Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Computerized Graphics Just Can't Cut It

While reading Marina Grzinic’s article entitled Exposure Time, the Aura and Telerobotics, I found her characterization of computer generated images to be especially illuminating. In her article the author states that “as more of and more of our images are computer generated, and television and radio are overtaken by the near instantaneous speed of calculation, we are witnessing an ever more exact and complete aesthetic sterilization of the image”.

I could not agree more with this characterization. While reading this passage I immediately began to think the many problems with the modern special effects used in contemporary filmmaking.

In modern films, all special effects and major props are no longer constructed with real materials but instead they are generated for half the cost by computer animation and design programs. While these computer generated accessories cost less and can sometimes achieve the desired effect, they can almost never fully convince the audience of their authenticity. So while the computer can get the job done, it can’t actually convince the audience that what is going on is actually real.

A clear example of this shortcoming can be seen in the two Star Wars Trilogies. In the first trilogy (released in the late 70’s) all special effects and props were 100% analogue, and the audience could feel the reality of it all. When we saw the space ships parked in a hanger we could see that the ships were metal and that they were actually designed and constructed. When we saw the robots and aliens we could see that real actors were wearing real costumes in order to play these parts in the film and this overbearing sense of authenticity and had a powerful effect on the audience.

Now contrast this to the new Star Wars Trilogy, filled with non-existent animated characters and CGI space ships. I think we can all agree that it had quite a different feel to it, in fact, I think we can all agree that it just didn’t feel right. When the computer animated Jar Jar Binks starts talking you just don’t feel the authenticity of the character. Instead, all of a sudden you feel as if you’re in a cartoon. In addition, all the ships and the buildings are perfectly streamlined, and plated with shining metallic silver. What happened to that authentic feel of the first Trilogy? Where are the old fighter ships that look like a space version of an old beat up Chevy or a World War II Spitfire – used, abused, dented and rusted like a real fighting craft. Where are the dirty, ugly aliens? Instead we are barraged with cartoon like aliens and perfectly constructed crafts which seem to bring us to some Saturday morning cartoon version of Star Wars.

In short, as Marina highlights in her article computer graphics just don’t have the “feel” of the real thing, they are too mathematically perfect, too smooth and streamlined to be a part of the real, imperfect, wonderful world. Until we have a computer program that can incorporate rust, tears, dirt and sweat into the programming matrix, computer graphics will always be limited to a sterile world of unauthentic, unconvincing mathematically perfected images.



Blogger Ifan Wei said...

I have to disagree with you about your criticism of the spaceships in Star Wars. You are correct in that the spaceships in the original trilogy from the 70's seem older and more rusted. However, this is because the civil war, depicted in the new trilogy, and conquest of the Empire has left the universe devastated. Luke Skywalker and the rebels use whatever scraps and recycled materials they can find to build their ships. The shinier ships from the new trilogy that you are referring to are from the royal navy of Naboo. So, of course they're going to be glossier.

Now that I've established myself as a complete nerd, I do have to say that your overall point is valid. A better example you could of used is how Yoda is represented. Instead of using a puppet as in the original trilogy, they changed his character to be completely CGI in the 2nd interation of the new trilogy. This gave his character a very different appearance. Many people believe this use of CGI was merely to allow Yoda to have a fight scene. I felt it was a cheap gimmick as well. While Yoda was given more freedom of movement from this new technology, his movements and facial expressions were drastically changed. It almost made him seem like a new character.

4/19/2007 11:58 AM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home