Mini-Essay Contest Winner #2

And here’s the 6pm FRCC Comp class Mini-Essay winner, Kristin. Good job, all!


Kristin Zachman

Stunt Actors vs. CGI

Computer-Generated Imagery is a tool commonly used in today’s filmmaking, appearing in a variety of movies across genres. The ongoing application of this technology opens the door to a new debate: Is CGI a better product than traditional stunt acting? With the help of CGI, worlds within the Star Wars universe have become increasingly amazing, but there are still some issues with the animation. These new techniques, however, are a major contributor to ever-increasing movie budgets, driving the average production cost to around $100 million. Since the birth of the technology, it hasn’t stopped advancing. Because of constant improvements, movies that rely heavily on CGI seem to age quicker than those that do not. In spite of the steady and impressive progress, real landscapes, sets, models, and stunts usually prove to be more awesome.

When Lucas filmed The Phantom Menace, he used a completely computerized army of drones, as opposed to actors in physical costumes. This decision provided the opportunity to create sweeping shots of the gigantic drone army, but the CG disappointed audiences in theaters almost as much as it does today. Unfortunately for animators, when incorporating these large digitized roles, the “Uncanny Valley” effect comes into play. This is the theory that “when something looks and moves almost, but not exactly, like humans do, it causes viewers to be repulsed” (Maison). In Rogue One, the reaction to the team’s reconstruction of the late Peter Cushing is a perfect example of the uncanny valley. Despite being much more convincing than the drone army from Episode I, or R2D2 setting fire to some droids in Revenge of the Sith, the graphics are still off. In addition to the generally unsettling quality of some CG characters, we may be losing some traditional visual effects. In Return of the Jedi, for example, Jabba the Hutt is a puppet, requiring an entire team to control his every move, and resulting in an interesting representation through the puppet’s movement and application.

Some may argue that looking back at the original Star Wars trilogy, the stunts seem comical and worn, claiming the films don’t hold up over time. Adversely, there seems to be a phenomenon of rapid aging in films that rely heavily on graphics, and it happens in a much shorter span of time. In 2004, Lucas put out a DVD remaster of A New Hope, where the original Jabba the Hutt puppet was replaced with a digital version. Watching the two side by side, the original looks quite dated, but is much more watchable than the digital remaster. The computerized Jabba moves too fluidly, almost weightlessly across the floor, as if there is no resistance or gravity. In the prequels, Lucas used a significant amount of computer-generated imagery, trailblazing the application of fully digital actors. Since they were some of the first, they unfortunately have issues aging. Despite many classic film’s stunts and special effects having trouble maturing, many stay relevant through nostalgia, cult followings, and simply by being great films.

Finally, the implementation of computerized backgrounds, characters, and other effects in the Star Wars franchise has caused the budgets to skyrocket. Considering the average inflation rate is about 3.55% per year in the U.S., the $11 million budget for A New Hope in 1977 would be equal to about $44.4 million dollars today. This budget included stunt doubles for each of the main roles, the production and execution of puppets, models, and costumes, as well as all other special effects. The most recent installation of the franchise, Rogue One, included two CGI characters, Governor Tarkin, and a young Princess Leia in the final shot. To make this possible the studio was still obliged to staff stunt actors for green screen work. These were difinitive factors in driving Rogue One’s budget to a staggering $265 million. Though movies have much larger profits than in the past, it can still be agreed upon that computer-generated images are a key player in the increase of costs to produce and see movies.

At the end of the day, I’d watch almost anything over the third-rate graphics of A Phantom Menace, which despite being some of the pioneering uses of CGI, are disappointing. Even the new applications of CGI lead to an uneasy feeling in the audience. It is also obvious that the technology will only continue to advance, soon rendering the impressive graphics of today obsolete. So instead of spending billions trying to create amazing worlds and stunts, let’s acknowledge the magnificent abilities of stunt actors, and the beautiful and amazing reality of the world around us.

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Works Cited

Maison, Jordan. “Why People Can’t Enjoy the VFX in the Star Wars Prequels.” Cinelinx. Cinelinx Media, 14 July, 2014. http://www.cinelinx.com/movie-stuff/item/6025-why-people-can-t-enjoy-the-vfx-in-the-star-wars-prequels.html. 9 June, 2017.

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