Refining and Defining – Introduction

June 11, 2009 at 10:28 pm (Refining and Defining, Research)

Computer generated graphics for movies have always interested me, ever since I saw the likes of Toy Story and Jurassic Park as a child. The attention to detail is something I find strangely interesting; it’s so intricate and looks so elegant on screen. There are many types on CGI used in today’s movies, and a diverse range of movies rely on it to make them successful. People want to see cutting edge, high budget graphics that give that extra edge, it’s big money.

CGI stands for Computer Generated Imagery. It involves applying 3D computer graphics and special effects to films as well as other forms of media. 3D models are created, whilst movement is performed just like a normal motion picture, at set of frames running around 24 to 30 frames a second, slightly faster than normal, which contain computer generated imagery and appear to come to life. This can be digitally composited over traditional camera motion pictures to add special effects or can be used to make entire movies like Toy Story and Kung Fu Panda. It’s so popular because it’s more controllable than traditional processes, and more cost effective. Plus it looks fresh and feels contemporary, something that always helps to sell things to a target audience.

CGI is essentially the digital successor to traditional illustration and stop motion animation techniques, although is based on the same principles. 3D modelling allows the user to create figures that can be completely controlled by use of a skeleton, where as 2D figures are put together from layers that can be individually manipulated. There are many software applications widely used within industry, including Maya, 3ds Max, After Effects and Blender, all of which have different uses.

Background

CGI was first used in movies like Futureworld and Star Wars IV in the early 1970’s, for basic animations that are almost unrecognisable next to today’s examples, even in it’s relatively brief history. The techniques are developing so fast it’s hard to keep up. An early film to delegate a large budget to CGI was Tron (1982), which failed commercially, leading directors to only use CGI imagery for specific reasons.

CGI did not win over its audiences until The Abyss was released in 1989, when it won the Academy Award for Visual Effects. It was from here CGI really started to make an impact on movies, taking a central role on Terminator 2 (1991). In Jurassic Park (1993), dinosaurs were created with CGI and placed seamlessly into live action scenes, wowing audiences worldwide, and Toy Story (1995) was the first feature length movie to be made entirely from CGI using 3D modelling. It was a revolution for the film industry, the transition it needed to transform traditional animation into computer-generated imagery.

CGI has proved itself as a high profit industry, grossing on average 20% more than it’s traditional counterparts. It has quickly become the norm for special effects; the technology has progressed so much so there is almost no need for props and doubles. The success of CGI can be seen in many of today’s Hollywood blockbusters, like The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001 – 2003), Kung Fu Panda (2008) and Watchmen (2009).

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