Let’s face it, technology has changed things forever, no matter how you look at it. The exponential technological advancement has led humanity to invent and do things that were once thought to be science fiction. For instance, compare the current movies and games with the ones developed 30 years back. Yes, the involvement of VFX and CGI in movies and games has radically changed the entertainment industry itself. These technologies have enabled the development of some of the highest-grossing phenomenal films worldwide. However, what is the difference between VFX and CGI? Or say, which one is better? Let’s find out just that.
VFX and CGI in a Nutshell
VFX: VFX stands for Visual Effects and are special features added over existing images. This comes in handy when shooting outdoors with the same conditions is either too difficult or practically impossible.
Depending upon the execution, VFX perfectly blends with the real footage, producing jaw-dropping and visually mesmerizing results. Visual effects are added into movies in the post-processing of the same, i.e., after wrapping everything up after the primary image capture.
CGI: CGI stands for Computer Generated Imagery which is, unlike VFX, a standalone process that involves creating computer graphics. CGI can enhance the primary image capture or create entire movies utilizing just CGI (for example, Disney movies).
VFX and CGI:
The Key Difference
CGI can Act as a Standalone Process While VFX cannot
VFX involves implementing effects or enhancements on the actual footage and requires special software to do that. CGI, on the other hand, doesn’t require special software to create 3D models and textures. However, it’s safe to say that CGI is sometimes just a portion of VFX as it involves creating 3D objects and models in the post-processing part of the movie.
- Need of a Special Visual Effects Director for Implementing VFX
Timing has to be perfect while using VFX or the whole thing won’t make any sense at all. There is a special visual effects director needed to take care of just that. No matter how much effort you put into putting world-renowned VFX artists together to create world-class visual effects. If the visual effects director fails to get the timings perfect, the VFX will look terrible. CGI, however, doesn’t require any special supervision in most cases as it can act mostly on its own. Even though adding VFX and CGI is done post-capturing the actual footage, it has to be planned during the building stage.
Types of Visual Effects (VFX)
Creating or manipulating imagery that doesn’t physically exist in the actual footage comes under live-action effects. To do this, a green or blue screen is used in the background for these two colors lie at the opposite ends of the color spectrum and don’t match with any color tone of the human skin. This allows the creation of better and high-quality effects without interfering with the actual footage.
CGI (Computer Generated Imagery)
CGI or Computer-Generated Imagery is more like an extension of VFX. Involving the creation of 2D or 3D objects and other imagery, CGI is mostly described as 3D VFX in movies. CGI mostly involves 3D modeling, which is the art of creating a 3D representation of objects and surfaces that do not exist physically. Movies like Avengers and Lord of the Rings are the perfect implications of good VFX and CGI.
Compositing, as the name suggests, is combining multiple visual elements or images as if they’re at the same place. This technique is also referred to as chroma keying. Chroma keying involves shooting with a green screen that VFX artists (called compositors in this case) later replace with the desired environment.
Compositing is done in the post-production part of filming. VFX artists use this technique to make elements appear at a place different from the filming set (e.g., a mountain). It comes in handy when physically filming in these places is either too expensive or difficult.
Motion capture is another advanced form of VFX that captures the motion of an element. These recorded movements are then transferred to a computer for further processing via specialized software. The actor wears a special motion-capture suit with special marks and dots that the camera tracks. The actor’s face is also covered with multiple dots that lets the camera record the facial expressions of the actor. VFX artists then apply these movements to a computer-generated 3D model.
The motion capture technology is so effective that it can even record the facial expressions of the actor, although it’s then called “performance capture” instead of motion capture. Such an advanced technique in filmmaking enables total freedom for the filmmakers.
The Influence of VFX in the Industry
With VFX, the limits of filmmaking are only one’s own imagination. VFX has opened doors to new possibilities where artists and directors can unleash their full creativity. It has allowed actors to go to space, made aliens invade the earth, and allowed filming in practically unreachable places. The possibilities of what you can create are endless, thanks to VFX.
Accelerated Growth of the Film Industry
Technology is evolving and so is every industry related to it. VFX always has room for improvements and it’s getting better in movies with each passing year. The visual effects in movies made in the 90s significantly differ from the current ones in every possible aspect. Moreover, the better the VFX in a movie, the higher it’s chance of smashing the box office. Take examples of Avatar and Avengers, for instance, both of these movies have exceptional VFX and are two of the highest-grossing films ever made in the history of cinema.
The rate at which technology is evolving is truly remarkable. With computers getting more powerful and efficient, visual effects in movies are destined to get better and better. Even though VFX in current movies is deemed most perfect, who knows what new possibilities and enhancements the future holds for the motion picture industry.
Filming has Become Easier than Ever
As mentioned above, VFX has allowed filming in areas where it wouldn’t have been possible otherwise. The production process has become less physical and entire movies can be shot in a building.
The Influence of CGI in the Industry
Exceptional Quality Results
Visual effects with Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) result in mesmerizing shots with great attention to detail and overall quality, provided with capable hardware and competent staff. A perfect blend of professional primary image capture and high-quality CGI is enough to make anyone go head over heels.
Time and Cost-effective
Same 3D models can be modified and reused at any given time. This is because the CGI is made with wireframe models that allow easy editing, no need to create entire libraries or materials from scratch whenever CGI is required. Moreover, a lot of time in going to different sets for shooting can be saved using CGI. It’s so effective that you don’t even need to set up a green screen for implementing CGI, improving the time and cost-efficiency even further.
Artists have total freedom to alter every visual aspect of a completed shot. CGI can alter the environment, change the appearance of an actor, or increase the overall detail of the shot. All of this without going out of budget, such as the power of CGI.
Negative Impacts of Using VFX in Movies
Too Much VFX can Cause “Film Erosion”
Involving too many visual effects without working in tandem with the real world can make the scene look weird and fake. VFX has indeed gotten better with years, but there’s always room for improvements. That’s something world-renowned studios like Disney take special care of. They do not solely rely on visual effects alone in order to make the scene look more realistic. Even then, VFX doesn’t impress everyone, some people just want the real deal and believe that VFX is being overused. Moreover, VFX-based stunts cannot achieve the same level of intensity as real stunts. However, the level of acting has gone tremendously high these days. These actors play a crucial role in accelerating the effect of VFX on the audience.
Setting up green screens, putting actors in motion capture suits, and hiring world-class VFX artists can be costly at times. Even such a huge investment in VFX doesn’t guarantee huge returns, the movie Monster Trucks are a perfect example of that, which ended up losing over $100 despite using best-in-class visual effects. Moreover, VFX cannot be used as a standalone process (without the real footage) and therefore costs a huge sum of money to the producers with the actors’ fees combined.
Hard to Make Changes in the Primary Shoot
Since excessive planning is required in implementing VFX in movies, it’s very hard to make changes in the pre-planned live takes. A special visual effects director takes this role for planning VFX in the movie, which makes communication between the living-take director and the VFX director more crucial.
Negative Impacts of Using CGI in Movies
Greatly Affects Film Authenticity
The exceptional cost and time efficiency of CGI have made film studios use excessive CGI in their movies. In fact, some studios are bashed by the audience just because of this reason (e.g. Marvel Studios). Viewers know the elements in the film are mostly CGI which affects the overall impact of the movie itself. Popular directors such as “Christopher Nolan” especially address this issue. That’s why they avoid overusing CGI in their movies. The most recent example of such direction is Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” movie where there is a scene of an airplane crashing and exploding. While most viewers may think that scene is created using CGI, the director of the movie himself revealed that they indeed blew up an airplane for that scene.
Sky-high Hardware Costs
CGI may be very cost-effective when it comes to filming the movie but it can’t negate the upfront costs that CGI requires. CGI involves complex rendering mechanisms like ray-tracing that are very resource-hungry. For example, in ray tracing, light is mapped for every object in the scene and for 24 times in a second (24 frames per second). Studios like Disney have to use supercomputers for rendering purposes which cost a huge sum of money. Now you know why Disney movies involving mostly CGI and a few voice actors cost hundreds of millions of dollars to produce. Even a 10–15-minute shot of a CGI-based movie can cost the company more than a million dollars.
Producing CGI isn’t as easy as you may think, it requires individuals with exceptional skills and experience to get things done. Perfection is the priority while producing CGI, failing to do so will make the scene utterly fake and unrealistic, enough to disengage the audience no matter how good the storyline is.
Furthermore, the software for producing CGI themselves is very demanding. Such software has a very steep learning curve and requires years of hard work to learn and master. On top of that, hiring individuals who possess such skills can be very expensive. Such individuals are also extremely hard to find, making CGI even tedious.
Phenomenal Blockbuster Films made using VFX
VFX has helped studios to achieve greater milestones in the film industry. From billion-dollar box office films to films that live forever, VFX has tremendously benefited the film industry and its audience alike. Let’s look at some of the greatest masterpieces VFX has helped to produce:
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
JJ Abrams, the director of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, is a perfect example of an exceptional VFX on a low budget. The director made technology and on-set special effects work in tandem to produce realistic and mind-blowing results. For example, you can enhance an on-set special effect (e.g. A small explosion) using technology. The director has made a perfect blend of conventional on-set special effects, methods and computer-generated visual effects to produce a marvelous piece of art that smashed the box office.
The movie Inception by Christopher Nolan has some of the best visual effects ever seen in the history of cinema. However, the world-famous VFX artist Paul Franklin was the main person working behind the scenes. The work of Paul Franklin combined with the direction of Christopher Nolan is destined to produce a blockbuster masterpiece, so was Inception. Inception was indeed a perfect example of balanced live-action and digital animation. Achieving such tremendous results couldn’t have been possible without the use of VFX in the movie.
Another one of Nolan’s masterpieces, Interstellar is one of the greatest movies of the 21st century. Having a perfect blend of exceptional VFX and high-quality CGI, Interstellar has some jaw-dropping visuals that have never been seen before in movies. While using VFX, Nolan made sure to follow the rules of physics (e.g. No sound in space) to achieve the highest realism in the movie. Interstellar is truly a one-of-a-kind movie production that couldn’t have been possible without the use of good VFX.
Phenomenal Blockbuster Films Made Using CGI
While CGI may not be loved by everyone, it has produced some of the highest-grossing films of all time. Let’s look at some of them:
The movie is a bit controversial as some fans didn’t like the live-action remake of the original Lion King movie. In any case, let’s face it, The Lion King (2019) was a perfect piece of art. No wonder the movie has managed to score a whopping worldwide collection of $1.65 billion at the box office. Moreover, the movie has the best photorealistic CGI has ever seen in a movie.
No movie comes closer to James Cameron’s Avatar when it comes to a perfect piece of art involving CGI and VFX without losing the real essence of the movie. The avatar is the highest-grossing movie ever made with a box office collection of more than $2.8 billion.
Designing alien characters and their habitat wouldn’t have been possible without CGI. You may not even notice the difference between CGI and physical objects in the objects, such as the craftsmanship of Avatar.
Game of Thrones is considered to have one of the best series to incorporate high-quality CGI. The producers of the show have managed to come up with jaw-dropping visuals and realistic CGI in the series. As a result, Game of Thrones was a global phenomenon in no time.
Conclusion: VFX vs CGI
Even though CGI is indeed a portion of VFX technically, they both are entirely different. While VFX experiments with the real environment or the primary image capture, CGI works as a standalone process. In the end, it all comes down to the audience. And, at the level of technology we currently possess, both VFX and CGI-based movies seem to perform equally well in terms of attracting the eyes of the world. Instead of pitting CGI and VFX against each other, a perfect blend of each can produce remarkable results. However, real characters with visual effects seem to leave a deeper impact on the audience than pure CGI characters.