Posted by: markfender | January 5, 2016

Practical CG

Hey, I finally watched Mad Max: Fury Road!


Tom Hardy is not that orange

It was okay. I was entertained and there were a lot of explosions, but it was also pretty ridiculous. I’ve never really understood the world or style of the Mad Max films – too much Australian, maybe? And it did amuse me that, for a movie about a guy called Mad Max, we don’t even see his complete adventures (The scene where he wanders off and then comes back with fresh wounds and fresh ammo, with no explanation of where he’s been, made me laugh). But, as has been discussed ad nauseum, the film wasn’t really about him.

But the other thing about Fury Road that was discussed to death was the use of practical effects. George Miller and his crew made a big deal of talking about how they did as much as they could practically in-camera. It was discussed as the return of practical effects and showed why CG shouldn’t always be the default option for films. Cars and chases, in particular, benefit from the “weight” of real life to add realism. So, that’s all good.

But it’s also a bit of bullshit. Because Fury Road had a ton of CG. The color grading, for instance. Tom Hardy is not that orange. Charlize Theron had a cyberarm the entire movie – that’s not exactly something you can rig up practically. Or how George Miller kept slowing the frame rate down.

Fury Road cost $150 million dollars to make. Do you really think that was all practical effects? Even though they did make all those fully functioning vehicles and run them around in a desert, that doesn’t cost $150 million. No, what costs that much are massive server farms to run computer renders. According to wikipedia (the most trusted news site we possess, now that we’re all Buzzfed), there were 2,000 effects shots in the film. That’s a lot of CG.

If anything, Fury Road shows how both methods should be used in film to capture a director’s vision. Miller wanted his deserts to be orange, he wanted elaborate desert bases carved into cliffs, and he wanted to show some sort of storm powerful enough to throw cars around. All of those things need to be CG. But, action scenes benefit from practical effects, and so he used those as well.

I think the problem with modern films is that CG is easy. The director can save tons of time that would be spent on set getting a practical effect just right by just handing it to the computer people. And the computer people spend all their time attempting to rig something up that seems realistic. And, there’s lots of places where CG has benefited the industry. Explosions, for instance, can be placed way closer to actors now because they all live in the computer. For safety reasons and just sheer coolness, it’s probably worth it to send those sorts of details to the render farm. But I think Miller demonstrated why it’s important to still do things the hard, old-fashioned way.

There was still way too much CG, though.


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