The Miracles of CGI in Movie Making

When I was younger, I desperately wanted to know how movies worked. I wanted to know how dinosaurs who existed millions of years ago came back to life. How people got blown up in cars and still get to appear months later for a Grammy or an Oscar award. I wanted to know how a city gets swept off by a disaster as deadly as a tornado and it wasn’t reported in the evening news. With time, I got to know that those actions didn’t actually happen in real life but were seamless simulations done with the aid of Computer-Generated Imagery (CGI).

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It turns out that in the present world, computers are gradually replacing actors and cameras. Massive accomplishments have been achieved with CGI. Digitally, unreal objects can be made real, people can now appear in places that they were not originally. A lot of people often relate CGI to cartoons, which are also carefully constructed. However, CGI makes a fantasy world with real images and people.

What CGI Means In Simple Terms

In the simplest form, CGI is the creation of animated or still visual content generated with the aid of a computer. CGI refers to the computer graphics in 3 dimensions used to create scenes, characters or special effects for games and movies. It has a wide scope. CGI is used in other fields apart from the entertainment space. Engineers and Architects also make use of CGI technology. Its usage surpasses the movie theatres.

In this article however, our focus is on the use of CGI for movies and entertainment. In movies today, CGI serves as a cheaper means to cut the cost of using physical methods in film production or constructing elaborate movie scenes. For instance, with CGI, you can save the cost for hiring extras for a crowd scene. It’s also used for creating scenes that might not be safe for the actor or that might require much time to achieve.

Let me save you the complexities of how these images are created. CGI makes use of certain algorithms with the use of 2d and 3d graphics software, and the stimulation of lightning on surfaces. Actually, CGI gets more exciting when the generated image is layered into a movie footage. This is known as composting. This is a technique known to most people as green screen.

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The departments that makes up CGI

CGI cannot be easily pulled off with a low budget. For a movie to come out all crisp and delightful to watch, it has to go through a technical and challenging period of production. The CGI team is usually broad and composed of different professionals like Coders, Illustrators and even non-artists whose job is to manage these professionals. For a CGI movie project, the number of professionals most of the time exceeds hundred people. Key departments are needed in producing a final visual appeal that gives you the thrills you get in the theatre halls. These are listed below:

  • Art Department

I love this department because it has to do with creative imagination. In the Art department, the artist takes the job of interpreting the script into visual scenes. The artist then shares these visuals and photorealistic artworks with other members of the team. The duty of the artist is to show what the final shot will look like.

  • Pre-Visualization

CGI parts of movies begin with Pre-visualization. These Artists represent the final visual effect in 3D representation. They work together with the director, creating versions of the movie sequence in low picture quality initially. This enables the director to plan out camera placements and other technical requirements.

  • Asset Department

Professionals in this department are modelling artists, texture painters, riggers and shader developers. They have the duty to create new objects that might be needed in a scene which is not readily available, in existence, or too expensive to build.

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  • Research and Development

The folks in this department are passionate about solving problems. They are professionals who have a strong foundation in the field of Computer Science. Their duty is to build new tools and software that can achieve tasks that can’t be done at the moment. This department is considered very technical.

  • Animation

When you watch a movie and a person or object moves without being there, that gives you a glimpse of the duty of an animator. The animator is in charge of all movements, whether it is a prop as small as a stool, a huge airplane or a character superhero. Essentially anything that moves on film requires the input of an animator. The animator controls all forms of movements relating to a CGI-enabled film.

  • Matchmove

This department brings alive the work of the asset builders. They make assets completely real by the use of virtual cameras that move in like manner as the live action footage. This is also known as motion tracking. Without motion tracking, it will be impossible to infuse the CGI-created data into the live action footage.

  • FX Simulation

An FX Artist or designer is a highly creative and technical professional on the team. His duty is to create FX animation, dynamic simulation, procedural simulation, and particle and fluid systems. With the aid of the computer, he recreates real world natural occurrences like fire explosion, building collapse and flooding or other minute details like clothes or hair which most people subconsciously don’t pay attention to.

  • Lighting

The lighting artist takes into account the natural lightning of the live-action footage and applies that to the virtual imagery. He prevents the sudden transition from bright light to dim in alternate seconds of a film. The goal of the lightning artist is to ensure the live-action and virtual footage blends smoothly as though in the same environment. Sweet isn’t it?

  • Matte Paint

Matte painting is another department that involves creativity. A matte painting is an image created with digital painting techniques to simulate or represent a scene. The matte painter is needed when it is quite impossible to create a real life scene, or when there is a restriction due to finance to travel to a needed location or landscape for a movie shoot.

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  • Compositing

Compositing is the tedious effort of creating layers for all the various elements in a movie shoot. Individual layers are created for live action, multiple CG passes, mattes, 3D lighting, animation, and particle effects. Thereafter, these layers are blended together to create a photo-realistic final movie. The professionals in this department work throughout the production process from start to finish.

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  • Production

It is the role of people in this department to manage the CGI team, schedules and budget. The studio production is supervised by the VFX Producer who together with the VFX supervisor ensures that the project runs smoothly. Their duties involve hiring artists and crew, supplying needed resources and ensuring the project is delivered on schedule.

CGI in Nigeria

CGI makes it very possible to edit every single pixel of a movie making movie enhancement a reality. With the beauty of CGI, unwanted backgrounds can be removed, the mood of a scene can be changed, and errors in live shots can be corrected. Sometimes, the location of the action can even be totally changed at will.

In the outside-Nigeria movie industry, with the aid of CGI, numerous mind blowing movies have been created. Some of these movies were even produced entirely with CGI technology like Game of Thrones, The Martian, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Life of Pi, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Pirates of the Caribbean, Guardians of the Galaxy and a bunch of others.

In the Nigerian movies space, the use of Computer-Generated Imagery is just gaining grounds. CGI is not easy to come by on Nigerian screens due to the time span it takes and the technicalities involved. The norm in this part of the globe is the usual special effects infusion and sound tracks that most of the time aches the eardrums. However, some recent Nigerian movies have subtle CGI engagements. Some of these are: Smoke and Mirrors, Sin City, 300, Sky Captain, World of Tomorrow, etc. Watch below, a short clip of Smoke and Mirrors, Nigeria’s first CGI movie shot as far back as 2008.

With the development of CGI, critics and viewers have become more critical in picking errors. Funny isn’t it, that at one point or the other, you noticed an error in a CGI movie and then you call your friends to confirm if they noticed it as well. However, the good part is that how interesting the storyline of such a movie is determines if viewers are willing to forgive the mistake. CGI only helps improve the story telling and shouldn’t be the sole reason for creating a movie in the first place.

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