Making Everything Too Darn Pretty
“Hey, CGI is great at making dinosaurs, explosions and exploding dinosaurs look awesome. Let’s use it to make everything look awesome!”
I can understand the line of thinking, but things usually go wrong once filmmakers start to apply too much CG spackle to a movie’s background elements. Movies like Avatar and Kingdom of the Crystal Skull have these super bright, crisp, colorful, detailed virtual sets — which ultimately make everything look fake.
I think some filmmakers think making movie backgrounds look like something out of a Saturday morning cartoon will help cover any cartoonishness in the CG effects and characters. That everything will come together as a cohesive Crayola-colored whole and be convincing.
James Cameron’s favorite crayon is purple.
It doesn’t really work though. Would Jurassic Park’s dinosaurs have looked more convincing if that movie took place in the primary colored plastic jungle of Kingdom of the Crystal Skull? Hell no. Environments that look like something that might actually exist in the real world lend an extra air of believability to CG effects. For instance, I found District 9′s aliens far more believable than Avatar’s, and a lot of that has to do with the fact that District 9 took place in a realistic looking slum, while Avatar took place in a purple and pink acid trip.
Showing Off With Big Crowd Scenes
You know the type of scenes I’m talking about — the two armies line up and the virtual camera soars across an endless field of soldiers/orcs/Jar Jar Binkses. It always looks unconvincing because the effects artists don’t have the time to detail every single figure in the horde — they just hit copy-and-paste until the field is full, and it’s obvious. Until you come up with some crazy computer program or algorithm that can actually make big crowds look convincing, please stop trying to impress us with them. It’s just not working.
Bouncing Back and Forth Between Practical and CG Effects
Superhero movies are particularly bad for this — one moment Spiderman is an actual guy in an actual costume who looks solid and believable, next he’s a rubbery CGI creation ping-ponging around the walls. The constant back-and-forth, often multiple times per minute during action scenes, just makes the CGI stick out like a sore thumb.
I say if more than 50% of your action scene is going to be done using CGI, just do the whole scene in CGI. Switching back to real people and practical effects for some shots may save a little money, but it comes at the expense of believability and cohesion. If your special effects budget is running low just cut that scene from earlier in the movie with the CG spider on the lady’s arm.
Focusing on those Dead Dead Eyes
CG effects have come a long way, but dammit, they still can’t quite do eyes. I know you want to showcase Andy Serkis’ acting, but dammit, those slow zooms into the dewy eyes of Gollum/King Kong/Caesar the chimp are always a bad idea.
Nope, not working.
Seriously, stop it.