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Filmmakers Reviving Sci-fi By Going Old School 422

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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  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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 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.
  • 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: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.
  • 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 ghjm ( 8918 ) on Monday December 05, 2011 @11:46AM (#38266436) Homepage

    They have a script. Their decision to avoid CGI *and green screens* is pretty radical, considering that their script is interstellar space opera.

  • 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.

  • 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.
  • 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.

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

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

    by lance_of_the_apes ( 2300548 ) on Monday December 05, 2011 @12:59PM (#38267498)

    Actually, how long they spent in the turbolift was determined by how much dialog needed to be delivered. It had nothing to do with plotting out realistic travel times.

Don't tell me how hard you work. Tell me how much you get done. -- James J. Ling