those movies (this is the best example I can come up with off the top of my head :p ).

I do think this definition of art does exclude a massive amount of what is informally called art. There are amazing illustrators whose work I enjoy, but don’t consider art. If someone wants to make art they need to think critically and formulate ideas and express them in a medium. And I think this should be encouraged because adding meaning doesn’t detract from style or technique, but it does make something much more substantial and worthwhile. I think there are a lot of people who are not aware of how art works, because they’ve been told that “everything” is art their entire lives and have never been challenged to think more about it.

Larceny kilgore

A painting of a harbor use always art, just like a poorly written story is still a work of literature, whether it’s a work of quality, good art as it were, is an entirely separate question, and one that, in the end, is almost entirely subjective. For me, the best art conveys emotion, individual style, and or original concepts. Impressionist painting is great because of the lyrical way they capture light and atmosphere, not because they are making a statement about the nature of art. and as for your definition it’s unclear, since everything conveys content of some type.

King Raoh

Jason:

Can’t agree with your definition. It smacks of Modernist platitudes. Also a lie, as many of the pieces that Modern art supporters exalt were no more than decoration for all intents and purposes.

Impressionism was an exercise in technical study of the effects of light, first and foremost. It was ill suited to convey much else or cover a broad range of subjects, which is why the subjects they did paint were almost always prosaic. Whatever other meaning has been attached to it has been done so by critics, who are known to come up with interpretations that may have nothing to do with what is actually before them. With Impressionism, moreso than many other art movements, the technique IS the meaning. Monet was not making a critical statement on art itself when he painted the same church facade under different lighting conditions.

Your definition of art not only excludes illustrators, but people who were considered “real artists” for hundreds of years. What gives you the intellectual authority to leap beyond hundreds of years of art evaluation and esteem to decide what does and doesn’t qualify? Are the still lifes of Frans Snyders now not considered art, because their only meaning was to express the subject matter beautifully, vigorously, and with great technique?

Not to mention that terms have definitions, and there is no formal definition of the term “art” that demands “meaning” or “critical thinking” unless we include the expression of imagination under the umbrella of critical thinking skills. And some things are made worse by trying to force meaning into them when not relevant. Simplicity and directness have always been desirable and tasteful qualities in art. Adding meaning to things that don’t warrant it is how Modernism came to its ridiculous excesses, so that now an unmade bed is considered “high art.”

I’m afraid you’re holding an opposite extreme position to the “everything is art” notion (also a modern perspective, somehow).

Jason

A lot of the meaning of Impressionism does come from technique, and often times the meaning of art is a critical response to other art (kind of meta). The technique (abstracting the image/lighting into shapes of color, and allowing the paintness of the paint to be seen) and the selection of subject matter (everyday city life, country life, and mundane nature. repainting the same subject in a series) were both purposeful responses to the established art world.

50 years later you have painters making the statement that subject matter is not a required element of painting by painting pure compositions. A Renaissance architect makes a room with certain proportions because of their belief that proportion/math is an expression of the underlying divine natural order of the universe, and so that room may be art. Someone in a different time and place coincidentally making a room with the same proportions does not make it art.

If an unmade bed is a suitable medium for communicating a particular idea it is art, but not everyone in the world is an artist for producing an unmade bed every morning. Poetry is made out of words, and anything *can* be poetry, but not every shopping list is poetry. If I ask someone “why is this art?” and they say “because the painter was famous and made pretty paintings” then that artist had better have been an 19th century Aesthetic. And you can pit Oscar Wilde and John Ruskin into a death match against each other but they’re both artists.

I do think that a lot of what is being shown as art nowadays is actually pseudo-intellectual posturing, and that there is not any actual content being expressed. And because I believe that art is something that communicates things, whatever is being communicated should be detectable and should be direct (even if it’s a statement about indirectness, the fact that that is the topic should be communicated directly).

An ironic thought popped into my head though. There’s complaints that the arms race of flashy photorealism makes movies less artistic, while for a long stretch of history, art was nothing but an arms race of flashy realism.

All that said, while my definition does exclude a lot of things casually considered art (like most of deviant art), it does include a lot of things that aren’t given the dignity, like a lot of memes. Memes have most of the components of art and function similarly. If I knew a teenager who was really good at making memes I would encourage them to go to art school. I’m not picky about the medium. I’m also not picky about the content, and I recognize that there are grey areas about what counts as content. There are also some types of content that we might understand intuitively but might not be articulate enough to put into concrete explanations.

Larceny kilgore

Art, above all, is about the visual and perhaps tactile senses. It’s not about communicating intellectual ideas or philosophies, although that can be a secondary function of some art such as comics or illustrations. The same way music is about sound, and specific ideas expressed, beyond general emotional tone, must be done through lyrics, through words. Which is what your premise is also based on. Complex intellectual and philosophical ideas are fundamentally the domain of the writer, not the artist, and although an artist can hold such philosophies, and they might be reflected in his work, that aspect is separate from the primary visual experience.