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Special FX house speaks out on why practical FX are being passed up for CGI

07.03.2014

While computer generated imagery is an ever-growing arena as far as film is concerned, we find that practical effects are falling by the wayside. CGI, when done right, can yield some amazing results. Alfonso Cuaron's GRAVITY immersed people in the cold blackness of space, so much so that you didn't even question where you were. Even characters are becoming central figures in films, such as DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, where CG can translate an actor's performance to another creature entirely. Now, those two represent the very best of what CGI is capable of. More often than not, films are working within a limited budget and limited time and yield far less results. A lot of the time we're left scratching our head at the discordance on-screen; movies that feel more like cartoons than anything else. That begs the question, "Why not go practical"?

Amalgamated Dynamics Inc. (ADI) is a practical effects house that specializes in prosthetic make-ups, animatronic puppets, actor duplicates and replica animals, to list a few. They've recently done some work on Gareth Edwards' GODZILLA, as well as PERCY JACKSON: SEA OF MONSTERS and THE THING (2011). You're seeing less and less of their work these days, and the answers might surprise you as to the "why". Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff of ADI take a few minutes to go into the reasoning behind film studios opting for CGI, rather than the more cost-effective practical route.

Having seen both THE THING (2011) and PERCY JACKSON: SEA OF MONSTERS, I find it a little frustrating to see what looks to be great practical effects, only to have it replaced with shoddy CGI for the final result (which doesn't even hold up now, let alone down the road). Even moreso, being the fact that studios see how much video games are grossing each year (and that amount is growing) and that they want to emulate that "video game look", in hopes that somehow that will translate to a box-office gross.

I think it's universally agreed upon that a marriage between practical and computer generated effects are the best way to go. We've all cited films such as TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY and JURASSIC PARK (as just a few examples) in regards to the best accomplishments in that field. What's funny about that is how old those movies are! No one's going to look at THE THING (2011) and comment in the positive about it's special effects, but people BELIEVE that those dinosaurs exist in a film that came out over 20 years ago. There is a need for CGI in some films, but as Dr. Ian Malcolm put it best, "Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn't stop to think if they should."

Extra Tidbit: Do you feel that CGI is being needlessly used, or is the amount on-screen generally necessary given the films that they're in?

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