Why VFX should Only be Treated as a Tool in Film Making

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Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) is seen as the bane for good cinema. CGI stuffed summer blockbusters have taken over the industry and are taking away the magic of movies! Computers have ruined movies, it is often said, but how true is that statement? Any person who says that is sure to quote the cinema of yesteryear that was made with only practical effects. The first Jurassic Park movie is often quoted as well. The movie holds up well to this day, the visuals look great, and it is infinitely watchable.

Good vs bad CGI

Even today, directors like Chris Nolan and George Miller are lauded for their use of practical effects over CGI, bringing in a kind of realism to their films. Facts, however, are quite different. CGI is almost always used by filmmakers these days. Even the most real looking movies are chalk full of CGI, but it is barely noticeable.

The only reason VFX and CGI look bad is because the only ones that you notice are badly done. If you do not see it, then it becomes a part of the scene and goes completely unnoticed, that is good VFX. Good CGI is everywhere, in every film. The trick is to pair it with good storytelling.

VFX is a powerful tool that is intended to be used to create great visuals. What it should not become is a way to replace storytelling or to mask bad writing. Think of some of the most beautiful movies put to the screen, like Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon or even the aforementioned Jurassic Park. The visual effects are not perfect, but the flaws are barely noticeable because the movie engages you in more than just a visual sense. If all you have are flashy visual effects, it is going to be bad, no matter what happens on screen; the Transformers movies are a testament to this fact.

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So, as an Indie filmmaker, you are unlikely to have the budget of Avatar or the Life of Pi, but you may still need to use visual effects. It is safer to use CGI than to crash a real car, but if you actually need to show it as an integral part of the plot and for reasons that are completely plot and character driven and not simply because they look good, even your homemade VFX can add to your film.

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