Friday, May 22, 2015

Should We Abandon the "Rational Actor Model of Filmmaking"?

Is there too much bad computer animation in today's movies?  Is that even possible?

I continue to see people out in the world, on Internet forums and blogs, complaining piteously about the alleged overuse of bad computer animation in film. Here is a recent example pointed out to me by the people at

Six Reasons Modern Movie CGI Looks Surprisingly Crappy

Is it possible that there is too much CGI, particularly bad CGI, in modern filmmaking?

No, of course not. Everything done with computer graphics in visual effects is exactly as it should be and the audience should agree if they know what is good for them. But sadly, some among the audience, a pathetic few, have not gotten the message. Two messages in fact.

The first message that these whiners have missed is that the modern art of filmmaking is all about the bad use of computer graphics: that is its very raison d'etre. That is its highest goal, second only to maximizing shareholder value, of course. When the audience sees computer generated garbage, that so-called garbage is nothing less than the manifestation of the new art which demands new artists and perhaps new audiences as well. Some of these filmmakers, like Michael Bey, may be far ahead of their time. But it is the duty of the real artist to lead and society will follow along eventually.

The second thing to realize about the tsunami of shit that we see in computer-generated visual effects is that it is not merely a lack of skill on the part of the effects providers, although that is often true as well.

Those who kvetch must look further into the heart of the madness itself and realize that it is almost certainly the filmmaker's vision that is up on the screen. If it is ugly, it is the ugliness that the client wanted. Bad computer animation has been incorporated into the filmmakers body of work and sensibility: it is an element of their style made manifest.  Admittedly, sometimes unconvincing or sub-par work is the result of a lack of skill on the part of the VFX supervisor or facility, but even then it may be that this apparent lack of skill is why these specialists in the computer arts were chosen. Their aesthetic matched that of the filmmaker's and a perfect harmony was found in stupid visual effects. It is not accident that things look the way they do.

To paraphrase a gem of wisdom from our friends in Communist China, “The fish stinks from the head”. In other words, when something smells bad to understand why it smells bad, you must look at who is running things because what you are seeing (or smelling) is probably what they asked for or represents who they are in some manner.

Yes, there are details in this vision that we can be critical of. It does seem that many do not realize that a camera must act like a real camera or it will cause the failure of the suspension of disbelief. The failure to embody the characters with appropriate gravity or weight is often cited, although that is but one example of the bad animation which we are regularly exposed to. The failure to realize that visual effects is about sleight-of-hand, it is about making the audience see what you want them to see and not about number of pixels or “photorealism”. The failure to realize that too much of anything is counterproductive.

But in our new Globalized and virtual Hollywood, nothing succeeds like excess. There is something about visual effects done with computers that can cause a producer and/or director to lose all sense of proportion and just throw 3D computer generated shots at their movie in lieu of thinking.  Perhaps this is a way to compensate for their own sexual inadequacy?  Perhaps the filmmakers have developed an anxiety disorder associated with working with a writer?  In the future, will 3D animation be classified as some sort of dangerous drug that causes the victims to peck without restraint at the lever that releases a 3D CGI pellet to the drug-crazed pigeon-filmmakers?

Should we now abandon the "rational actor" model of filmmaking, which says that those who are making this expensive entertainment product are reasonable and talented human beings doing what they think is best for the kind of entertainment they are trying to make?  Have our artists been driven mad by the opportunities which 3D animation have revealed?

Or is it something else.  Could it be that our overly-critical audience swine, who the Germans refer to as negativenpublikumschweine,  must look within themselves to find the real problem?   Perhaps it is not "bad" computer animation per se that they are reacting to, but their own provincial point of view that is not sophisticated enough to understand the director's vision?

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