Wednesday, 5 June 2013

The palpability of the real

 Until this week, I more or less agreed with this:
To my eye, no matter how lifelike it may become, CG still has an eerie, weightless, plastic quality...

The ships, like the Millennium Falcon, had heft, and the light and shadow cast upon them looked right, because they were real. As longtime Industrial Light and Magic technician Paul Huston has said, all those "mechanical systems, plumbing, landing gear, laser blasters, vents, injectors, ducts, fuel tanks" were made of plastic. Some were "scratch-built and some were scavenged from plastic model kits."

The palpability of the real. I lament and mourn the scale model.
This week, I found myself channel-hopping and caught a bit of the BBC mini-series Ice Age Giants, featuring a selection ice age megafauna recreated in CGI. OK, it was on telly, not the big screen, and I wasn't watching in HD, but there were moments where the computer graphics almost captured 'The palpability of the real.'

Up to now, I'd found that even the most sophisticated, seamless and well-executed digital effects had a certain almost indefinably unreal quality. There was something missing, a lack of the real presence that those old-time models had, for all their jerkiness and matte lines.

That was last week. But there were a few sequences in Ice Age Giants that looked as real as any nature programme filmed using real animals. There were some other sequences which, though impressive, retained that elusive mass-less airbrushed quality of earlier CGI, but it looked to me as if the effects wizards are on the cusp of being able to reliably take pixels and conjure up that elusive illusion of solidity.

Ray Harryhausen and his most talented peers are rightly remembered for their pre-digital craft and artisty, but we do tend to remember the best and forget the rest. The creatures in Ice Age Giants were created by the team who do the digital effects for Dr Who - and you've only got to cast your mind back to some of the model effects from the pre-digital Dr Who to realise that a lot of the work people get nostalgic about was distinctly sub-Harryhausen.