Wednesday, November 21, 2012

CG vs. Sets/models/etc... Which is more cost effective?

Sooooo, the first Hobbit movie is coming out in a few weeks, and so I figured I'd have a Lord of the Rings marathon on my day off.  As I was watching, seeing how beautiful these movies are, and how realistic the sets and models that they used are, I started thinking that these movies must have cost a frickton of money to make.  So I did a little research, and yes, they cost quite a bit of money to make, but nowhere near as much as I was expecting.  You see, I have been hearing that it costs so much less these days to just CG things as opposed to building sets, using practical effects wherever possible, outfitting people with costumes, building models and doing some trick camera work with miniatures and so on.

So, I then did some looking into the three biggest CG abominations in the history of film.  The Star Wars prequels.  It just so happens that these movies were being made at the same time, and in the same part of the world, so production costs would be relatively the same for each.  And you know what?  The Lord of the Rings movies, the movies where they spent all that time and money building sets, getting actual actors outfitted with real armor and weapons, making all of those models of Helm's Deep and Minas Tirith, Minas Morgol, Moria, Osgiliath, Orthanc, etc and filming on location rather than in a completely green room with setting to be added later cost SIGNIFICANTLY less money than all of the CG garbage that went into the Star Wars prequels.  Nearly twenty million dollars less per movie.  That also takes into account that the Lord of the Rings had a far more expensive cast of actors than Star Wars did on top of it.  And they took quite a bit less time to make as well.  Five years for all three Lord of the Rings movies as opposed to nine years for all three Star Wars movies.

Each Lord of the Rings movie is, on average an hour and fifteen minutes longer than its Star Wars counterpart.  Where the Lord of the Rings movies were filmed mostly on location, in sets of entire cities that were actually built out in the middle of nowhere for the movies, Star Wars was filmed almost entirely on studios in completely blue and green rooms.  Where the Lord of the Rings movies employed hundreds of extras, and put them in actual makeup and prosthetics to turn them into monsters, spening all of the money to build armor and weapons for them to carry, the vast majority of the characters that you see in the Star Wars prequels are either a.) CG or b.) Wearing the exact same generic clothing, which appears no better tailored than Jedi Halloween costumes bought off the rack at Wal-Mart for less than 20 bucks.  Where the Lord of the Rings movies used props and practical effects at every possible opportunity, only relying on CG effects when there was no other possible way to accomplish what was needed, nearly everything but the actors in the Star Wars movies is CG.

On top of all of that, there is the realism factor. CG backgrounds and characters have a fake, cartoony, two dimensional quality to them.  It's easy to tell that they're fake, because they don't belong.  The human eye can spot the fakeness pretty easily.  Something about it just doesn't look right.  It's too clean, sterile, and oftentimes the lighting isn't quite right.  You can obviously tell that the background is just being projected on a blue wall two feet behind the actors.  Additionally, the actors do not give as good a performance when they're in a completely blue room with nothing to see and react to, acting against CG characters that will be added in later.  This puts a whole lot of strain on them, and leads to some very, very horrible performances unless the director is truly epic at his job (something George Lucas has never been).  When the actors are in REAL places, with REAL people all around them, YOU CAN TELL.  It LOOKS real.  It FEELS real.  The actors have things to interact with.  They can see what's supposed to be going on all around them, and they have characters that are real and right in front of them in the flesh to act opposite to.  Even when there were CG characters in Lord of the Rings there was an actual actor standing in for them in a motion capture suit so that the actors had something to see and interact with.

So, if building sets, hiring actors, employing ever metalcrafter in New Zealand to build weapons and armor, using makeup and prosthetics to create the majority of the non-human monsters rather than CG, making models for wide, sweeping city shots, and filming on location costs SO MUCH LESS, and makes the movie look and feel SO MUCH MORE REAL... WHY IN THE HELL DO WE KEEP GETTING MOVIES THAT ARE MADE ALMOST COMPLETELY IN CG!?!?!?!?

It's because Filmmakers these days are getting lazy.  They would rather sit on a couch and watch dozens of computer animators put together their movie instead of doing the work that it takes to make a REAL movie.  They would rather let animators do their thing, horrible as it looks in the finished product, because they are too lazy to use their own imaginations to try and figure out how to do things without the CG like back in the old days.  CG is the easy way of doing things.  Without it, filmmakers actually have to get off their expanding asses and actually do their jobs.

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