Sunday, December 2, 2012

Will Life of Pi Bring Audience Credibility Back to Computer Graphics?

I have noticed for many years now, that the audience has started to associate computer graphics with bad visual effects. Time after time I read on the Internet that such and such a movie had stupid computer graphics in it, and that the movie was the worse for it.

I find such comments to be distressing for many reasons, not the least of which is that there is some truth to the criticism. There seems to be something about visual effects and computer graphics which can cause a producer, or director, or studio to lose their minds. Who needs an original plot point or clever idea when you can just blow up another city? Also, ever mindful of the bottom line, they are eager to reduce costs by eliminating inessential elements, like the writer.

Another cause of this association between bad movies and computer graphics is the relentless publicity machine which grinds out a behind-the-scenes documentary for every film on the glamourous and rewarding world of computer animation. Of course, those of us in this field who have experienced this firsthand are pleased to be in the public eye after so many years huddled around a glowing screen in a dark room, that is only natural, but ultimately the film is not about the bold new technology but about the story, and the people, and what it means to us, the audience. The visual effects is no more important than the soundtrack, in fact the visual effects are usually less important than the soundtrack, yet you do not see a billion documentaries celebrating the composer and the sound effects artists, etc.  You only see a few such documentaries, which I think is more appropriate.

There is a saying in the world of visual effects that "good effects will not save a bad movie". It turns out that this is not entirely true, there are a few exceptions to this but onlly a few. And it turns out that really bad effects can damage a good movie, see for example the movie Them (1954) which will be the subject of another post.

But when you have a director who gets it, and knows how to use the medium, and has a story to tell, then you may end up with something that makes everyone look good and achieves the promise that motivated many of us to be in this field, and to help invent it.

Such a film is Life of Pi (2012) although I admit I have not seen this film (I like to wait a few years, like 20, to let it age and improve). All the reviews are fabulous, and they all talk about the excellent CGI that delivered the main character.

So, congratulations to everyone at Rhythm & Hues for delivering a project that may single handedly redeem computer graphics in the eyes of the audience.

Now Kitty, promise to be nice to Mr. Fish.  

But lest I appear too positive and upbeat here, and thus be out of character, let me remind you what the future holds. First, R&H will be inundated with scripts that are completly original and never been done before and involve a large animal (lion, tiger or bear) in a small space (lifeboat, spaceship, cabin in the woods) and a young person (boy, girl or indeterminate) in a desperate journey or adventure.

And not all of these will be directed by Ang Lee.

Will the sequel be called "Life of 2 Pi"?

Rhythm & Hues:

Life of Pi at Imdb:

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