Thursday, August 13, 2009


I was watching Terminator II the other day. I hadn't seen it in a while, and if you haven't, remember that it's very good. It was also one of the first movies to use computerized effects, and it did so effectively. It did so in small, subtle places, such as whenever the liquid metal guy changes forms. They were peppered on for where creating the effect with real life materials would have been impossible.

The film features one shot of a helicopter going under a bridge. I doubt that someone actually flew a helicopter under a bridge, but the helicopter was definitely a real one. Perhaps it was on a track, but the shot looked great. This is something that Hollywood alone has the resources to do: smash-up cars, construct elaborate sets, blow-up buildings, and shoot miniatures, or, in short, do expensive things in real life. They have the capital to do massive scale productions.

Or at least, they did. The use of real life effects has slowly transitioned to computerized effects. Take, for example, the film "I am Legend." Most of the film's budget likely went to Will Smith's salary. The film utilized computerized effects to create zombies that look like they came out of an enhanced version of Poser. It was quite pathetic, really. With all of the capital available and all their resources, they used the computer to create villains which, at the time, were beyond the computer's ability to capture.

The use of the computer allows one to do things that traditional effects did not permit, but it has a restriction. Unless you're creating something far beyond the imagination, that thing will look fake. Humanoid zombies are not far beyond the imagination, leaving the zombies in "I am Legend" to be visibly computer generated and unrealistic. I can't even tell you what it was about them--perhaps a smoothness, something often the downfall of computer effects. I'm not sure.

When watching Terminator II, I put the pieces from "I am Legend" together. Hollywood is trying to use the computer to cheat us. Instead of trying to make the best films possible with the best effects, they're cutting costs. It also reveals their weakness; anybody nearly has the resources at their disposal to do what Hollywood is doing now.

With a good camera, a decent computer, and the right software, one can make a video production with effects on par with "I am Legend," or better. These only cost a couple thousand dollars, unlike multimillion dollar Hollywood budgets of films past. What one lacks is the visual effects experience--by dicking around with the software tools or taking a few classes, one can obtain that--and the acting talent--which is present everywhere, if you look hard enough.

It's ironic that the tools that make Hollywood become obsolete also destroy the traditional distribution scheme. Piracy through the Internet is rising and looks to completely undermine the whole system. The future of film is in your basement, on the computer, and digital.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting point. I agree, though I don't think I Am Legend's AI was so bad. Also, I don't think everyone in Hollywood is trying to cheat us... there are exceptions- I don't think I've ever seen CG used so well as it was in James Cameron's "Avatar." The wonders of 3DS Max and Maya have never shined so brightly before..

Saturday, April 03, 2010 6:47:00 PM  
Blogger The Emperor of the Moon said...

We're going to have to agree to disagree about I Am Legend, because those were joke zombies.

Avatar was definitely a coming of age for CG. Nevertheless, a couple of guys with a farm of beasty computers can accomplish a lot of those effects. If you want 3d, strap two cameras together.

Sunday, April 04, 2010 2:38:00 PM  

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