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Visual-FX-History-2

Editor’s note: Yesterday we published the first part of this feature looking back on the history of visual effects in the movies. This second part looks at the advances made with the introduction, then ubiquity, of computer graphics.

If you would like to go back even further please do check out Part one, which looks at the pioneering work done as far back as the silent era.

Now, onwards…

All-CGI – Toy Storytoy-story-2

Animation had been hand-drawn for as long as it had been employed as a medium and despite large elements of the process becoming automated and notable CG-sequences cropping up (the ballroom sequence in Beauty & The Beast being perhaps the best known), it took Pixar to grab the bull by the horns and decide that an all-CG animated feature was the way to go.

If developments in visual effects have taught us anything, it is that the wow-factor is quickly supplanted if the story doesn’t engage us. Technology advances so quickly and leaves previous efforts feeling clunky if we cannot invest in the film as a whole. For a while, there was a lot of tit for tat between Pixar and DreamWorks as to who was rendering the most impressive CG-work, with successive Shreks doing battle with the likes of Monsters Inc and Finding Nemo.

At times, DreamWorks had the more impressive technological products, but Pixar’s storytelling was so accomplished that their films became much more firmly rooted in audiences’ affections. Until Kung Fu Panda, Monsters vs Aliens and How To Train Your Dragon came along in relatively quick succession, DreamWorks were lagging far behind.

But it all started with Toy Story and an ingenious “what if toys come to life when we’re not watching” premise that was so simple but so effective. The CG rendering was phenomenal, with none of the previous limitations on CG animation seeming to be factors at all. No clunky movements (everything was smooth and organic), no simple polygons (Buzz Lightyear’s smooth curves) and lots of detail was present in the lip movements. As with Snow White, a massive technical leap forward had been made, but alloyed to peerless voice, story and characterisation work that was strong enough to see us through successively improving sequels.

The fact that there is now, two decades on, hardly any traditional 2-D feature length animation being produced shows that this development is no flash in the pan and has instead become the standard for feature length animation. The quality of the films (and indeed the quality of the animation) varies wildly, but CG animation is clearly here to stay.

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Dave has been writing for HeyUGuys since mid-2010 and has found them to be the most intelligent, friendly, erudite and insightful bunch of film fans you could hope to work with. He's gone from ham-fisted attempts at writing the news to interviewing Lawrence Bender, Renny Harlin and Julian Glover, to writing articles about things he loves that people have actually read. He has fairly broad tastes as far as films are concerned, though given the choice he's likely to go for Con Air over Battleship Potemkin most days. He's pretty sure that 2001: A Space Odyssey is the most overrated mess in cinematic history.