Special Effects... Now vs. Then? - AVS Forum
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post #1 of 190 Old 12-27-2009, 10:18 AM - Thread Starter
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After seeing Avatar and being blown away by the CGI, it made me think of the special effects used in older films. They also showed the Clash of the Titans trailer, which made me think of the special effects used in the original. The first time I saw the original CotT was when I was 10 or so (it came out when I was 5). I remember being scared at how realistic everything looked.

For those old enough to have seen movies like CotT when they were older, were those special effects realistic to you? Any other movies that you specificially remember being realistic or groundbreaking at the time for special effects?
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post #2 of 190 Old 12-27-2009, 11:15 AM
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Star Wars, Jaws and Alien are pretty damn impressive even to this date.
2001 is from the late 60s and that one holds up pretty well also.

The CG in Abyss and T2 were groundbreaking but my personal favorite from when CG was young is Jurassic Park. They were goin for stop motion but changed their mind to CG. Turned out pretty great eh?
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post #3 of 190 Old 12-27-2009, 12:26 PM
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In one fell swoop (Spielberg's), Jurassic Park (1993) rendered the stop-motion technique all but obsolete. That means (the original) Clash of the Titans (1981), King Kong (1933), One Million Years B.C. (1966), Mighty Joe Young (1949?), etc., though classics, were instantly antiquated. Well, KK was already mostly there; Peter Jackson's (2005) version pushed it down even further.

Even T2 (1991) made the original Terminator (1984) look outdated, thanks to shiny new- then state of the art digital effects.

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post #4 of 190 Old 12-27-2009, 12:47 PM
 
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To be honest, I find some older films to be far more convincing with their older techniques and models than a lot of the newer CG stuff.

There is something far more convincing about a real scene, rather than a fantastical CGI scene, even given the limits of the real.

Thinking back to a film like Alien, or films like 2001, or Blade Runner, or THX1138, the effects and sets in those are simply amazing, and a lot of that kind of stuff would all be CGI these days, and I find it far less convincing in a lot of ways.

Even some of the epic classic films like Lawrence of Arabia, or Patton that's all for real, not CGI. Watching something today like Australia or Benjamin Button, it just loses a lot of that reality for me with all the CGI.

CGI is a powerful tool, and can be used in brilliant ways too, but I also feel like some of the fierce constraints of years gone by can also yield stunning results, and in some cases more impressive results than scenes that you just know are CGI and inevitably feel 'fake' in comparison. Nothing beats the intensity of a massive army of samurai on horseback in Kurosawa's Ran or Kagemusha, compared to the CGI hordes in something like John Woo's Red Cliff.

I mean, looking back at a film like 2001 even, watching that today on BD, or in the theater in 70mm, the effects in that film are simply stunning, and none of that is CG. There is no way that would be made without CG today, and it would be significantly worse off for it, IMO.
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post #5 of 190 Old 12-27-2009, 12:53 PM
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Personally, I like The Sword and the Dragon (Viewable on YouTube)

I remember seeing it as a kid, and my only disappointment was that the dragon came so late in the movie - i.e., Part 9/9 in the MST3K YouTube version: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-mhTohA1-Wk
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post #6 of 190 Old 12-27-2009, 01:13 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ChrisWiggles View Post

To be honest, I find some older films to be far more convincing with their older techniques and models than a lot of the newer CG stuff.

I agree, and think that Bruce the mechanical shark is a good example. Even though it doesn't look realistic (as far as mouth and shape proportions go) as a real great white, it looked far better and more convincing than anything in Deep Blue Sea's CGI repertoire.

Stephen.

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post #7 of 190 Old 12-27-2009, 01:19 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ChrisWiggles View Post

To be honest, I find some older films to be far more convincing with their older techniques and models than a lot of the newer CG stuff.

There is something far more convincing about a real scene, rather than a fantastical CGI scene, even given the limits of the real.

Thinking back to a film like Alien, or films like 2001, or Blade Runner, or THX1138, the effects and sets in those are simply amazing, and a lot of that kind of stuff would all be CGI these days, and I find it far less convincing in a lot of ways.

Even some of the epic classic films like Lawrence of Arabia, or Patton that's all for real, not CGI. Watching something today like Australia or Benjamin Button, it just loses a lot of that reality for me with all the CGI.

CGI is a powerful tool, and can be used in brilliant ways too, but I also feel like some of the fierce constraints of years gone by can also yield stunning results, and in some cases more impressive results than scenes that you just know are CGI and inevitably feel 'fake' in comparison. Nothing beats the intensity of a massive army of samurai on horseback in Kurosawa's Ran or Kagemusha, compared to the CGI hordes in something like John Woo's Red Cliff.

I mean, looking back at a film like 2001 even, watching that today on BD, or in the theater in 70mm, the effects in that film are simply stunning, and none of that is CG. There is no way that would be made without CG today, and it would be significantly worse off for it, IMO.

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post #8 of 190 Old 12-27-2009, 01:35 PM
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Blade Runner is still visually stunning with lots of impressive special effects. I doubt that the opening flyover of the the city would have looked any better if it was done with CGI.

In general, the films that heavily used miniatures, hold up well in my opinion. They used to have some really talented model makers in Hollywood.

And the latex effects guys did some really impressive work in films like Videodrome. And they're still doing some great makeup effects with latex.
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post #9 of 190 Old 12-27-2009, 01:50 PM
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CGI can look good if they spend time on it. When it's rushed (a la any SyFy channel movie where they crank out three a month), it looks like total crap.

But the same was true of stop motion and models. There's realistic looking ones, and crappy looking ones. I think it all depends on the skill of the effects team and the time invested.

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post #10 of 190 Old 12-27-2009, 02:12 PM
 
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The use of matte paintings has been replaced with green screen/CGI backgrounds. Maybe more realistic but some of those painting were incredible.
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post #11 of 190 Old 12-27-2009, 02:41 PM
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Yeah, some were great. There was also some really bad blue screen work from back then, too, that is downright laughable today. When that was cutting edge, though, it *kinda* worked (depended on what they were trying to do.)

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post #12 of 190 Old 12-27-2009, 03:44 PM
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People have become pretty jaded when it comes to special effects these days. People have a very low tolerance for anything that isn't "realistic", and are quick to cry foul when anything looks remotely fake.

I'm sure that back in 1933, no one walked out of King Kong saying that Kong looked like a real gorilla, or that the dinosaurs looked like "real" dinosaurs. They were swept up by the spectacle of an entertaining movie that had F/X that were greater than anything seen before. No one questioned the "realism" because they appreciated the animation.

Compare that to Peter Jackson's remake. Do the "improved" special effects make it a better movie? I don't think so. As far as I'm concerned the original is a far more entertaining and charming film, and part of that is due to the work of Willis O'Brien. His effects, while obviously not "realistic", have a wonderful charm and is endlessly fascinating to watch, especially when you consider the tremendous amount of work that went into it.
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post #13 of 190 Old 12-27-2009, 03:56 PM
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In spite of the nostalgia around here for the days of the guys in rubber suits, most of the folks that regularly watch films prefer CGI stuff.
At least that is what my non-geeky movie friends tell me...

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post #14 of 190 Old 12-27-2009, 09:13 PM
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I think a lot of special effects are way over used. Look at "The Exorcist" and any other of the new supernatural movies. Even "The Entity" versus the new stuff. Granted the Horror genre has migrated from ghosts to torture. I prefer the older ones, minimal effects etc.

I think Avatar may set the bar for Sci-Fi going forward. So much of it was seamless.
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post #15 of 190 Old 12-27-2009, 09:27 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by oink View Post

In spite of the nostalgia around here for the days of the guys in rubber suits, most of the folks that regularly watch films prefer CGI stuff.

Well, I think that crowd likes modern films in general. I have a hard time convincing a lot of my friends to watch old romantic comedies vs. new ones, and there are almost no effects in either.

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post #16 of 190 Old 12-27-2009, 09:50 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tulpa View Post

I have a hard time convincing a lot of my friends to watch old romantic comedies vs. new ones, and there are almost no effects in either.

I thought I was the only one!

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post #17 of 190 Old 12-27-2009, 11:01 PM
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Both Avatar and Sherlock Holmes have reached a new level. I didn't even think about the effects in either one (and that's hard to do in Avatar) as I had no idea what was real and what wasn't. It was all dead convincing to me.

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post #18 of 190 Old 12-28-2009, 02:37 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JHouse View Post

Both Avatar and Sherlock Holmes have reached a new level. I didn't even think about the effects in either one (and that's hard to do in Avatar) as I had no idea what was real and what wasn't. It was all dead convincing to me.

10 foot tall blue people and you didn't think about the effects?
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post #19 of 190 Old 12-28-2009, 07:31 AM
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Originally Posted by Kilgore View Post

10 foot tall blue people and you didn't think about the effects?

Didn't with a 40 foot tall T-Rex...

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post #20 of 190 Old 12-28-2009, 11:17 AM
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When people say CGI looks fake I tend to come to it's defense. For the most part, FX these days are vastly better than the old days. We've just become inured to them.

At the same time I agree that there can be something "lost" when relying heavily on CGI vs the practical effects of days past. I recently viewed both the new Star Trek 2009 and Blade Runner. I absolutely love the FX in Star Trek and there are many shots that blow away some of the FX in Blade Runner. Yet the use of real sets and real models often lends Blade Runner a convincing quality that escapes even some of the Star Trek effects. Although CGI has been approaching photo-realism - and actually achieves it sometimes - there is still something effortlessly "there" about an actual model photographed vs rendered in CGI. You may recognize it's a model...but it looks "real" and "there," and solid.

Same with Jaws as someone mentioned. Much more menacing than the CGI sharks in Deep Blue Sea. Even in Jaws when the mechanical shark is at it's most exposed, as when it is eating Quint, it has more menace than a CGI creation. This is because even though it may not look exactly like a real shark, it's still clearly a real HUGE physical object in front of Robert Shaw, viciously snapping it's mouth at his legs. So whether it looks exactly like a real shark, the sheer physicality of the images convey a sense of real danger.

And I still find Alien among the most convincing over-all sci-fi effects films, despite slip ups here and there.
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post #21 of 190 Old 12-28-2009, 11:47 AM
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For me, the best comparison of new and old special effects are the hacked up versions of the original Star Wars trilogy that were just on Spike HD on Christmas Eve. In my opinion, the addition of CGI to the movies completely ruins them - well, can't say completely, but it immediately takes me out of the movie. The old special effects were just about perfect, why try to throw in a CGI alien singer next to one that was animatronic back then (or whatever they were)? I'm sure these movies were discussed ad naseum when they came out, but I'm not sure I've ever seen the updated versions.

Not sure if I'm just sensitive to CGI, but if it's not used properly, it completely takes me out of a movie.

I can find so much more enjoyment in a crappy minatures set like the one from Moon ($5 million film) vs a ridiculous CGI'd movie like GI Joe that cost them $300 million.

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post #22 of 190 Old 12-28-2009, 02:05 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ballen420 View Post

For me, the best comparison of new and old special effects are the hacked up versions of the original Star Wars trilogy that were just on Spike HD on Christmas Eve. In my opinion, the addition of CGI to the movies completely ruins them - well, can't say completely, but it immediately takes me out of the movie. The old special effects were just about perfect, why try to throw in a CGI alien singer next to one that was animatronic back then (or whatever they were)? I'm sure these movies were discussed ad naseum when they came out, but I'm not sure I've ever seen the updated versions.

Not sure if I'm just sensitive to CGI, but if it's not used properly, it completely takes me out of a movie.

I can find so much more enjoyment in a crappy minatures set like the one from Moon ($5 million film) vs a ridiculous CGI'd movie like GI Joe that cost them $300 million.

Agreed.

Fpr what its worth I think Return of the Jedi to this day has the most convincing space battle ever commited to film. Sure, it lacks the epicness or scope that the intro to ROTS had but it also had more weight and circumstance to it that even the best CGI fail to properly display, even in Avatar.
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post #23 of 190 Old 12-28-2009, 02:21 PM
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Don't bring up Star Wars, because you gonna make a lot of grown men cry.
CGI is here to stay no matter what, but it's true with any craft they're not all equal. The same was true for the old techniques.

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post #24 of 190 Old 12-28-2009, 03:18 PM
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Don't bring up Star Wars, because you gonna make a lot of grown men cry.

I wish Lucas had used his newfound love of CGI to fix the editing inconsistencies in the trench battle at the end of SW.

Red Leader - "You've got one on your tail!"

Me - No he doesn't. Wait, yes he does.

Luke - "Turn to .05, we'll cover for you"

Me - Who's gonna shoot him, there's no one there? Wait, now there is.

Stephen.

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post #25 of 190 Old 12-28-2009, 04:10 PM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Blood Pie View Post

Agreed.

Fpr what its worth I think Return of the Jedi to this day has the most convincing space battle ever commited to film. Sure, it lacks the epicness or scope that the intro to ROTS had but it also had more weight and circumstance to it that even the best CGI fail to properly display, even in Avatar.

LOL - complete with sound?

HINT: there is no sound in space - just like there are no pressure waves from an explosion. You need an atmosphere for both.
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post #26 of 190 Old 12-28-2009, 05:45 PM
 
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I think CGI - when used appropriately - is much better nowadays than in the past. In the past.. it was there to show things that hadnt been shown before.. simple things like a big animal or foreign land were sometimes impressive if not at least novel. Nowadays, FX people have a much, much, MUCH more jaded audience and so when they go into production with that same mindset (to impress the audience with something they havent seen before) we end up with either AMAZING or RIDICULOUS results. For example:

AMAZING: The incredibly and undetectably seamless blending of various takes in various locations into one single, beatiful shot at the end of Children of Men. The realistic portrayal of transforming mechanical beings in real-world environments in Transformers 1&2. The nearly flawless and nearly human interactions between Prawns & People in District 9.

RIDICULOUS: The Eiffel Tower disintegrating from booger plasma in G.I. Joe. A computerized version of Neo's fist hitting a computerized face of Agent Smith in slow motion during a computer-generated rain storm while surrounded by a mile-long wall of other computerized Agent Smiths in Matrix Revolutions. Nicolas Cage saving Julianne Moore from falling logs by moving to a specific spot in the road while it's so painfully obvious that there is literally nothing real around them in Next.

I think in King Kong's case, the marvel of the visuals Peter Jackson and company presented matched and enhanced the marvel of the story itself. I thought it was a wonderful companion to a great tale and helped make the movie. I think the old 30's film doesn't really hold up well outside of MST3K.

That's another aspect of modern CGI.. it de-limits storytelling and a film's potential. You think the filmmakers of the 30's Kong wouldn't have jumped at the chance to present their vision in a more wondrous and epic way? They had a wondrous and epic story to tell, but were limited by the visuals they could present and I'm sure theyd be the first to admit that (even in the face of some of you who are no doubt gearing up to criticize me and say otherwise).

What matters is what hands the CGI is in.. the FX studio and the director to be more specific. Their work can make or break it in a number of ways.. (it can either look jarringly unrealistic or absurd that it can be a distraction, it can be overused to the point of curbing your marveling at it all, etc).
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post #27 of 190 Old 12-28-2009, 05:54 PM
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^ Not a bad post. Almost as good as one of mine, but not quite.

My biggest problem is CGI landscaping and backgrounds. As I posted about Avatar, the Na'vi were actually the most real looking elements there (besides the humans). The human vehicles and forest is what I had an issue with.

You mentioned Transformers. There's a shot in TF1 when Optimus looks around as the camera zooms in on him after he kills the bad transformer when they fall off the overpass......I still have trouble believing that's CGI.

Stephen.

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post #28 of 190 Old 12-28-2009, 06:20 PM
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Quote:


You mentioned Transformers. There's a shot in TF1 when Optimus looks around as the camera zooms in on him after he kills the bad transformer when they fall off the overpass......I still have trouble believing that's CGI.

I'm still miffed that The Golden Compass won the Oscar over TF1. Puh. It's just the Academy rallying against Bay.
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post #29 of 190 Old 12-28-2009, 06:22 PM
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What? I watched Golden Compass the other day---regardless of how well the effects are, how can you take any of it seriously?

I mean, robots is one thing, but talking polar bears?
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post #30 of 190 Old 12-28-2009, 06:29 PM
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Oh, and what I was originally going to post was that the duel in Empire Strikes Back is still one of the most flawless things put on film, which gets me thinking that while the technology is so much better now, most everything else is severely lacking---in that CG by itself is at such an advanced level that it could technically stand alone, so it and nothing else seems to be front and center.

In the past, it seems CG was practical enough to put on film but not refined as it is today, so much thought was put into other aspects of movies---possibly important stuff like context, direction, and score...
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