Thumbs Up and Thumbs Down of CGI

Computer Generated Imagery or CGI is a three dimensional computer graphics application used in creating the special effects in movies.

CGI goes back to 1968 when some Russian mathematicians made the image of a cat move across a screen. In 1968, “Hummingbird”, a 10 minute animation, by Charles Csuri was the first CGI film. The first time CGI was used in a major film Yul Brenner had a POV shot in 1973 “Westworld”. “Futureworld”, in 1976, used CGI to create characters in the background. The CGI effect really took off when George Lucas used it in 1977 for “Star Wars”. CGI is used to create effects that cannot be achieved in reality such as crowd scenes and special effects that would be otherwise too expensive.

Computer Generated Imagery ( CGI )


What are the capabilities of CGI Today?

Since 2009, CGI has won the Best Achievement in Cinematography Award three times, for “Avatar”, “Hugo”and “Life of Pi.” Woody Schultz is a movie actor who you would probably not recognise because he was manipulated into many forms through CGI. He has appeared in “Polar Express,” “Monster House,” “Beowulf” and “Avatar.” He claims to be at the ranks of movie actors such as George Clooney and Daniel Craig because of the $4M his movies had earned at the box office. CGI had managed to create digital hair and makeup for Woody Schultz when he performed on screen. He was able to play many different kinds of parts within a single film, including CGI men and women of all shapes and sizes, elves, aliens, monsters and demons from ages 6 to 6,000.

CGI technology made it possible for James Cameron to bring his settings and six legged creatures into a live action film about the world of Pandora. CGI enabled Cameron to have epic waterfalls, trees and plants at excessive and unreal sizes. CGI can bring extinct characters from the prehistoric era back to life, at least in film. In “Jurrassic Park”, thanks to Industrial Light & Magic, eighty seamless effects shots allowed the dinosaurs freer movement than animatronics had in the past. Industrial Light & Magic also created water effects in “The Abyss,” about water based aliens whose bodies and faces had a watery appearance.

Limitations of CGI

With all the great things CGI can do, how can there be anything that limits the use of CGI? For all the capabilities that CGI has, there are still areas in which the technology isn’t sophisticated enough. I’ll share some of the areas that CGI does not work. CGI cannot create a live action person from scratch and have him do unusual stunts. In addition to that, replicating human interaction with CGI enhanced creatures does not work. CGI has a problem with recreating actual lighting similar to that of the actual world. Human skin is so complex that CGI is unable to adequately replicate it. Technology is improving, but actual skin is proving difficult to crack.

Cannot Create Live Action From Scratch

Let’s take the movie “Avatar” for example. For all the CGI that went into making “Avatar,” the movie still needed live actors , real horses and models of the flying creatures that went into the film. Shots of real things like trees and plants had to be scanned in order to create the magical world of Pandora. In the casting of “Avatar,” the actors had to have a level of physicality and facial expressions matching the characters they’d represent. The actors had to be trained to ride horses and perform archery in order to have their images able to be manipulated into the film. CGI can’t create a live action character and have him do all the stunts by manipulating him. The whole thing would look fake.

In other words, Woody Schultz played characters that were all shapes sizes, ages, and both sexes, but all his characters had to share the same facial expressions and physicality. Zoe Saldana, who played Neytiri in “Avatar,” had spent months in training to get her into shape to be able to do things specific to her character. She had to learn to ride horses and use archery. Some actors had to learn to use machine guns. It was mentally and physically challenging for actors who filmed these scenes in the traditional way films were made, as though it would be done without CGI. Afterwards, some computer generation would be added in this “capture performance.”

Replicating Human Interaction with CGI Enhanced Creatures Does Not Work

Human interaction is a problem with CGI. Robotic sharks were used for closeups in “Deep Blue Sea.” Animation dinosaurs were used for closeups in “Jurrasic Park.” The CGI dinosaurs close up can look like they have a deformed appearance.

Realistic Effects

Altering a person’s look of maturity is inconsistent. In the movie “Tron” it was able to make Jeff Bridges look twenty years younger, however, there were times when it looked more like an effect. The character does not look smooth in freeze frame. In “The Hulk,” the character freezes in mid air and has a white line around him. Audiences found the CGI Hulk, in general, did not look as good as if he were done with studio makeup.  Who could forget the scene in “Pacific Rim,” where the kiaju attacked the Golden Gate Bridge? It looked fantastic from afar, until you got closeup scenes. The intricacy of a real bridge is missing, the snapping cables, crumpled steel and real cars plunging into the the sea.


Audiences complained that the sky and area used in “OZ the Great and Powerful,” did not look as good as the sky and area that was used in 1939’s “The Wizard of OZ.” Real lighting is difficult to reproduce. No Doubt Computer Generated Imagery or CGI will continue to improve in the years ahead.


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