Technology has always been part of the film industry. In the late 1880s, Thomas Edison built the Strip Kinetograph, an early version of a motion picture camera. He then built a Kinetoscope to play the movies. This was the start of what has become a multi-billion dollar industry. As the decades wore on, new technological advances made filmmaking much easier and faster. When computers came on the scene, film producers and directors were able to create fantastic worlds and “tricks” on film. A green screen made it possible for actors to be dangerous situations or on another planet without leaving the sound stage. However, the most amazing innovation is CGI or computer-generated imagery.
CGI is older than you think. It dates back to the 1950s when mechanical computers were used to create patterns onto animation cells. From there we see CGI used in a variety of styles, including animation, 3D animation, digital morphing, particles and more. It creates realistic-looking imagery and allows a scene to be shot from different angles and edited numerous times without the cost and risk of doing it in reality. The tide turned when we saw the first CGI and live-action film, Tron. With the advancements in computers, particularly in the 1990s, we saw CGI create more special effects. In the next two decades, CGI was perfected to the point where the characters looked human-like. This is more evident in video games (e.g. Halo 2) since they are created with computers (i.e. programming). Yet, in films, CGI gives filmmakers more control over their actors and scenes. CGI can age characters without the actors having to go through hours of makeup. It also creates realistic explosions and natural disasters without damaging the environment.
While CGI has made movies more dynamic, there have been some criticisms. For example, it can create a scene that “unengages” the audience; the characters are clashing, which lessens the impact of the story. Another issue is that an animated character looks fake. This is what happened in the Sonic the Hedgehog movie. Audiences did not like the way Sonic looked, especially his teeth. The director of the film, Jeff Fowler, responded to the complaints and changes were made to the design of Sonic.
Without CGI, we wouldn’t have fluid morphing in the Abyss or the human skin effects in Death Becomes Her. The film industry has been changing by leaps and bounds with technological advances. It will be interesting to see how CGI will change in the next decade.