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erichw1504's avatar

What do you think of technology creating realistic living beings and objects with CGI in movies to the point where you can't tell real from fake?

Asked by erichw1504 (26420points) December 22nd, 2009

From the release of Avatar, where James Cameron has created the most realistic looking CGI yet, we now have the ability to create even more realistic things on film. As we move even further down the road of CGI and its technology to create life-like effects and objects on the big screen, what do you think of it coming to the point where we literally won’t be able to tell the difference between the two?

How will this effect your opinion of the movie? What do you think of not being able to tell if what you are watching is a real human being or not? What effect could this have on society? Do you think film makers will use this as a way to trick you? What if it could virtually replace actors and actresses? Will it be a good thing or bad thing in the movie industry?

Do you think this technology will have a limit? What are its possibilities?

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45 Answers

mrentropy's avatar

I can see where it would be a good thing for popular movies that have a series going on. For instance, you’d never have to worry about Harrison Ford getting old if you had a good CGI version of him and someone that could sound like him and were in the market for a new Indiana Jones movie.

Movies might be cheaper to make and easier on the actors if there’s no costuming and make up involved. Or set building.

Breefield's avatar

I would say, having seen Avatar, that the difference is already indistinguishable.
Avatar completely drew me in. I really didn’t want to leave when it was over, and it really had an emotional impact on me.
So regardless of this being a re-telling of an old story in a different manner, or that the movie was predictable, and the acting wasn’t…necessarily top of the line. I think the imperceptible difference between the aliens and the humans really made this movie great.

As to most of your questions – this technology isn’t financially feasible, or time cost effective in my opinion. But Mr. King-of-the-World has the money to throw down on this passion.

Fyrius's avatar

”(...) what do you think of it coming to the point where we literally won’t be able to tell the difference between the two?”
You say that like it’s something of the future.
Photo-realistic CG has been around for… a decade or so, I think. Quite a while anyway.

That does not mean actors are going to be out of business. CG is a huge load of work. Particularly considering that you could just get a real world specimen and film that instead.

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

It will save the film industry a lot of money, no more actors.

Kelly_Obrien's avatar

It’s a rip-off. Designed for people who don’t like humans and also designed to keep movie actors and actresses out of business and in the welfare lines.

Fyrius's avatar

It can take a whole team of expensive professional CG modellers days to create what one actor could do in ten minutes. It’s not exactly cheaper.

If you’ll excuse to potential hyperbole. I’m not in the business myself. Suffice it to say it’s much more work for more people.

sndfreQ's avatar

Anyone see the credit roll for Avatar?! It was literally 15 minutes long! While it may save the companies from spending bucks on big-name actors, it will still require hundreds of animators, artists, programmers, and designers to do a lot of work…good for the industry IMO.

As for the Uncanny Valley effect, interesting point about the idea of tricking the audience. I felt that way a bit when watching Benjamin Button. I think the audience will welcome it, especially if there is a possibility to “resurrect” long-gone actors, or even historical figures in detail.

erichw1504's avatar

@Breefield “this technology isn’t financially feasible, or time cost effective in my opinion.”

But what about when it does become financially feasible and cost effective? Technology gets cheaper as the years go by.

@Fyrius “Photo-realistic CG has been around for… decades, I think.”

And what movies have you seen that have photo-realistic CG? Avatar is the closest yet, but not its not 100% perfect.

Dr_Dredd's avatar

I can see politicians using it to their advantage, and our disadvantage.

grumpyfish's avatar

I’m going to be very amused in 5–10 years when the CG in Avatar looks “hokey”... =)

erichw1504's avatar

@grumpyfish That’s true. Compare the original Star Wars to the new (prequel) ones. See how far we’ve come?

Fyrius's avatar

Oh, not in films. Animating movements in a realistic way requires modern motion capture technology, yes.
But in still pictures, I believe it’s been around for a while.

RocketSquid's avatar

@Fyrius Actually, you’re absolutely right. I don’t think actors need to worry about being replaced any time soon. It can take months, a team of people and several re-works to get a model perfect, so even if the technology becomes cheaper, the amount of manpower and time makes it much more effective to use an actor.

For everything else, however, I’m excited. Nothing will destroy my suspension of disbelief quite like a badly composited scene.

erichw1504's avatar

@Fyrius That is true, but my question was about movies, not pictures.

Fyrius's avatar

Another fun fact: the humanoid beings in this film actually were played by actors – in motion capture suits, to get the movements right. So even if they make CG cheaper and less laborious, the one thing they probably won’t be able to make budget cuts on will be… the actors.
The only thing that will change is that it will be a lot less fun for the actors. They’ll have to do their thing in a weird suit in an empty room instead of on a meticulously crafted set in a beautiful costume.

Hang on. I believe The Matrix Reloaded used CG for its over-the-top fighting scenes. I couldn’t tell the difference with real people.
And of course other films have used CG in ways that you can only distinguish from reality from the fact that creatures like Gollum or Davy Jones don’t exist in the real world.

That’s all very recent, of course, but still well before Avatar.

mrentropy's avatar

@Fyrius You don’t need big-time top-salary actors for people moving around in motion capture suits just to be replaced by a CGI character, though. You can use cheaper salaried people for doing that. Once it gets that far you won’t need to pay big name actors for voice work, either, although it would be a bigger draw than no-names.

erichw1504's avatar

@Fyrius The Martix Reloaded used fully computer animated people? I don’t think so. Yea, objects and fictional, CGI characters are easier to make real, but what about a real human? That’s probably the hardest thing to animate on screen perfectly and James Cameron has come the closest so far, I believe.

windex's avatar

All I know, is that I want nothing more in life than to be a Na’vi

Fyrius's avatar

I don’t agree. Motion capture suits capture all the subtleties that define what acting is about, down to the movements of the eyebrows. Thus the actual acting carries over to the animated character. The only part of the actor that does not carry over is their own looks.
You could hire ugly people who are brilliant actors if you work with CG. But not bad actors. We could tell.

“The Martix Reloaded used fully computer animated people? I don’t think so.”
Is that harder to believe than that they actually found ways to have Keanu Reeves himself physically carry out moves that defy the laws of physics in a battle against dozens of copies of the real Hugo Weaving?
Of course, they didn’t exclusively use CG. They had real actors for the more subtle scenes. But whenever it was ass-kicking time, the CG took over, or so I’m told.

erichw1504's avatar

@Fyrius Yes, there was a lot of CGI throughout the movie, but there were no fully computer animated human beings.

CMaz's avatar

I can’t wait. And once we can get it down to a simple template.

The price of the actors plus points and all the other crap that comes along with using humans? No longer part of the equation.

Would be nice to go to the movies more often for less money.

mrentropy's avatar

@Fyrius I don’t know. I think they could probably do some tweaking to get exactly the look and movement that they want.

Fyrius's avatar

Do you know how many muscles there are in a human face?
Having to tweak all of those to make the right movements at the right moments = instant insanity, just add frustration.

erichw1504's avatar

@Fyrius Humans have 33 muscles on their face.

RocketSquid's avatar

They have actually been using computer animated people in a lot of movies for a long time. Just never for close in shots. Jake Sulley in Avatar even had a digital double, both human and Na’vi. Fyrius is right, some of the scenes in Matrix are digital doubles (such as when Neo falls off the building and into the flexible trampoline cement), and the Harry Potter movies are prime examples of this (Quidditch). Most of the time, however, these are used only when things such as distance, fast motion or quick cuts can hide the CG.

Motion capture contributes a lot to both character and facial animations, but still need extensive tweaking to look right. Avatar had the highest ratio of Motion Capture to keyframe animation I’ve seen at 80:20, but many movies before have used the same idea (just flip the ratio). Same with facial with a 60:40 mocap/keyframe split. Much of the facial animations had to be tweaked, and most of the animators had a side by side view of the digital character and the actual actor to match those as closely as possible.

I’m gonna stop before this becomes an essay

Long story short (or TL;DR), although Avatar was a technical marvel with incredible CG and innovative techniques, much of how they did what they did was a sort of technical strongarm. Most of what they’ve done has been done in several movies before, and won’t be leading to any massive changes in the way composited movies are done.

Blondesjon's avatar

I would not exist without CGI.


Berserker's avatar

CGI is mostly used in either children’s movies, video games or movies that don’t deal with anything realistic, I’d find it extremely bizarre to see something like Law and Order or porn in CGI.
Could happen…but I don’t think it will ever overrule acting, nor do I think it will ever look exactly like in real life, even if that’s just due to us knowing that dragons don’t exist.

If anything, it’s obviously taking over hand drawn cartoons or older special effects that have otherwise seen the light for so long, but it could easily be seen as what twenty to fifty years ago revolutionized the movie scene back then, as in pea soup and whatever The Terminator used. The fast moving advancement of technology could be the only thing that makes it seems such a drastic change.
I know we’re a shallow society and all, and I don’t dismiss the possibility, but I kinda doubt that special effects are gonna take primary role before the concept of a movie.

Yeah everyone always says “but movies aren’t what they used to be blah blah” but I usually don’t listen to people who dismiss everything outside their generation if they have nothing better to say than it all sucks.

mrentropy's avatar

@Fyrius The whole human body is not mapped. They wouldn’t have to model individual muscles or even worry about tweaking individual muscles. If they wanted an eyebrow to raise or ears to twitch they could do it.

Fyrius's avatar

“I’d find it extremely bizarre to see something like Law and Order or porn in CGI.”
Porn in CGI exists.

That’s true.

And come to think of it, it’s true that the guys at Pixar seem to manage at creating convincing (caricatures of) human-looking movement presumably without motion capture.

I still wonder what would be more expensive, hiring a good actor or hiring a bad one plus additional CGI expert work hours to fix his mistakes.

mrentropy's avatar

@Fyrius I don’t know about right now, but as computing power increases and complex software gets better the cost will become negligible. It wasn’t that long ago when everyone was excited about coming up with a way to model hair and fur movement (Monsters Inc. I think). They finally had a way of getting it done without making each change by hand, which also made it cheaper to do.

Berserker's avatar

@Fyrius Well yeah, somehow that doesn’t surprise me-I mean we’ve also had hentai for like, who knows how many years.

Seek's avatar

Say what you will, but the most frightening horror movies of all time are still the black-and-whites of early cinema.

Sometimes, it’s more about what isn’t spelled out for you on the screen. CGI will never be able to truly replace the emotion of a real human.

Beta_Orionis's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr Have you seen Avatar? The humans are practically indistinguishable from real actors. One of the big breakthroughs was a more thorough mapping of the human face to accurately portray said emotions. That along with preexisting motion capture gave the characters all the emotionality of humans. I do share your sentiment that standalone CG can’t replace human emotion.

I don’t think that this technology will replace actors as their expressions, movements, and voices are still a vital part of the process, but I can certainly see the terrible ones suddenly being out of a job. In my mind, this just presents top tier actors with the opportunity to tackle a whole new host of characters.

YARNLADY's avatar

To me it couldn’t possibly make any difference. I have just as much fun watching some actors doing totally impossible things, such as flying, as I have watching cartoon figures do it.

woodcutter's avatar

I worry about being deceived by politicians or lack of them. Like say the president is suddenly dead or missing they could realistically fake him in to talk to the public and maybe fool people for a long time or long enough to achieve what they were after. it would take many people to pull this off without letting the truth out. Anyway it seems like a script to a science fiction movie.

Fyrius's avatar

“CGI will never be able to truly replace the emotion of a real human.”
Do you think what actors do is more genuine? They too are just pretending. It’s artificial either way.

Seek's avatar


The subtle change of emotion in the face is what would be lost in a CGI-only world.

For example (and I know this will sound lame to anyone not a fan of the show) – the last season finale of House, M.D., Hugh Laurie’s character (Dr. House) had a mental and emotional breakdown on-screen. It was one of the most riveting single-frame scenes I’ve ever seen, and there was no dialogue, no motion at all – just a close-up of his face as he went from anger, to recognition, through rationalization, to a complete collapse.

A CGI character cannot draw on past experiences to portray an emotion. No matter how technically good the artwork is, there will still be nothing behind the eyes.

sndfreQ's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr What did you think of Final Fantasy VII the movie? I thought it was pretty close, but I see what you mean with the eyes thing…

Seek's avatar

Well, with FFVII, you’re comparing that high-tech CGI with the block characters we all came to love on the PSOne. Of course I thought it was awesome.

It would have been more awesome, had the film been live-action.

sndfreQ's avatar

True true

RocketSquid's avatar

@woodcutter The thing with something like that is you’d need something to keep the crew of nearly a hundred people quiet. Probably one hundred art nerds quiet. Who love to brag.

Berserker's avatar

I have a hard time picturing a real life Sephiroth, but yeah whoever would fit that role better not have a shiny wig.

woodcutter's avatar

@RocketSquid I would assume that there would be lots of money involved and cia and other orgs. you and me no nothing about. What? the govt doing something sneaky? I know, i know. If they can fly an unmanned missile drone 1000’s of miles away from their office and kill an individual out of the blue I have complete confidence they could pull something like this off too. Of course I would love to be proven wrong, believe me.

gary4books's avatar

Read “We Can Build You” by Phil Dick. He knew.

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