Why Special Effects are no longer ‘Special’
Welcome to the modern world of cinema where Indian Film Industry takes great pride in producing big spectacles like Robot, Ra.One and recently, Bahubali. They say, the special effects done in these films match the International standards. That’s great. It’s just that even Hollywood is failing to make convincing visual effects.
So, what makes CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) real or fake? Is it because every other action, fantasy, sci-fi and superhero movie is overloaded with special effects that even locations are sometimes superimposed on green screens later on. Whatever the reason is the audiences don’t get blown away by such visuals anymore?
There was a time when special effects were actually special. Like when Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey took audiences on a journey to the moon and beyond in 1968 (a year before mankind landed on the moon). The result is still jaw dropping and feels real. The reason why some visual effects become immortal is when ample amount of time is spent on every minute detail to make it look photorealistic.
After the success of movies like James Cameron’s Terminator 2 and Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, it became apparent that CGI was the best way to create realistic effects. One of the main reasons this revolutionary technology outshined stop-motion techniques was the object’s movement. It got the physics right.
But then 20 decades later, Hollywood lost the concept of realistic movement with CGI. Scenes from most summer blockbusters showcase stunts that are impossible to perform with an actual human. Thus, movies have abandoned the concept of physics and with that goes the audience’s perceptions of reality.
There are a few film-makers who would still demand practical effects and then send it to the animation studio to further enhance those effects on the computer. This approach, although relatively expensive, helps deliver a shot that is part real and part CGI. For instance, George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road looks grittier and epic than all Fast and Furious films combined. It’s because the car crashes, the death-defying stunts in Fury Road were all captured on location.
In some rare cases, years are invested to achieve that perfect, flawless shot that will blow everyone’s minds like Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity..
So, the problem is not that we are seeing too many VFX driven sequences nowadays and therefore, don’t care about their credibility. It’s actually the studios that are promising less time to deliver effects that deserve much more. Moreover, it’s the director’s duty to approve a shot only if it looks real but this ‘Can do anything’ attitude of the animation studios has made most film makers lazy. They would gladly choose to get the silliest of things rendered on a computer that otherwise, could’ve been achieved in reality from a camera.
Filmmakers are so used to being able to just call someone and ask them to do the impossible that they take it for granted. Even worse, the technology is slowly changing the way stories are told. In every other summer blockbuster the climax shows uninspired similarities like the end of the world is nigh, a bomb is about to go off or some sort of epic CGI mayhem. Every such film is relying completely on visual effects in the last 30 minutes.
Now just because CGI wizardry is allowing the directors to do it, doesn’t always mean that they should as some of the audiences out there are getting tired of these clichéd scenes because of the hollow quality.
The silent, black and white film named ‘A trip to the moon’ released in 1902, proves that since the beginning of cinema, visual effects have always been a part of this art form and CGI, just like any innovation in cinema is simply a tool for the filmmakers to tell a story but when the end result is bad, maybe it’s really not the tool’s fault, maybe it’s the filmmaker’s whose responsibility to use the tool wisely.