Buzzword: Practical Effects

September 16, 2015

2015 is officially the year of the “Practical Effect“, a return to the world of stunt work, creature creation and all forms craftsmen versus relying almost exclusively on CGI effects.


Between the insane visuals in Mad Max:



To the never ending stuntwork of the age-less Tom Cruise:

Tom Cruise shooting the airplane stunt for Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation from Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions



To the rumors abound that the new Star Wars will be a throw back in terms of much less green screen:

star warspractical


This is a welcome return to the lived-in nature of the sweeping epics and space operas of yesteryear. The CGI world has expanded by leaps and bounds, allowing literally anything in an artist’s imagination to take flight but therein also lies the great problem: The ability to suspend disbelief has become increasingly hard.


Part of the charm of the epic film and sci-fi thriller is the feeling that it you could still connect  to a part of it, even if its far in the future or in some distant galaxy. The universal nature of the story, the actors, the emotions and the scale of the world created gives the audience the entrance-point in to an otherwise fantastical world full of wonder and mystery.


By having a universe that still obeys say, the laws of gravity, by giving weight to the setting, to the characters and to their actions, it prevents the movie or TV show from feeling just like a video game that you’ve put a bunch of cheap codes in. Instead of rooting for the impossible by a superhero, you root harder for the actual human doing the nearly impossible but still just believable enough in a given situation.




Likewise, it allows for a great many master technicians and craftsmen and women to again flex their own imagination and creativity, to give us something we’ve never seen but is still entirely real. The power of CGI is indeed a wonder to behold. The problem is, it leads too many film-makers to use what can best be called “Magical thinking” which if used too many times, takes away any sense of real tension or stakes. If every character acts like a cartoon, the emotional weight is lost.


Granted, practical effects take more time and can be costly, but the tender love and care really shows on the screen. Audience members somehow, someway feel a deeper sense of immersion into what is being shown versus just another fully rendered graphic. This is not to say CGI has no place at all. Great CGI work is greatly important. My only argument is a better balance needs to be struck. Going all in one way or the other leads the project to be lacking either enough polish or enough tangible feel.


Here’s hoping this trend continues, and if judged by the most important bottom line of all, the box office, there’s a good chance it just might.



Photo Credits:–and-its-practical-effects-not-cgi-9417788.html–and-its-practical-effects-not-cgi-9417788.html

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