Computer Generated Images

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"From explosions to lighting effects, the use of computers to create film effects and animation offers so much more scope for the creation of brilliant cinematography.
Who knows what kind of amazing things we can expect to see on the big screen next?"

Vue International, How CGI has changed the face of animation (2013)

Computer generated graphics have been a revolution in film making. From a slow start in the late seventies, through the eighties where they were seen as a less than fully practical utility, to the nineties and beyond when they started to become nearly ubiquitous in all blockbusters and even many less Special Effects heavy films and become cheap enough to appear on TV.

Computer Generated Images have given us Serkis Folk, extreme slow motion and the only decent chances at effective screen adaptations of numerous classic Science Fiction and Fantasy novels. On the other hands, its early days were full of Conspicuous CG, Special Effects Failure, Nothing Left to the Imagination and Narm. In fact, it still is.

For this reason some film makers have had a sort of Hype Aversion to the use of computer generated effects, proudly sticking to Practical Effects while others have leapt on it as a chance to realise what they were imagining all those years before.

See also All CGI Cartoon.

Note, due to the extensive use of CGI, try to keep examples to the really interesting ones.

Examples of Computer Generated Images include:

Film - Animation

  • Toy Story was the first fully-computer-generated feature film.
  • The first genuine attempt at photo-realistic humans done entirely by computer was Final Fantasy the Spirits Within.
  • The Black Cauldron is the first traditionally animated film to use CGI. This consisted of Rotoscoping wire-frame graphics onto animation cels, creating an effect similar to Cel Shading. Objects created this way include the cauldron itself and the boat used to escape the Horned King's castle. Disney had previously done this sort of shortcut for animating solid objects by rotoscoping models with lines painted on the edges.

Film - Live-Action

  • Westworld from 1973 was the very first feature film to use CGI. They used digital image processing to create a Robo Cam effect.
    • Its sequel Futureworld featured a 3D CGI hand and face
  • George Lucas and Industrial Light and Magic were big drivers behind the use of CGI. Star Wars was the first major mainstream use, but only for small details. Yet over the years, ILM has been behind many of the developements and successful uses.
    • Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith was pretty famous for not having a single on-location shot, with everything done with green-screen studios. But one set was a complete set with nothing green in it except for Yoda: the Tantive IV that would become Leia's ship in the opening of A New Hope.
  • While the original trilogy kept mostly to Practical Effects, CGI was used in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
  • The Last Starfighter was the first film to use CGI for spaceships. (It shows.)
  • Tron is usually cited as the first film to use CGI extensively, although due to the enormous complexity and expense of this, it only has twenty minutes of actual full CGI. The rest was specially designed sets, matte paintings, and hand-drawn effects (for the glowing Tron Lines).
    • The "Solar Sailor" sequence in TRON is not only the first use of actual polygonal rendered geometry on film (as opposed to rendered primitives like the Recognizers and Light Cycles), it is also still considered a triumph in the art even today.
  • The stain-glass knight in Young Sherlock Holmes is the first computer-generated character in a feature film. It was done by Pixar, back when it was still part of ILM.
  • Played straight and averted with Michael Bay's Transformers. The robots themselves are the most detailed to date, but nearly all the explosions and similar effects in these movies are actually there on-set.
  • James Cameron's Avatar used extensive CGI (in 3D) for most creatures of the alien moon Pandora, as well as the motion-captured Na'vi aliens, human technology, etc. to very good effect.
  • Sin City had sets that were almost 100% computer generated and CGI was used to spot-color many shots or even splice two actors into the same scene.
  • The Genesis Sequence in Star Trek II the Wrath of Khan was Pixar's first animation outside of their shorts.
  • Terminator 2 introduced the T-1000 liquid metal android, complete with transforming its arms into blades and turning into different characters. One of the most iconic shots from the film is the completely silver humanoid figure marching out of a fireball and slowly reforming into a cop.

Live-Action TV

  • CGI caught on much sooner in broadcasting than it did in film, largely due to the smaller budgets involved, and most of its appearances on TV were in advertising, Station Identification and educational shows like The Electric Company due to its strange but eye-catching appearance. The first computers used in video work were analog machines like Scanimate, which were in turn based on the switcher consoles used in TV studios (some of which later incorporated Scanimate-like effects such as picture-in-picture). Later on, as digital computers became more capable, animation from companies like Cranston/Csuri, Digital Productions and Pacific Data Images became common, as did special-effects systems like the Chyron and the Paintbox. TV commercials are also what kept Pixar alive in the years between leaving ILM and the premiere of Toy Story.
  • 1990s TV classic Babylon 5 was only made possible by using CGI. Having received heavily burned fingers due to the massive budget overruns of V, Warner Bros. was not willing to stump up a mega budget for JMS's epic space opera, and using CGI was literally the only way the show could get made.
  • Averted, to the surprise of many, by the original TV series version of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy—the "computer graphics" display of Guide entries which made up so much of the show were actually painstakingly hand-animated using traditional methods.