Friday, January 14, 2011

When CGI was an artform

There was a time (believe it or not) when computer generated imagery showed great promise in the world of filmmaking. When artists first started making CGI short films, there was a wide array of abstract possibility.
This short from Apollo computers shows a dreamlike reality, with awesome texture and amazing visuals. I remember when the video compilation Beyond the Mind's Eye first came out and was blown away by the psychedelic kaleidoscope of imagery and eye candy.

In the early days there was an organic quality to CGI that was both interesting and impressive.

When Tron first opened in 1982, it created a primitive but captivating world set inside a computer generated universe. There was something so bizarre and interesting to the look and feel of the film that set new standards for cinema.
As time went on and graphics became more "lifelike" you started to see a decline in the more abstract and surreal imagery, and the movement towards photorealism started to take hold.
By the time that movies like Star wars: the Phantom Menace, and Final Fantasy came out, movies were using CGI for pretty much everything no matter how tacky and cheap it looked. 2d animation had also been replaced in favor of CGI and a string of really bad kid's films began showing up in theaters everywhere.
The only studio that I believe has managed to really make good CG animated features has been Pixar studios. The quality of their animation is excellent, but what really makes their movies a joy to watch, is the fact that their stories are always very well-written and filled with memorable characters.

Nowadays, the point of CGI is to try and recreate reality as closely as possible, which in my opinion is such a boring waste of a great tool. It's a shame that CGI has replaced everything; Sets, make-up, costumes, creature effects, pyrotechnics, props, and even actors.
Although CGI has great potential for animation, it just doesn't look remotely real or lifelike and has a weird sharpness to it that just looks phony and two dimensional. CGI has now become a tool for lazy and unimaginative filmmakers, and has pretty much destroyed media in general.

Good old-fashioned prosthetics can never be replaced by computers- just look at the photo underneath:
This is a still from the 1991 David Cronenberg  film Naked Lunch. The mugwump creature designed by Chris Walas has a so much depth, texture, and detail to it, and it's just impossible to recreate this with a computer program.
Just compare the mugwump to one of the CGI monstrosities from the film Avatar, and one can really see just how flat and two dimensional these photorealistic characters really are. I guess that didn't stop audiences from eating up the hype surrounding Avatar and flocking to the theaters to see what is basically a CGI version of Captain Planet and the Planeteers.
This is unfortunate, as CGI has many great things to offer, but only when used in the proper context. If you're going to make a film you need REAL things for the actors to interact with, so that the audience will believe that it's really there. Just note the difference in these two clips.
The first is a clip from the brilliant children's film The Neverending Story, which was made before CGI took over the industry. Take a look at how realistic everything looks- there is nothing phony or cheesy looking about this sequence.
And now take a look at a scene of Jar Jar Binks from one of the new Star Wars films. Notice how goofy the movements are, and how the interaction with the actors is unconvincing and flat.

Now, on a final note, observe Rob Bottin's excellent make-up for the swamp witch from the film Legend with the computer generated Gollum from The Lord of the Rings. When you compare the two, you can really see just how pathetic this so called photorealistic junk really is.

Sure those graphics might look fine for a video game, but as a main character in a feature film? My only hope is that one day CGI will return to it's abstract and surreal roots, and people will once again rely on practical effects work and real sets instead of green-screened nonsense. If this happens, maybe we will see much more interesting motion pictures in the future of cinema.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Worst Cartoon VHS covers

If you grew up in the late 80's early 90's, you would have been fortunate enough to have owned or seen at some point, one of those cheap dollar VHS tapes, with a mangled version of your favorite cartoon character stamped all over it. These tapes were usually a half hour long, and contained cartoons that had fallen into the public domain.  After re-visiting some of these tapes, I'm shocked at how crudely drawn the covers are. I find myself amazed that these things actually made it into super markets and video stores across the nation. These drawings are just plain awful, like a first grader drew it in crayon after getting a concussion.
 Hard to believe that this blackface cartoon was released for kids in the 80's.

This must have been when Daffy Duck was on meth..
Is Porky Pig robbing the train?

 Words can't even describe this one...

I just can't stop laughing at how atrocious these are...

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Sky Motif

It's quite interesting to note that a number of 80's horror and sci-fi films became obsessed with this "sky motif" where faces seem to float in the atmosphere for no apparent reason. It was kind of a cool trend, and some amazing artwork came out of it...