The pros and cons of CGI

Posted by David Konow

It’s great that there are still amazing make-up artists in the business like Rick Baker despite the wide prevalence of CGI in Hollywood. 

Jurassic Park was a huge milestone in FX, but in the film’s wake a lot of directors relied on CG too much, to the point where it became a big cliché, and a crutch for lazy directors.

That said, a tool is only as good as whoever uses it, and a great director like James Cameron or Peter Jackson can do amazing things with CGI. (Jackson also smartly combines CGI and regular effects, which helps take away from CG’s cartoony, video game quality). 
Recently, Entertainment Weekly drew up a list of best and worst CGI of the year, and in several examples CG was indeed used in very clever ways. On the other hand, some of the best genre films of the year also got hammered for unconvincing CG. So who made the best and worst of 2012?
The best CG list includes The Avengers, with EW applauding Joss Whedon "for doing CGI right." In terms of superhero flicks, The Dark Knight Rises also had some amazing CG, especially with Batman’s airplane, The Bat, yet oddly enough, it didn’t make this list. Director Christopher Nolan does as much physical effects as possible in his films, but when he used CG in Rises, it was really remarkably done. 

Also on the list is Cloud Atlas, which had polarizing reviews and indifferent audience reaction, but even if you’ve only seen the trailers, it really painted a hell of a future. EW writes, "The Wachowski siblings do sci-fi virtual visual the way they should be – believable, crisp and meant for a big screen."

The Hobbit made the list, no surprise there, as did the superhero sleeper Chronicle. Also on the list is the hard partying, cursing Ted, which EW termed "the most convincing digital character of the summer."" (Les Miserables also made the list because CG erased the actor’s radio microphones, which enabled them to sing live on set, in post production).

Included on the worst list were three of the biggest genre films of the year. The Amazing Spider-Man reinvented our favorite web slinger in fine style, "but the Lizard in reptile form was the silliest villain in the franchise since the Green Goblin Power Ranger." The genre whipping boy of the year, John Carter, made the list for Taylor Kitsch’s ridiculous high jumps.
Prometheus also made the list for the silly looking CG engineers, as did The Hunger Games, which EW felt had way too much CG "that looked downright video game fake." So while bad CG can’t ruin a good movie, it can certainly make a scene stand out like a sore thumb, and while great CG can’t save a bad movie, in the right places it can indeed be sweet icing on the cake.