Are we heading for an effects devolution revolution?

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Upcoming blockbusters that go easy on the CGI may pave the way for directors looking to use practical effects.

This year at the San Diego Comic-Con, the new trailer for Mad Max: Fury Road dropped to massive applause and positive Twitter reaction. Whether it will be a quality film is another story, given the controversies and delays, but one of the more exhilarating aspects of the trailer was the obvious use of real cars, stunts, and sets. CGI was minimal, and the result of such physicality was part of what made the trailer stand out.

Hopefully this shift in mindset will allow studios and serious filmmakers to employ practicality in their money shots

Christopher Nolan has always been a proponent of using practical effects and sets where possible – remember the spectacular chase scene in The Dark Knight which ended up with an eighteen-wheeler flipping end over end?  The entire sequence was filmed on the streets of Chicago with real vehicles, making the event all the more thrilling. There were clearly moments throughout Inception where green screens were essential, but wherever he could, Nolan incorporated spinning rooms and elaborate sets.

Practical special effects appear to be making a comeback. Of course, this doesn’t mean the green screens are going away for good, not that they need to; Guardians of The Galaxy makes excellent work of CGI to surround a fantastically fun film. But practical effects have become a dying art form in the age of the computer, and hopefully this slight shift in the mindset of directors like Nolan and George Miller (who directed the first three Mad Max films, as well as the new one) will allow studios and serious filmmakers to employ practicality in their money shots.

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It is no groundbreaking analysis to say practical special effects are more impacting when used properly. They carry more weight in the scene and the end result is much more spectacular than if those same stunts were instead done on a computer. There is a sense of wonder in a practical effects scene pulled off with daring and what was most certainly real danger. We connect to reality on a much more base level than we do with artificial reality.

The fanboy fervour over the appearance of actual X-Wings speaks to the desire of audiences to see something real again

Green screens and CGI will never go away, but perhaps some films that exist merely to show off cool computer effects (cough, Transformers, cough) should. Consider the most recent Star Wars trilogy, a lazy and mind-numbing assault of lifeless, soulless green screen action that never for a moment engaged the viewer. Now, brand new Star Wars films are being made, and the fanboy fervour over the appearance of actual X-Wings and physical, tangible props, sets and vehicles speaks directly to the desire of modern audiences to see something real again.

Computer-generated effects have peaked, and when used effectively they can be very engaging in their own way (see: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes). But as CGI has advanced, budgets have grown and logistical intelligence has advanced to a point where real, practical effects should not be simply a thing of the past. Time for something real. At least every once in a while.

 

Read more: Can CGI in the movies ever escape ‘uncanny valley’?

 

All images: Warner Bros

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