Who will win in the battle of practical vs. CGI (computer-generated images)? Practical effects in the film have a long history, impacting generations of filmmakers and moviegoers. Practical effects films can often achieve a more realistic appearance and feel than CGI. In this post, we look at practical effects, how they're used in movies, and why they're still so important.
DEFINITION OF PRACTICAL EFFECTS
For both filmmakers and fans, practical effects can be among the most engaging and enjoyable components of a film. Practical effects can encompass a wide range of special effects, so let's start with a broad definition before moving on to some practical effects examples.
In short, there isn't a picture that hasn't made use of practical effects. Here's a video showing some of the best practical effects in movies for a look back at some of the best examples.
The Top Useful Effects
In movies, practical effects are a magical thing. They can be any hand-made special effect, such as cosmetics, sets, or even explosions. When it comes to practical effects vs. CGI, the real thing sometimes wins out. Let's take a closer look at the places where it is done.
Effects of Monsters and Gore
Creature effects are one of the most popular types of practical effects. With masterpieces like Frankenstein and Dracula, these effects in horror are nearly as old as cinema itself. Latex, foam, and other easily pliable materials are frequently used to create creature effects.
They're employed to create terrifying or fascinating extraterrestrial monsters and animals. From the family-friendly E.T. to the terrifying xenomorph in Aliens, creature effects are the result of masterminds' imaginations.
The transformation scene in An American Werewolf in London is one of the greatest feats in practical effects film history. This scene in the 1981 film required 30 technicians, 6 months of preparation, and a full week of filming.
Every second of it made my hand, not CGI, from pulling hair through the rubber to stretching out artificial limbs. You won't find a better monster effect today, despite its age.
John Carpenter's "The Thing" is another film known for its creature effects (1982). The alien in this picture undergoes so many horrific mutations that it's disgusting. It's all practical: the blood, slime, tentacles, extraterrestrial appendages, and gore effects came from many hours of 57 straight weeks of painstaking effort put into its creation.
Stop-motion animation is another type of creature effect that isn't widely used nowadays but generated amazing results at the time. Puppets and dolls were used in films like Jason and the Argonauts and Clash of the Titans, which were painstakingly moved, manipulated, and filmed frame by frame. To be sure, it was a laborious procedure, but it resulted in monster effects that were well ahead of their time.
Props, Explosions, and Models
Scale models were previously the leading edge of practical effects in movies. From metal and plastic, artists and special effects specialists produced ships, planes, buildings, and more. This gave any sci-fi or action film a more realistic look and feel. The original Star Wars trilogy is one of the most well-known applications of scale models.
In the 1970s, CGI wasn't very good, so George Lucas founded his own special effects business, Industrial Light & Magic. Scale replicas of everything from the Millennium Falcon to the Star Destroyer were employed to bring space fights to life on the big screen.
Nothing wows an audience like an explosion. It's simple, but it's effective. While modern CGI may produce stunning explosions, the genuine thing has a certain allure (with proper safety considerations, of course). The Dark Knight is maybe one of the best examples of a realistic explosion. Christopher Nolan used a genuine building to create this unsettling scene in the iconic hospital scene. He only got one take, but it was a huge success.
Finally, whenever a character in a film wields a sword, a gun, or any other weapon, it's a practical effect. Anything the players use and interact with is a prop, from basic household things to laboratory equipment. It may seem trivial to mention, yet we now live in a world where CGI is used to create entire films.
SETS AND LOCATIONS: PRACTICAL EFFECTS
Set construction is another type of practical effect. Sets are constructed in the same way as scale models are to create fictitious worlds that do not exist in reality. On the Universal Studios backlot, where many great films, like Back to the Future, were shot, some of the most famous sets in the world were erected.
In 2001: A Space Odyssey, one of the greatest feats in set design occurs. To correctly recreate a space station, Stanley Kubrick had a $750,000 centrifuge set built. Many years later, in the movie Inception, Christopher Nolan used a similar set-piece during the hallway fight scene.
Practical effects can also be characterized as camera trickery. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy is a well-known example of cinematography hijinks. Director Peter Jackson employed forced perspective to make two normal-sized performers, such as Elijah Wood (Frodo) and Ian McKellen, appear to be dramatically different in height (Gandalf). He also used shifting forced perspective, in which the performers were on moving platforms to maintain the illusion of height, to make the scenario more dynamic.
Can Real Effects and Computer-Generated Imagery Coexist?
They don't have to be mutually exclusive when it comes to practical effects vs. CGI. The combination of practical effects and computer graphics may sometimes produce creatures and worlds that would otherwise be impossible.
Jurassic Park is one of the best examples of this. To produce life-like dinosaurs like the tyrannosaurus rex, director Steven Spielberg used animatronics/puppets in conjunction with computational models. The outcome is a massive monster that moves and acts like a real animal, thanks to the seamless assembly.
As good as practical effects are, sometimes it's just more "practical" to make something with CGI. After all, they may all be used to enhance the other.
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