Chapter 4: Does Visual Effects kill the Cinema Experience?

Visual Effects has been used in movies since the beginning of film. Many people would argue that Visual Effects can take away from the story, but others would argue that it allows more freedom for filmmakers, directors and writers, as it allows them to tell any story without any barriers. With the advancement of technology, there are now no boundaries in what Visual Effects can achieve. Without the assistance of Visual Effects, would directors be able to create their fantasy worlds? No they couldn’t, because “A director’s vision may not match the physical tools available to create the film”. (Bodhani, 2014)

We are now at a time where one film can change how the visual Effects and film industry works. Take Avatar (2009) as an example. “Potentially offering as big a leap in our viewing experience as the change from black and white television to colour”. (Wrenn, 2009)

Market Analyst, PWC, completed a survey that shows the value of the Visual Effects industry, will grow from $90.0bn in 2014 to $110.01bn in 2018. This is a rise of 1.2% and over $20bn in just 4 years. This survey was completed in PWC’s Global entertainment and media outlook, 2014 – 2018.

Do films, which heavily rely on Visual Effects, generate enough income? What is their worldwide box-office gross? The highest grossing film ever made is Avatar (2009), which has a worldwide gross of $2,787,965,085. The other films which make up the top ten are Titanic (1997), Jurassic World (2015), The Avengers (2012), Furious 7 (2015), Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), Harry Potter, The Deathly Hallows, Part 2 (2011), Frozen (2013), Iron man 3 (2013) and Minions 2 (2015).

Every single one of these films heavily relay’s on Visual Effects and technology to make what happens on screen possible. However, take one thing into account. All of these films have a well-written script and solid acting. They have a good balance between the Visual Effects and the underlying story.

Going back to the 1970’s when advanced computerised photography Visual Effects began to come. Taking The Andromeda Strain (1971) as an example, when computer rendering was first used. The top grossing films of each decade since the 1970’s have heavily relied on Visual Effects to make the film possible. Star Wars: A New Hope (1977), E.T (1982), Titanic (1996), Avatar (2009) and Jurassic World (2015). This goes to show that audiences do enjoy films, which are heavily Visual Effects, based, but the films do have a strong story to it. The Visual Effects assists the movie.

Visual Effects is about creating reality, therefore, with the use of Green and Blue screens, recreating reality has become such a vital part in the production process, where it is now unusual for a film not to use Visual Effects to some extent. Visual Effects can be used for little things such as removing wire, telephone poles and streets. It is used throughout most films; even if it is so small the viewer doesn’t even notice it.

Would movies now be better received if there were no Visual Effects? Or is it the filmmaker’s fault that a film may be over using Visual Effects? Can they not adjust effectively to the modern day of filmmaking? A quote from Piers Bizony “One of the greatest misconceptions about modern movies is that Visual Effects are generated by computers. Nothing could be further from the trust. Human inventiveness is the most important ingredient and it always will be”. (Cortada, 2005)

Money may also come into play as to why Visual Effects is so heavily used. “The cost savings from avoiding location shooting can prove considerable”(Bodhani, 2014). However, you don’t get that natural feel to the environment. Instead you now that the actor is running against a green screen, holding a green prop. When you are not dealing with a real-life object, something physical, the filmmaker is at times tempted to go all out and then the real-life film that they are trying to create, feels and looks more like a cartoon. “If this new economy of illusion allows the CGI side of production to overwhelm the directors ability to tell a coherent story in his live-action side, digital effects may prove to be the ruination of movies” (Epstein, 2005)

The present author created an online multi-choice questionnaire, which he opened to both the general public, via social media, and also to those within the Visual Effects Industry. These people consist of Steve Kullback (VFX Producer for Game of Thrones), Joe Bauer (VFX Supervisor for Game of Thrones), Arron Roebuck (VFX Data-Wrangler) and Adam Chazen (VFX coordinator for Game of Thrones). To get their thoughts and opinions, as well as the general public allowed for a good understanding of how they felt about the prospect of Visual Effects possibly taking over the film industry.

The following questions where asking:

  1. Do you feel that Visual Effects taking over the film industry?
  2. Is Visual Effects diminishing other departments? (E.g. SFX).
  3. Do you feel that Directors are now using Visual Effects more to tell the story?
  4. Could films these days be created without the assistance of Visual Effects?
  5. Do you prefer to use old school techniques or complete CGI or both?

Each person would be able to choose either yes or no. ‘Do you feel that Visual Effects has taken over the film industry?’ scored 61% no and 39% yes. Eighteen people responded to this question, with both Steve and Joe answering no. These are two men who are well regarded within the Visual Effects industry, worldwide, and they feel that Visual Effects is not taking over the industry, however they both do feel that directors are now using Visual Effects more to tell the story. ‘Is Visual Effects diminishing other departments?’ scored 45% no and 55% yes. So most people feel that Visual Effects is not diminishing other departments within the industry. However, most people do feel that the directors are using Visual Effects to tell the story, with 83% in favour of yes. One of the most surprising results to come back was that 95% of the participants prefer a mixture of both Old School techniques and CGI. Complete CGI resulted in 5% and complete old school resulted in 0%.

These results have shown, from the people who took part, that they do prefer a film to use CGI, but also to mix it with some old school methods. This type of process is being used to create the New Star Wars trilogy and is one of the reason’s why it is being so heavily acclaimed.

Visual Effects should leave the viewer in wonder, not disbelief. Visual Effects is used to assist the story, however poor Visual Effects may take you out of the story. If the movie was spoiled for you because of over usage of Visual Effects, then there was to much Visual Effects. Just because a movie can do Visual Effects, doesn’t mean that they should use it. Some films, such as Jurassic World (2015), could not be created without the assistance of Visual Effects; however, it is there to assist the movie, not to take over the film/story. The best Visual Effects are those that are heavily story-driven and character-driven, with the assistance of Visual Effects. Not the other way around.



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