7 Sep 2020

CGI: The Tech Behind Movie Magic

STEAM Technology
cgi gif | Stemettes Zine

When people think of Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) they think of superhero movies and their extensive use of CGI to create villains and superheroes with elaborate special effects. At its heart, it can be described as the creation of visual content, be it art, video games, movies, simulators and more, with computer software. It has changed the look of modern media, most memorably cinema and TV, by replacing methods which were reliant on huge costs, potentially life-threatening stunts and swathes of extras with more efficient and controllable technology. Thus, most commonly, the term “CGI” is used to describe 3D computer graphics behind the animation of characters and scenes. This complex media can be created from algorithms using fractal patterns and breaking down the desired images into basic geometrical shapes. Once props are made, they are often stored in a library and can be easily reused or built upon later, shortening future similar processes.

Famous uses of CGI in Cinema

The first use of 2D CGI in a major movie was in Gunslinger’s Vision in Westworld (1973), with a scene predicting how robots could see. This scene was momentous and a cultural reset – as it was the first of its kind, the creators had to spend months experimenting, dividing scenes into image-by-image sections and separately processing every cut, work which, today, would take a fraction of a second, instead of days.

One use of CGI that you might have heard of, but I still find hard to wrap my head around, is Titanic. While a lot of the scenes, including the destruction of the ship, were created with practical effects (so the set was also destroyed in the process), most of the water scenes were filmed in an “endless pool” in Mexico’s Baja California peninsula with a life-size portion of the Titanic, and computationally rendered afterwards to look as realistic as it did in the final cut.

green screen gif | Stemettes Zine

Finally, an example of CGI that we all know and love is Toy Story. Did you know that it was the first entirely computer-animated feature film? It was a tough feat and, as CGI had never been used on such a large scale for the purpose of animated film production, issues that Pixar ran into included: the plastic look of the objects and the time taken and cost (of 117 computers running 24/7) to render the entire film (i.e. save each of the 114,240 frames).

The Future of CGI

It is important to remember that CGI is used across many forms of media. People have noted how life-like characters and their movements in video games are now, especially compared to their predecessors only a mere few years ago, and this trend of making generated images more naturalistic doesn’t seem to be slowing down. Additionally, newer technologies, such as Virtual Reality and Artificial Intelligence, have been taking the worlds of gaming, simulation, business and even healthcare by storm and so I think that as the worlds of CGI, AR (Augmented Reality)/VR and AI gradually meet, we will see more immersive and deceptively convincing media sometime soon.

This article was written by Stemette Society member, Lydia Koleosho.


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