Artificial Elegance

I grew up in a pre-CGI world where animation equaled cartoons, and the pinnacle of Hollywood’s special effects was the chase scene from Tron. Even Star Wars, the movie that ushered in the new era of special effects-driven films, was painstakingly low tech, with stop motion photography and models providing most of the action.

While it makes me feel old to see just how far the realm of computer animation and special effects have come in the last few years, it adds yet another dimension to the whole movie experience – jaw-dropping, mind boggling disbelief.

More and more, I find that I go to new movies these days purely to gawk at the latest animation – and I often come away disappointed because the animation didn’t break any new boundaries, or because the script, plot, and characters of the movie took a backseat to the effects.

For every Toy Story, however, there seems to be a dozen Big Blue’s out there, which suggests that this technology is maybe a little too affordable, and a little too widely available. Further evidence of this can be found anywhere on television, with computer animation selling everything from cars to toothpaste.

This abuse also diminishes the overall effect of computer animation at the movies, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Talking pets selling carpet freshener and space ships selling pop forces Hollywood to continually push the envelope, to go where no Gilette commercial has ever gone.

The results are stunning. A Bug’s Life, Shrek, and Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within are three beautifully rendered animated movies that went further than any before. The colours and the scenery are breathtaking, the characters are well drawn, and in the case of Final Fantasy, realistic right down to the pores on their digital noses.

Special effects have also come a long way in recent years, from the digital backgrounds of The Matrix, to the racing scenes in Driven, to the opulence of the city of Rome depicted in Gladiator, to the subtly gold-tinted world in O Brother, Where Art Thou.

While it is clear that CGI – computer generated imagery – can’t stand on its own without a good story, good direction, good script, good voices and excellent animation to back it up, there’s no question that the modern Hollywood "dream machine" is as much computer driven as it is driven by star power.

What’s next? Whether you’re a movie buff who wants to see what’s next, or someone considering a career change, you can find out all about the world of CGI at the following Web sites.


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