Effects of CGI | April 15, 2010

NOTE: This is an english paper I wrote last year, a little before the time before the movie Avatar’s premiere. This essay was to take a very new technology that has virtually no resources on. And to research it, since it is a new technology there were virtually no websites documenting CGI, also known as “Computer-Generated Imagery”. This technology I found to not really be new, but that the applications for it are just now being realized and also that it is not documented well. The point was to make an argument about it and determine if it is good or bad based on how it effects society in any way. This was a very difficult paper to create.

     CGI is limits use of real people and objects used for productions, isolating productions to a computer office taking away what is really there and what there is to experience, and are blurring the lines between reality and imagination. CGI (computer generated imagery) is the application of computers rendering images, used mainly in movies. CGI is used to enhance nature, or even create nature and the nature of things. CGI can create whole universes, with any changes the producers want in it. Producers of CGI can create whole scenes from a green screen.  “They’re building virtual worlds… using digital tools that blur the lines between animation and live-action, virtual sets and physical soundstage, photorealistic cartoon characters and motion-captured human beings.” (Wired magazine article on CGI) Just as modeling and advertising is skewing the view of how the world looks, computer graphics are twisting reality into something it’s not, and making the unreal look very real.

     Real set pieces, on-location filming, sets, stuntmen, extras, and to a lesser extent actors, are becoming all but obsolete with the application of computers in the film industry.  Special effects, now garner a new meaning, as before it was the pyrotechnics and wires that made up special effects, the explosions and physics-manipulating contraptions that pull off movie effects. But now what comes to mind is the use of computers on the movies that change something about them. The use of CGI is extremely rising; “Between 1995 and 2005 the average effects budget for a wide-release feature film skyrocketed from $5 million to $40 million.” CGI has been used for more than 3 decades. The first major film using a significant amount of CGI was “Tron” ( Extras can be made with CGI, so can whole scenes, and the cost of it is increasing rapidly. From there it had a slower start, but now, with computers and internet being a very common medium, naturally, CGI is becoming more commonplace in movies. Amount of CGI in movies is also increasing, as the new James Cameron Film “Avatar” is 60% CGI and is 400 million dollars for the production of this movie. The number of movies using CGI is rising too, “According to one studio executive, as of 2005[update], more than half of feature films have significant effects.” (wiki) Now you don’t need a set piece, or the actually effect, when you can make it. Even behind the camera, things are drastically changing. There is less need for film crew and they are being interchanged with computer technicians “On the set, there are far more computer jockeys than stagehands”( 60 minutes interviewer referring to the set of Avatar). This is changing the landscape of many sectors of the economy that will imbalance the whole movie industry’s current workers: actors, stagehands, stuntmen, and the computer industry. This change of medium is changing the way business operates in many aspects and they touch other types of businesses also. CGI isn’t only in movies and TV, but it’s a used mainly in that, those other uses of CGI, such as in pictures and advertising also, will change those businesses too, changing the landscape in a way which will be hard to react too. Use of actors and to a lesser degree, how they look, is becoming less and less important now. With CGI, you can make models look much younger, and if needed, look like a completely different person. In Terminator: Salvation, They had Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime, completely computerized, and even gave him healthy-looking, and bigger-looking than he does now, muscles. Bruce Willis in “Surrogates” looks 20 years younger through the use of CGI. Real is becoming less and less needed, and to producers, wanted for productions.

     CGI creates isolation from the world, from nature, because they create their own nature and world through the use of computers. The actually environments, and physical details, all coming from people, not nature itself, it’s created. They create explosions and actions done through CGI. And it’s rapidly getting less and less actual human actions and real environments. Cameron explains CGI technology saying “Even when we were doing “Titanic” 12 years ago, the shot at the bow where they kiss, we waited two weeks for the right sunset, now we just shoot it in front of a green screen and choose the right sunset later, digitally” (James Cameron, on Avatar, in 60 minutes). CGI makes offset, the actual set, not needing to find nature but to make it, isolating film crew to a studio green screen. The whole world of Pandora in Avatar wasn’t filmed in a jungle, but was created and inserted into the movie, through the use of green screens. To make that perfect shot took time, and a certain part of the day, and sometimes even a certain part of the year. Now it’s all done behind a computer. That isolates people from where they take their inspiration, where the physics are based off of, but aren’t used because of so much exposure and use to CGI, it will soon become the norm to view CGI and slowly, become more familiar, the sight of CGI, and blend into the background of reality, suffocating real reality with it. There is a further isolation, it is an isolation reality from the minds of viewers, with CGI becoming more dominant in media like TV, advertising, movies, and pictures as a few examples. The barrage of this in the mind changes that reality. Another isolation, which was not started by CGI nor popularized by CGI, is the isolation between businesses and the distance in the relationships between businesses. It is illustrated in this quote: “On a satellite link… at a special effects studio a world away… the final images are processed” (Interviewer on James’ Cameron’s Avatar). Hyperreality isn’t created but wildly grown, with applications of CGI. Computer generated imagery, blurs the lines of what is real and unreal; and through what is perceived in this new hyperreality, isolates you from whats truly there: reality. It creates and the Internet was the catalyst to this isolation from the world; and CGI technology is furthering it as an application usable through the internet. With a green screen, you can make any environment from anywhere, you can even create environment, you can be virtually everywhere, but in reality, your isolated from everything outside of the green screen, and it becomes a curtain to reality, to everyone who has seen it, and especially to those who work in CGI productions.

     Computer generated imagery is blurring the lines from reality and fantasy. Perceptions of the world will be very skewed based on movies and media that use them. Television, for example is using computer generated imagery in cartoons, and the amount is increasing just the same as in movies. Also, in many new primetime shows, CGI is becoming more common, and the production budget for T.V. shows is increasing. Use of CGI isn’t scary to think about until you fail to recognize the difference between real images and scenes and their CGI counterparts. Also, when you realize the power and versatility to create such detailed and smooth images and scenes.  When CGI becomes invisible, that’s when it will blur your own reality, and be shaped by what you see, and when you believe what you see is when reality is different in your mind. “Some of the effects were incredibly subtle tweaks…” ( article about LucasFilms’ use of CGI) CGI makes a hyperreality. “hyperreality characterizes the inability of consciousness to distinguish reality from fantasy…”(wikipedia article on hyperreality). Hyperreality is real, and will become more prevalent with the application and advancement of CGI. Physics too, are a part of hyperreality, and are made in the creator’s own mind virtually, and that is virtually how anything can be made. “[hyperreality is]…a condition in which “reality” has been replaced by simulacra”( on Jean baudrillard’s philosophy). Any universe with any physics can be made and perceived to be real. For example, in the movie “Surrogates”, There were stunts of Bruce Willis in a computer-rendered version of himself that was 20 years younger, and also as a robot, he gets his arms taken off, and also, with CGI, leaps over structures great distances, and gets hit by a car. The concept of the movie too, ironically, was that you can make your surrogate anything, look like anything, and do anything. Which today, with CGI, in a sense is becoming real, at least virtually for now. But to a smaller extent, there are computer generated avatars that you have online on various sites. Physics can get manipulated, but as long as it looks realistic, it won’t be noticed; and to fit a movie scene or premise, happens. Movies alter physics and that blurs the lines between reality and fantasy, the 10 foot tall blue people in avatar look very real, as to the environments in it. All this happens through CGI. “We can make the grass greener or yellower, the sky bluer…” (James Cameron in a 60 minutes interview, on CGI) CGI can make every blade of grass and whole ecosystem, all with incredible detail, looking extremely real. The movie “Avatar” is over 60% CGI, and the parts that aren’t CGI are the main actors, and all done in front of a green screen.  Just as I said in the second paragraph, real is becoming less and less needed and wanted, and with that, the picture of reality is so much better looking and will, to viewers be what reality is to them, giving them that false perception of reality twisting their views and deceiving, making them see life as worse than it should be.

Computer Generated Imagery is threatening the view on reality and providing more reason for people and businesses to isolate themselves. CGI is like an earthquake through the world, changing the landscape of economics, trading polygons for real tangible, natural things and people, and shaping reality through subtle and highly advanced imaging. That is the goal of CGI, to blend perfectly with human characters and environments. If they do achieve that goal, the landscape of reality will change in the minds of people everywhere; giving false perceptions of the world, and it will be subtle. “reach a point at which every aspect of their lives is taken care of by someone else are said to live in a hyperreal world. They lose the ability to interact with people on a normal level and are cocooned in hyperreality.”(, article on hyperreality) That is what will happen, when the reality gets blurred, hyperreality ensues, making it difficult interact, and ultimately, you will isolate yourself, giving another way CGI isolates people from the world. The solution is simple, to rely heavily on real people, sets, objects, stunts, and actions. It does limit what CGI can already do, but if it does persist, it will change the reality of the viewers and further isolation of developers and everything the technology touches. CGI brings about a level of solipsism, where only your mind exists, and with CGI, everything being virtual, it doesn’t exist, and your world and the people in it, are unreal, isolating you from reality, and others. Solipsism, that idea, isolates you from the world around. Viewers aren’t always alert of reality with so many ads and movies and media that change it, viewers aren’t critical when watching movies and all viewers can’t spot every CGI-enhanced frame. CGI technology is improving, almost to the point where you won’t be able to distinguish real from fake, so with this, it only seems necessary, in order to guard your minds, to get rid of it, or it will alter your reality, and isolate you in mind, and in the world.


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