There’s a great blog post on The Guardian from Phelim O’Neill extolling the virtues of the “old-fashioned, miniature model work’ done for Moon. As anyone who listens to our podcast will know, Tom and I are luddite-esque on our anti-CGI attitudes, something pushed to a mass-extreme over the summer from Wolverine, through Terminator: Salvation and Transformers 2 and ending with GI Joe.
We are not wholly luddites in our view on using CGI. The belief here is that CGI should be used very sparingly, only ever to allow filmmakers to achieve visual aesthetics and objects which simply cannot be done any other way. The problem with many films now is that CGI becomes the dominant technology on screen, overtaking even using actual landscapes which could so easily be found and would be so much more tangible on screen. CGI can never, ever, replace actual, physical objects and beings. Beings most notably. I Am Legend has become our go to for films with terrible CGI which completely ruins the experience. Those ‘vampires’ in the film are useless, there is just nothing interesting or frightening about these things because they are not there, they are not standing next to Will Smith.
Moon is a wonderful example of how to use CGI. The effects are used only to prevent the miniature work from looking too much like Button Moon, to further the overall aims of the filmmaker rather than substitute any sense of imagination or ingenuity in the process. O’Neill notes that CGI has killed such a significant amount of problem-solving amongst filmmakers. They can rely so much on computers to create what they want that they simply give up on trying to create worlds with any sense of reality. The expectation is that, taking GI Joe as example, a massive underwater base with obese shark-like fish swimming around it will be awe-inspiring. It isn’t because, although you certainly would struggle to build something like that, it looks so wildly unreal that the only visceral reaction to that reveal is one of laughter at the utter ridiculousness of the creation.
We have questioned whether studios may start to cut budgets for filmmakers amid the recession, something which does not appear to have happened at all. If this happened, I would argue this would produce a rise in filmmakers trying to solve problems through a little lateral thinking, or pairing back on overblown CGI creations to create tangible worlds and beings. A man in a suit will always be better than a prancing sprite.