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Filmmakers Reviving Sci-fi By Going Old School 422

Posted by samzenpus
from the back-to-basics dept.
jjp9999 writes "The special effects arms race sci-fi films get stuck in has pulled the genre further and further from its roots of good storytelling and forward-thinking. The problem is that 'When you create elements of a shot entirely in a computer, you have to generate everything that physics and the natural world offers you from scratch There's a richness and texture when you're working with lenses and light that can't be replicated. The goal of special effects shouldn't necessarily be to look realistic, they should be works of art themselves and help create a mood or tell a story.' said filmmakers Derek Van Gorder and Otto Stockmeier. They hope to change this with their upcoming sci-fi film, 'C,' which will be shot entirely without CGI or green screens, opting instead for miniature models and creativity. They add that the sci-fi genre has gone wrong in other ways—getting itself stuck in too many stories of mankind's conflict with technology, and further from the idea of exploration and human advancement. 'In an era where science and technology are too often vilified, we believe that science-fiction should inspire us to surpass our limits and use the tools available to us to create a better future for our descendants,' they said."
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Filmmakers Reviving Sci-fi By Going Old School

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  • Dunno... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mcgrew (92797) * on Monday December 05, 2011 @11:17AM (#38265974) Homepage Journal

    The problem is that 'When you create elements of a shot entirely in a computer, you have to generate everything that physics and the natural world offers you from scratch

    I don't see that as a problem, and the thing is, with GCI you can do things that are impossible, impractical, or incredibly dangerous without it.

    I was impressed with Apollo 13. I don't know if they used models or CGI for the outside the capsule shots, but the weightless scenes were shot in the Vomit Comet" [wikipedia.org].

    The goal of special effects shouldn't necessarily be to look realistic, they should be works of art themselves and help create a mood or tell a story.

    I disagree; unless you're shooting a cartoon, everything should be as realistic and beleivable as possible. And everything in the movie should strive to be a work of art in itself.

    They hope to change this with their upcoming sci-fi film, 'C,' which will be shot entirely without CGI or green screens

    Yeah, do that scene in Star Trek where Spock walks into the lift from one part of the ship and walks back out in another. Without a green screen they'd have had to have an acutual elevator.

    I think it a bit ironic that a sci-fi movie would eschew real-world technology.

    • About the Spock elevator thing, that was ridiculous. No turbolift has ever been depicted operating that fast. It was a completely stupid shot.
      • Re:Dunno... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by cmdrxizor (776632) on Monday December 05, 2011 @12:52PM (#38267356)
        Throughout the entire franchise, no matter the distance of the trip, the turbolift takes exactly the same length of time: the precise time needed for the passengers to complete their conversation.

        Spock was by himself, so I'd say the turbolift was working exactly as designed.
    • by firex726 (1188453)

      I disagree with you on the realism aspect.

      There is lots of times when one may not want something to be realistic looking, and that does not necessarily make it "bad".

      A Scanner Darkly for instance, they could have saved a lot of work on making the movie by not rotoscoping it. However I think it worked well for the movie.

      • Re:Dunno... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by gfxguy (98788) on Monday December 05, 2011 @12:02PM (#38266660)
        I disagree with your disagreement. When you go in to see sci-fi (or horror, or a lot of other movies), you generally accept an unbelievable premise but expect that, given the premise, everything that follows should be believable. Willful suspension of disbelief. When you see a terrible, unrealistic special effect, it snaps you out of that "zone." I'd rather not see it at all than see it badly.
        • When you see a terrible, unrealistic special effect, it snaps you out of that "zone."

          Far too often, though, that is exactly what you get if you watch a CGI-filled movie that's more than a year old. Meanwhile model-based special effects can last significantly longer.

          Maybe this is a passing thing and eventually CGI will be good enough to last forever. But it certainly isn't yet. CGI things still shimmer wrong.

          • by rwa2 (4391) *

            I dunno, I used to have a very strong willful suspension of disbelief... insofar as I would see characters and not household-name actors acting.

            But what has really ruined things for me is having had worked briefly in a production studio. Now I can barely watch ANY movie without deconstructing their lighting setup... "wow, there's no way that chick would have that kind of highlighting in that environment!"

            So I really don't mind if studio take more artistic license with whatever special effects they do, ju

        • I disagree with your disagreement of his disagreement. There is a such thing as looking too real, at least at the current level of CG technology. But then, if we are talking about a Camaro turning into a two-story building I say all bets are off (no, not strictly sci-fi in the outer space sense). Perhaps a more apropos example is the shiny silver space ship in Star Wars The Piece-of-Crap Prequels.

          The other aspect of this discussion is, what happens when CG is so good it is impossible to tell from the real t

          • Re:Dunno... (Score:5, Interesting)

            by gfxguy (98788) on Monday December 05, 2011 @01:02PM (#38267554)

            When something looks too perfect, then it doesn't look "too real," it looks as out of place as bad special effects. Your Star Wars example is a really great one to use... the ships looked better, in many ways, in the Star Wars OT than the prequel for exactly that reason.

            So real is real... real is not "perfect" because reality is not "perfect." It doesn't matter which technology you're using... a lot of model based effects have the same problem - perfect, clean models.

        • by lawpoop (604919)
          How many sci-fi films how sounds in space during epic space battles?
    • Re:Dunno... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by trum4n (982031) on Monday December 05, 2011 @11:35AM (#38266240)
      Rotate the "elevator" to the other side of the set.

      Working in theater, we didn't have green screens. A well written story will pull the viewer in and suddenly, all becomes real. Don't get me wrong, i do enjoy a good movie, but special effects are for the lazy of mind.
      • special effects are for the lazy of mind

        I disagree, perhaps you could say they are all that is required "for the lazy of mind. When they're used correctly however, I feel they can enhance a strong story. Movies like Aliens and Terminator 2 just wouldn't be as good without special effects.

        • by iluvcapra (782887)

          I disagree, perhaps you could say they are all that is required "for the lazy of mind." When they're used correctly however, I feel they can enhance a strong story.

          CGI can be extremely lazy -- a practical special effect has a way of making the filmmaker take the stuff around it more seriously, and to do a lot more thinking about what they actually need, because it's so expensive in time and effort, and you might only get one chance.

          If anything is true about CGI, it's that its, at its best, completely un-spontaneous and calculated, and at its worst, there's no real performance in it, and directors (and their producers, their editors, their wives, children, pets, etc) c

      • by mcgrew (92797) *

        Don't get me wrong, i do enjoy a good movie, but special effects are for the lazy of mind.

        There's a reason nobody made a decent LOTR until CGI came along.

    • Re:Dunno... (Score:5, Informative)

      by Volante3192 (953645) on Monday December 05, 2011 @11:36AM (#38266256)

      Yeah, do that scene in Star Trek where Spock walks into the lift from one part of the ship and walks back out in another.

      You know they did that in the original series, right? Without green screens. They just rotated sets while the door was closed. One of the oldest tricks in the book AND it looks even more realistic.

    • Re:Dunno... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by EdZ (755139) on Monday December 05, 2011 @11:49AM (#38266480)

      Yeah, do that scene in Star Trek where Spock walks into the lift from one part of the ship and walks back out in another. Without a green screen they'd have had to have an acutual elevator.

      You underestimate the ingenuity of SFX artists. Take the elevator sequence in Men in Black, when J first arrives at the MiB headquarters proper. They walk into an elevator, the elevator descends, and they walk out, all in one travelling shot with no room for hiding transitions between sets with cuts. But they didn't build an elevator, it's just a room with a door at either end and some moving lights to give the illusion of movement. But even with that knowledge, go back and watch the scene, and try and convince your brain that the elevator is not moving.

      Personally, I've seen very little CG that comes close to looking as good as even half-decent miniature work. As an example; to model a nice, real looking explosion in CG takes a phenomenal amount of effort with physics simulation of the debris, optical simulation of light filtering through the smoke, etc. With miniature effects, you put some dirt on a squib and use a higher frame rate. In-camera effects work a hell of a lot better than CG in almost all cases, because instead of having to simulate every physical process going on you can just use the actual physical processes going on. Of course eschewing CG entirely is silly, but it's definitely become overused to the point of "we'll do that in post" becoming a mantra, and "slap on some greebles" has been substituted for putting actual effort into designs.

      The last decent science fiction film I saw was Contagion, and the only CG in that was on monitors. Moon also had some really nice miniature work and set design (though also some really glaring plot holes).

      Finally, when you don't have to render your frames individually, you can greatly increase the framerate without a commensurate huge increase in time and budget. The best thing about cinemas installing stereo 3D projectors is that it also means that by default they've installed 48fps or 96fps 2D projectors.

      • by Dan East (318230) on Monday December 05, 2011 @12:27PM (#38267026) Homepage Journal

        At Epcot there is a "ride" / exhibit called The Living Seas. To enter you ride an elevator down a distance that seems a couple hundred feet, then it opens up and you're surrounded by huge aquariums. The elevator is the kind with two sets of doors - one on each side of the elevator. You enter one side and go out the other. I could tell that it was fake - I think maybe I could see sunlight under the outside doors. I tried to convince my friend that it was just an illusion - bubbles would go up the glass sides of the elevator making it appear you were descending, it would shake and shimmy and come to an abrupt stop at the bottom, etc. However they just couldn't believe it was fake, even though to exit you just walked straight back outside another normal set of doors. Finally I proved it to them by slipping on the elevator to ride it back up (you were not supposed to exit that way). As soon as the doors leading inside the building closed, the doors leading outside opened to allow the next batch of people in.

        My point is that even in-person a fake elevator can be an very convincing illusion. It is even more so in a movie, where they have total control over the camera angles, the actors are trained to enhance the illusion further, etc.

    • by umghhh (965931)
      I think the main point is the story. There is nothing that effects can do that works without story. Matrixes did work because there was a story. I did watch big parts of star wars saga in 2/evening pace and I was shocked how infantile the 'first' (later) parts were in comparison to the one made originally. The same applies to 3d - what do I need this horse shit for if there is no story? The guys exaggerate a bit with their quest for no CGI but if they can create the same with models why not?
      • by gfxguy (98788)
        Oohh... bashing the PT. I agree your assessment, though. A film (or any show) is a pyramid with concept and story as the foundation... without the story, nothing will save it from sucking.
    • by farrellj (563) *

      It's all about how well the film makers can can tell a story. Too many SF movies are created by people who are enamoured with the *idea* of SF, but who know almost *nothing* about SF. This is this is similar to people who try to sell steaks based upon their sizzle, rather than how the meat tastes.

      I love your comment about how they used the Turbolift in Star Trek...that is a *classic* story telling device. And it doesn't depend on on any SFX.

      Similarly, It doesn't matter if the SFX are done digitally, or wit

    • Re:Dunno... (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Ephemeriis (315124) on Monday December 05, 2011 @12:16PM (#38266852)

      The problem is that 'When you create elements of a shot entirely in a computer, you have to generate everything that physics and the natural world offers you from scratch

      I don't see that as a problem, and the thing is, with GCI you can do things that are impossible, impractical, or incredibly dangerous without it.

      Sure, if you're doing something that's straight-up impossible, being free of the constraints of real-world physics is pretty nice.

      But if you're just trying to do something impractical or incredibly dangerous, and still want it to look somewhat realistic, you're adding a lot of overhead by doing it in CGI instead of practical effects. A ball bouncing down stairs shot with practical effects looks real because it is real... The same shot using CGI looks real because some guy spend hours/days/weeks tweaking the shot until it looked right. There's nothing intrinsic to the CGI process that'll make a ball fall down at all, much less deform and bounce and roll correctly. All that is the result of many lines of code and many hours of tweaking.

      The goal of special effects shouldn't necessarily be to look realistic, they should be works of art themselves and help create a mood or tell a story.

      I disagree; unless you're shooting a cartoon, everything should be as realistic and beleivable as possible. And everything in the movie should strive to be a work of art in itself.

      Really?

      Right after you talk about how CGI is nice for doing impossible things, you say that it should all be as realistic and believable as possible?

      Needless to say, I disagree.

      Sure, if you're doing some kind of gritty cop-drama or something, realism is pretty nice. But what if you're doing a fantasy or science fiction movie? Do you really want realism? Once you introduce magic or dragons or FTL travel or something, realism pretty much goes out the window.

      They hope to change this with their upcoming sci-fi film, 'C,' which will be shot entirely without CGI or green screens

      Yeah, do that scene in Star Trek where Spock walks into the lift from one part of the ship and walks back out in another. Without a green screen they'd have had to have an acutual elevator.

      They'll probably do it exactly the same way the original Star Trek did it... And Next Generation did it... Without a green screen.

      I think it a bit ironic that a sci-fi movie would eschew real-world technology.

      But, they aren't.

      They're making a decision to use a specific real-world technology to tell their story in what they believe to be the best way possible.

      • Once you introduce magic or dragons or FTL travel or something, realism pretty much goes out the window.

        Yes and no. I think it's easier to suspend disbelief for some stuff than for others. Maybe because we have no complete reference for dragons and FTL drives in the real world. Dodgy CGI humans like the ones in Blade something or other and spiderman break the illusion completely though.

    • by mwvdlee (775178)

      I disagree; unless you're shooting a cartoon, everything should be as realistic and beleivable as possible.

      In a documentary; yes. In a fantasy movie; no.
      Besides, you're argueing everything should be realistic and believable... in a sci-fi???
      I completely agree with the premise that everything in a movie should be there to help set the mood or tell the story.
      If a particular story requires things to be as realistic as possible then do so, if the story requires something else, do that.
      If you need proof that stuff doesn't have to be believable and realistic, watch Dogville or Manderlay. Even if you don't like the sto

  • Bullshit. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Frosty Piss (770223) * on Monday December 05, 2011 @11:18AM (#38265988)

    Derek Van Gorder and Otto Stockmeier? WHO? The real reason that their film will be shot entirely without CGI or green screens is more likely that they can't afford CGI.

    It's *not* the CGI, it's the tripe that producers and directors *DO* with it.

    • Re:Bullshit. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Quiet_Desperation (858215) on Monday December 05, 2011 @11:31AM (#38266168)

      Exactly. Pixar films are entirely CGI, and I don't hear anyone calling them soulless or lifeless. Not even the Cars films.

      But hating on CGI is an unfortunate geek trope.

      • Re:Bullshit. (Score:4, Informative)

        by martas (1439879) on Monday December 05, 2011 @11:46AM (#38266426)
        Maybe they're just trying to make a point? They don't seem to say that nothing should ever be done in CGI, I think they're just saying that it has its place. Sure, some things, even goodthings, are entirely in CGI (well, actually, a lot of those "completely CGI" films use motion capture, so they're not really completely CGI; with exceptions, e.g. Ratatouille), but who among us would disagree that a bit less CGI would have made the acting in the Star Wars prequels less, let's say, plastic?
        • by strack (1051390)
          the cgi in the prequels should have had more respect for physical reality and movement, and been a bit less ridiculous and cartoonish
          • by martas (1439879)
            Well I was also referring to the excessive green screening, that made a talented actor like Portman look like some B-movie extra.
      • by oGMo (379)

        Is this a geek trope or some sort of pretentious "vinyl sounds better than CDs"/"old stuff is more real" sort of thing? That's not geeky. Geeky is going to SIGGRAPH, developing 3D tools and hardware, etc. I'm not sure what sort of geek normally hates Computer Generated Imagery.

        (Though, geeks hating the other CGI [wikipedia.org] makes sense, I'd say.)

      • by gfxguy (98788)

        Just more evidence that the foundation of a great movie/show is concept and story, something everybody outside of Hollywood seems to intrinsically understand.

      • Re:Bullshit. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by yodleboy (982200) on Monday December 05, 2011 @12:58PM (#38267482)
        Pixar films could be done on an etch-a-sketch and people would love them. It's because there's always a story FIRST and the CGI is there to serve the story, not the other way around. I swear, too many all CGI movies look like someone said "ooooh look how nice this hair simulation looks! Now, let's make a movie so we can show it off!"

        Hating on CGI is not what's going on, hating on the abuse and overuse of CGI is the problem. What's the line from Jurassic Park? "Your scientists were so concerned over whether they could that they didn't stop to think if they should." Something like that...In the past, effects shots were time consuming and expensive so they were only used where absolutely needed in a story. Now, every damn scene has an effect because it's a relatively cheap way to jazz up a scene that sucks. It's annoying, because you can almost always spot it. For me it's the light, the "fake" light just never seems to match the ambient "real" light in the scene. It's good, don't get me wrong. If it was in an all CGI scene it would look great, but stick it in a the "real" world and it's just not right. I guess the uncanny valley applies to more than robots.

        I've don't even know how many times i've posted this, but it always bears repeating: a crappy movie is still crappy in 3d/HD it just looks better. Same applies to CGI, no amount of it can save a bad story.
  • Reminds me of Moon (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sapphire wyvern (1153271) on Monday December 05, 2011 @11:24AM (#38266060)

    Moon didn't eschew CGI and other effects completely, but it *did* make use of more model work than most of the SF movies I've seen recently. I think it's one of the reasons why I liked it so much.

    There's a certain something about model shots in movies that CGI just doesn't quite match. Possible the models are actually less "real looking" than the CGI in some way, but there's something undeniably real and tangible about a model shot that CGI can very rarely deliver.

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      There's a certain something about model shots in movies that CGI just doesn't quite match.

      I don't know, it's been a while since I watched the "making of" documentary on the Star Trek DVD, but they spoke of the CGI and the tricks they used to make it look like film and models rather than CGI. It looke real to me.

      • by ColdWetDog (752185) on Monday December 05, 2011 @12:22PM (#38266934) Homepage

        Watch 2001 again. A decent copy of it on a decent screen. No CGI, just models.

          It's the lighting - even with the all the physics in modern programming it's damn hard to get the light exactly correct. And Kubrik's team nailed it.

        • Yup. 2001 is still breathtaking. I wish they'd put it in some theaters again, because I'd love to see it on the big screen. The shots of the shuttle docking have never been matched in my opinion. That a film made four decades ago still pretty much stands as the best visually crafted sci-fi film says a lot for Kubrick and his set and model designers.

    • by hal2814 (725639)
      I liked Moon so much because it took what is a somewhat overused plot device in science fiction and turned it on its head by making a character study out of it. The meat of the story isn't the discovery of the clones. It's how Rockwell's characters react to that information. CGI or not was irrelevant. I wasn't really paying attention.
  • Yey, another win for planning your process ahead of knowing where your process is going.

    Without a script, how do they even know they don't want CGI. Maybe it'll happen not to need it - suddenly their "NO CGI!!!" isn't so meaningful anymore.

  • by Droog57 (2516452) on Monday December 05, 2011 @11:27AM (#38266102) Journal
    Fans of Firefly, the old Joss Wheadon Fox Sci-fi show that was fan-driven into a movie a la Star Trek TOS, will understand this argument. That was a (damn good) story driven show/movie with limited and low cost CGI, but still managed to innovative. I remember reading somewhere (OK don't kill me, but I did read it years ago) that the Serenity movie was the first to use a virtual camera style that moved around a lot giving an effect almost like a hand held camera. Have noticed that style of CGI in many movies over the last few years, and I suspect that CGI in general is not as expensive as George Lucas would have us believe. There is probably good software solutions out for that industry, pop in a model and manipulate the shot. Why not, "we have the technology..."
    • by jitterman (987991)
      "Agree" post here.

      In addition, whether or not individuals liked BSG "2.0," sure there were lots of effects, but the story was the point behind the series, not the scenery. Another example of how sci-fi film/TV should be approached.
    • To bad that the Serenity movie suffered the problem of many post show movies. It was not good. As much as I loved the show but the movie simply was not the show anymore. The actors partially were not into the role anymore, the script did not have the vibe of the shows anymore, and to the worst, the part of Morena Baccarin (which was my favorite on the show) was cut down to a minimum and she was not able to get into her role anymore.
      Classical fate of a post show movie.
      I would have loved to see Firefly live m

  • by L4t3r4lu5 (1216702) on Monday December 05, 2011 @11:28AM (#38266114)
    I'd like to see something shot at faster than 24fps. Having fast motion turn into nothing but a smear it getting kind of annoying.
    • by Sperbels (1008585)
      Turn on a TV. 60fps baby. Enjoy.
    • Don't get me started on shakey-cam.

      And no, I'm not talking about Blair-witch or cloverfield. Those were fine, they used the camera as part of the story. It was fresh. Saving Private Ryan used LOTS of shakey-cam, because it was appropreate, but they balanced it carefully by using long, static shots otherwise. You had time to adjust.

      I'm talking about the Bourne Ultimatum, which seems to think that making a cut every second and drop kicking the camera around the set counts as cinematography. Only movie I'v
  • I blame Michael Bay. His stories are just vehicles for his elaborate FX sequences. And I blame the general public for seeing his crappy films enough where he'll keep scoring great sci-fi franchises that deserve a better director. It's not that I don't enjoy his FX serquences, but the plot, dialog and direction aren't even as good as the Star Wars prequels. That's a pretty low bar to start with. DO NOT WANT.

  • It makes Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus look like a real thinker.
  • C? (Score:4, Funny)

    by LoRdTAW (99712) on Monday December 05, 2011 @11:29AM (#38266138)

    So what is C? I did a Google search and the term "c film" returns wonderful results such as:
    C-film: a new spermicidal contraceptive.
    B movie - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
    C-film: A new vaginal contraceptive - Elsevier
    Coating paper, coating color: Cargill C*Film starche for papermaking ...

    • by hcpxvi (773888)
      C-film: a new spermicidal contraceptive.
      New? I remember it being new in the 1980s. I also remember it being demonstrated to be jolly unreliable, before (I hasten to add) I had any reason to be involved in the use of such a product. Keep wearing those condoms, kids!
    • by Lord Grey (463613)

      Reading The Fine Article provides some links to follow. If you did, you would wind up on their KickStarter Page [kickstarter.com]. That page includes a short trailer as well.

    • by sunbird (96442)
      There is also the film's website. [c-themovie.com] Which, of course, appears to be /.'d.
    • by xororand (860319)

      C is probably the sequel to 1, a movie with an equally genius name that helped its popularity a lot because it's so easy to search for.
      ( http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0408060/ [imdb.com] )

  • Although, at the same time I'm a little nervous that this may end up looking a bit too much like Red Dwarf, Space 1999.... or Team Amercia :|

  • You know, there are many great sci-fi films that came out using these old school techniques. If the story is captivating and the modelling is done right, sets, costumes, etc; it could be something really cool. Lets see what this guy can do to backup his claims.
    • by timeOday (582209)
      I see the potential too, but my concern is, you can't go back. Classic Mustangs are still cool today because they were so cool then, but release the identical car today, and it would be a laughable. The 1966 V8 Mustang had a quarter-mile time right in line with a modern Toyota Camry.
  • I always loved those model ships in a bathtub being attacked by Godzilla scenes.

    Now if they can only re-animate Raymond Burr.

  • Look at the special effects in The Thing (prequel, from this year). They're nowhere near as scary as the original. They don't look any more real IMO. The special effects in the original were disgusting and horrifying. The new one just looks like the necromorphs from Dead Space.

    • by RogueyWon (735973) *

      I find your description (I've not seen the movie myself yet) amusing and ironic given that Dead Space's Necromorphs were so obviously and blatantly based on The Thing.

    • by BRSQUIRRL (69271)
      I agree with your point, but the 1982 movie (assuming that's the one you are referring to) probably shouldn't be called "the original" [imdb.com].
  • Proof that sci-fi doesn't need fancy effects to make a great film [youtube.com].
    • Moon was also done on a tiny (by today's standards) effects budget, the outdoor scenes were just miniatures.

  • If you want to create a good scifi movie, they should start with creating a good story. Otherwise, they will just end up with another Space Odyssey.

  • by theshowmecanuck (703852) on Monday December 05, 2011 @11:40AM (#38266324) Journal

    They add that the sci-fi genre has gone wrong in other waysâ"getting itself stuck in too many stories of mankind's conflict with technology, and further from the idea of exploration and human advancement. 'In an era where science and technology are too often vilified, we believe that science-fiction should inspire us to surpass our limits and use the tools available to us to create a better future for our descendants,' they said."

    Sounds like something Gene Roddenberry would have said.

  • Nope, sorry (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Kjella (173770) on Monday December 05, 2011 @11:41AM (#38266358) Homepage

    Things that are clearly props don't look good any more than obvious CGI does, unless you're going for a "Who framed Roger Rabbit?" style movie. Toy scale models don't act like the real thing would either. Early CGI often looked too clean, too perfect, too cartoonish but recently they look more real than you can manage with rubber masks.

    Of course "realism" in sci-fi is relative to the context. If there's a shot of the Enterprise I want to think that's a real space ship, not a cardboard prop or a computer animation. I want to think it's a "real" spaceship. Same with various monsters, I want to think that's a real monster, not a guy wearing a monster suit nor a badly painted in CGI monster.

    Take something like Gollum, I don't really consider that he's a CGI character and the hobbits are real actors. Both do a good job of looking very different compared to the humans, they don't look like humanoids with pointy ears like series who had to rely on human actors had to. The actors in Avator too, even though the world is a bit of an acid trip in colors.

  • Yes and No. (Score:5, Informative)

    by pezpunk (205653) on Monday December 05, 2011 @11:42AM (#38266372) Homepage

    I disagree that there's anything inherent to CGI that is less artistic than physical model building, and i also disagree that there is any practical effect that cannot be duplicated by a computer (given enough desire to do so).

    i do agree wholeheartedly that the focus on special effects arms race comes at the expense of good storytelling and forward thinking, which is the true value of Sci-Fi. but how is vowing to use only practical effects not just another special effects gimmick?

    these guys hearts seem to be in the right place. i wish them all the luck in the world. but i would implore them to make the best use of all the tools available to them in order to tell their story.

  • by peter303 (12292) on Monday December 05, 2011 @11:44AM (#38266396)
    I've seen Asimov's Nightfall down well as a play. A good word-smith will create most of the scifi you need in your imagination.
  • by MaWeiTao (908546) on Monday December 05, 2011 @11:46AM (#38266420)

    In the scheme of things CGI is still in it's infancy. Even the use of models have advanced a good deal over the last several decades. So I'm not going to be critical of a medium simply because it hasn't had time to evolve. CGI opens up opportunities filmmakers have never had access to before. Certainly there were filmmakers doing impressive work previously, but it pales in comparison to what's possible today.

    The fundamental problem is not with CGI, it's with film-making. Movies today emphasis the spectacle over substance. Writing today is crap, it's as simple as that. It's like they're writing a video game, the plot present only to move the film from one set piece to the next. Look at movies like Blade Runner or Alien. Both feature elements that could be considered contrived. A dystopian future with flying cars in one movie and exotic, vicious aliens in the other. But those aspects take a backseat to the store-telling so that they enhance the story instead of distracting from it.

    The thing is that any one of these movies could look even more impressive today. But it would all get slathered under a layer of Hollywood flavor-of-the-day gloss. Look at Avatar, visually it's amazing, but the story is simplistic to the point of being patronizing.

  • So are we going to see a giant hand moving the spaceships around?
  • by ideonexus (1257332) on Monday December 05, 2011 @11:51AM (#38266490) Homepage Journal

    I donated money to this project because it sounds like a hard-SF storyline that focuses on technology and a positive vision of humanity's future. We need more of that.

    Where I differ with the people working on this project is the idea that CGI is somehow inherently a bad thing. CGI has lowered the bar for people to make science fiction films because the effects are so cheap and greenscreens make them so easy to implement. 20 years ago, a special effects-laden film cost far more to make and the studios made sure there was a marketable plot and storyline to ensure its success. Today, Hollyweird can churn out movie after movie on cheap, so a lot of films that we would once consider B-movies now have A-Movie special effects (Transformers, the glut of superhero films, etc) so it's getting harder and harder to know what's going to be a great film from previews alone. CGI and an overabundance of funding has produced this state of things, but great films are still being made that use CGI.

    Like I said, I support this project because I support Hard SF, but it does sound a little snobby to claim their foregoing of CGI will make their film better. It reeks of misguided nostalgia.

  • by 51M02 (165179) on Monday December 05, 2011 @11:57AM (#38266562) Homepage

    For your information, the most realistic Sci-Fi movie ever made, 2001: A Space Odyssey, did not used any CGI nor green screen. Of course those technologies did not exist back in 1968 and it was 9 years before Star Wars which again did not use CGI nor green screen at the time of its release.

    The first movie to include most of its action in a computer generated set was Tron in 1982, almost 30 years ago. In that time we went from miniature models and ingenuity in creating special effect to a software based point-and-click interface.

    LoTR still used sets, some being really large. I can't imagine Rivendell or Edoras being 100% CGI. Some TV shows now use CGI almost everywhere like Sanctuary, to make them cheaper to produce and in that it makes senses. In the end I think CGI is used not because it gives the best result but because it's cheaper and easier to produce than miniature models. On the other hand, we have shows like Doctor Who who still is a show produced on a budget with minimum CGI films with proper and "real" props and set, proving it still can be done.

    In the end knowing the battle cruiser in the beginning of Star Wars is a lot smaller than you typical Sedan car and still being blown away would maybe not happen if we knew it was only done by a computer file.

    • by k6mfw (1182893) on Monday December 05, 2011 @01:28PM (#38267958)

      >For your information, the most realistic Sci-Fi movie ever made, 2001: A Space Odyssey, did not used any CGI nor green screen.

      For starters, Kubrick did his homework before shooting the movie. Along with teaming up with highly respected author (Clarke) he consulted with IBM (in early 60s their research team created a computer voice synthesizer which sang a song "Daisy"), anticipated contract workforce in LEO (Hilton on the Space Station) and (I read someplace) the Discovery spacecraft was designed by a aerospace consulting company in UK instead of movie studio model makers. He also had the characters (astronauts, Heywood Floyd and others) were kind of boring people (like most real engineers and astronauts) instead of flamboyant and expressive people like actors (compare the sequel 2010 to 2001 which was really painful for me to watch). Kubrick also consulted with fashion designers to see what they anticipate styles people would wear by 2001, that was a huge miss. But for techie things like glass cockpits, I say those consultants hit it right on. They missed the ipad by a few years (2001 had a similar wider and longer than the Apple product). For other things like procedures, 2001 portrayed tedious detail on spacewalk to replace AE35 unit and working computer based troubleshooting system, and realistically had mission control run simulations before actual space walk (in real life it would be much more tedious, only got so much time i the theatre). Unlike 2010 as other space movies where they just jump in the spaceship like a sports car and dash off to fix the problem.

      However there was some major misses on prediction, i.e. Pan Am went bankrupt, USSR collapsed, Apple is a computer company (not a vinyl record company), and we never went back to moon. Because there was much work and planning of actual technology and people, the movie 2001 is highly admired by engineers. What I like about it is it is one of very few space movies that is not about alien space monsters and laser beam battles (which those plots have been overused like westerns). As other posters have said, it is not the CGI, it is lacking of story material which makes much of sci-fi suck these days.

      In the 1990s at an engineers week banquet in San Francisco, a speaker (I cannot think of his name at the moment) talked about the tech in the movie 2001. In his possession is a frame for the HAL9000 which is one a just a few pieces of what is left of the props. Kubrick had everything destroyed to be sure there was not a sequel. Props made for 2010 were all done by model makers looking at the original movie. There was a book in early 70s about the movie, it had some photos of the stages. There was one letter by a young boy where him and some of his friends making a sequel with their 8mm, they sent some of their clips to Kubrick along with a letter about borrowing on of the 2001 spacesuits, "we are honest and will take good care of it."

      Pan Am space shuttle was called the Orion and unlike the movie, the real thing is a capsule which has a dubious record so far.

  • by shadowrat (1069614)
    The problem i see with most CGI is it's used as a crutch. Many filmmakers rely on CGI to make something so real and perfect that the audience will get drawn in. Then they slack off on actually doing the story telling that does draw us in.

    These people seem to be making the polar opposite assumption. They assume that a good miniature is going to really make the film. They are making the same mistake. I would like to point out Disney's The Black Hole. That film has some incredible miniatures. That film sucks
  • I think their point is that filmmakers are focusing too much on special effects, and not enough on the story. They're not against CGI, which they make clear in the article, but they think filmmakers are forgetting the fundamentals. So they're going to the other extreme to prove that good Sci-fi films can be created without all this. At the same time, while computer graphics have improved a lot, so have cameras and their abilities to shoot good footage in low light -- meaning they can shoot convincing space
  • It sounds like a great plot. I certainly wouldn't hold on to saying there will be no CGI. Nothing beats CGI for shots of planets from space. CGI can be used to make space scenes look like they belong. Paint on glass requires someone with serious skills to make space scenes look realistic. The more they show what is being explored the better an exploration film is, IMHO. SGU was a good example of not showing space or the ship enough. They had this massive ship. Not only did it have tech exploration wa

  • Take a look at the inventor of modern space miniatures (camera system that allowed multiple models to be easily shot for the same scene), George Lucas. What is the difference between those early models and the CGI models used in the prequels that don't exist?

    Smoothness. The OLD physical models were dirty. They had a used, naval vessel look. The NEW CGI model was a polished mirror. The prequels were to clean to really work. The old movies had a Wild West feel to it and I don't just mean the blasters worn on

  • by Animats (122034) on Monday December 05, 2011 @03:29PM (#38269866) Homepage

    Unless they get the price of production down, this won't help.

    The problem with Hollywood is the $100 million movie. At that price point, the project needs assurances of success. This leads to sequels, remakes, and the occasional new idea by a known director. That was the trend for 2010-2011. It got out of hand, and sequels started bombing. The low point was probably when "Police Academy 8" was green-lighted.

    The comic-book branded movie thing seems to be winding down. The first-tier characters have been done. The second-tier characters have been done. The third-tier characters don't have enough fans to guarantee box office success.

    In SF, you have to build a world, as full sized sets, miniatures, or CGI. This costs. If you cut corners, it shows. CGI looked good at first - now you could build Big Things at last. But then you have to fill in all the detail on the Big Things. That's why CGI films list hundreds (sometimes thousands) of staff in the credits. In the Toy Story movies, you'll see long drives or chases through suburbia. Each house is different and has unique landscaping. Somewhere up in San Raphael is the poor schlub assigned to landscaping houses 1030 through 1045, in the cubicle next to the one doing houses 1046 through 1060. Procedural city generation [youtube.com] has been tried, but still doesn't look very good. (Procedural tree and forest generation [speedtree.com], though, does work quite well. The processes that generate real trees are local and fractal and can be modeled successfully. So far, nobody has built a good automatic architect.)

    "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow" started out as a $20 million movie and ended up an $80 million movie for that reason.

  • by geekoid (135745) <dadinportland.yahoo@com> on Tuesday December 06, 2011 @03:18PM (#38283358) Homepage Journal

    and the story is the story.

    Stop vilifying CGI.

    The idea that there is some 'natural' imagery that will never be produced by computers is laughable. Of course it will.

FORTRAN is a good example of a language which is easier to parse using ad hoc techniques. -- D. Gries [What's good about it? Ed.]

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