Is the industry's use of CGI really that bad, and has the arrival of HDR/WCG only exasperated the problem?
CGI is an essential component of modern filmmaking, but is Hollywood's increasing reliance on computer imagery actually hurting the impact of its films? It's an interesting question, and one that RocketJump Film School examined to great detail in their 2015 video essay, Why CG Sucks (Except it Doesn't).
In the piece, Freddie Wong takes a look at the move industry's use of CGI, admitting the tech's occasional faults while mounting a defense for why it remains an essential and often seamless tool. Check out the video below!
The central thesis of Wong's argument proposes that the reality isn't that most CGI in movies is bad, it's just that we only ever notice the effects when they're done poorly. To this end, for every terrible lifeless render of The Rock as The Scorpion King, there are countless instances of nearly flawless computer imagery that go completely unnoticed because of just how convincing they really are.
Wong goes on to point out specific types of effects that computers handle particularly well, highlighting CGI elements like vehicles, buildings, water, animals, objects, and explosions used in films without most audiences even realizing it. Of course, there are still blatantly bad computer effects in some films, but when taking into account just how much CGI work is used in the industry, the terrible examples are really the exception rather than the norm.
With that said, this debate is now starting to take on new relevance in the 4K Ultra HD era as HDR (high dynamic range) and WCG (wide color gamut) formats are starting to reveal even more details and, as a result, flaws in every frame. This makes some even previously effective CG work tend to standout or appear unnatural and exaggerated, including some of the fire and explosions in recent films like Mad Max: Fury Road.
Hopefully filmmakers will work out these early kinks with HDR/WCG and CGI, improving the rendering and grading process to blend elements a little more smoothly. At the end of the day, however, I still tend to agree with Wong's final assessment: CGI remains a helpful tool like any other VFX technique, whether in 4K, HDR, 1080p, or standard definition on an old VHS, and while it can be overused or poorly implemented at times, even bad effects can be forgivable if they serve a well told story.
Source: RocketJump Film School (YouTube)