Today's technology is brilliant. We can create monsters, worlds, or even universes all from the comfort of our computer chairs using simple tools like a green screen. All this CGI isn't terrible, but can easily be overdone. Peter Jackson had a great mix in the Lord of the Rings, using practical effects such as forced perspective to make the hobbits appear shorter then any other race, and make up effects for the orcs. But if we keep layering and adding more CGI to a film, we at the same time are losing an art form, practical effects. Even the simplest scenes are now overwhelmed with computer generated images and not given the heart it could have. We lose a sense of raw realism and often have comedic blood splashes.
CGI Is Becoming The Norm
Why have computer generated images become the norm then? Because they are cheaper, cleaner and don't take as much work honestly. Is it really worth it though? Before popular CGI, artists had to create monsters and landscapes with their hands, perfecting every fold, curve and scratch. In creating my own web series I strive to use practical effects, and it is true they require more diligence and clean up but payoff is so much more rewarding. It truly is an art and perfecting it takes years. Take a look at this amazing practical effect below from George A. Romero's Day of the Dead.
The first blood effect is from Spartacus, an HBO series only a few years old. The zombie practical effect is from 1985! I'll let you decide which you think looks better. With a little enginuity and a creative mind set we can make such great effects from tools and items you find everyday. For instance, a simple and effective looking blood squib can be made from some corn syrup and food coloring (for the blood), a firecracker, condom (be mature), and tape. If you really want to get creative, you can attach the firecracker to a model rocket igniter (from Hobby Lobby), connect some electrical wire to a battery and set how ever many squibs you please. This simple blood squib has been used by even some Hollywood directors! Gareth Evans of The Raid fame incorporated practical blood squibs, simple condoms of fake blood pulled apart by a wire, for his films (along with a mix of CGI). Thankfully, legends like Tom Savini and Greg Nicotero are keeping this skill alive and teaching others to create living works of art. Check out Film Riot's tutorial on blood squibs if you're interested!
Traditional Monsters Versus CGI
Alright, enough blood, let's look at some monsters! Traditional horror movies, such as Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Thing and Hellraiser absolutely nailed practical effects. From Jason's horrid face, Freddy's burnt skin, The Thing's transforming ability (and the defibrillator scene) and Hellraiser's Cenobites, they brought disgust and horror to many and made everyone wonder how these were accomplished. With horror films today, we have CGI sharks, werewolves, vampires, and even people? Let's just take a look at Jaws, and our favorite mechanical shark.
Why do we feel like we have to go backwards, and get Deep Blue Sea's infamous CGI shark? It looks unreal, boring and a bit cartoonish.
Practical effects are the culmination of a persons creativity and hard work. They brought things to life that we could never have imagined and are now replaced with "easier" computer images that don't look right or have the right feeling. Film creators should take note, and incorporate more basic effects into their work. It will give it a gritty, realistic image and have the viewer wondering how you pulled that off.