Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Thoughts on Movies and CGI

Wife and I watched the 1993 movie "Gettysburg".  It's not a movie which would be made today. It's not how we see the Civil War battles, indeed not how we see war today.

But regardless, I want to note a technical difference.  In Gettysburg the moviemakers were able to use the thousands of Civil War re-enactors to serve as extras in the movie, especially of course in the battle sequences.  The result, to someone who's used to the CGI-enhanced or based battles of Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones., is very different.


  • in some ways it's more realistic.  It's more "fractal" I 'll call it because less regular. When crowd scenes are composed by creating one segment--say 50 riders on horses, and duplicate it multiple times to give the appearance of 500 riders, I think we subconsciously are aware of the duplication.
  • it shows the difference between bottom-up and top-down compositions. When you have 1,000 real people coming together to act as soldiers their behaviors and actions retain a lot of individuality.  You're only able to get a high degree of uniformity in places/situations like Korean military or dance displays where the people can be trained over months and years.  When someone at a computer generates 1,000 images of people, while her imagination may be great she cannot imagine 1,000 realities.
  • in some ways it's less realistic, or at least less supportive of the story.  In the scenes showing masses of soldiers there's always the odd person running around or someone doing something which wouldn't be included, not even thought of by a CGI designer.  It can be distracting because you can't determine whether the action is part of the story, or just random noise.  (It's probably more realistic in a real battle scene that's what happens, but it's not what we've been trained to expect in a movie.  Chekhov's thing was if you show a gun on a mantel in Act 1, it had to go off by Act 3.  That's not life, but it's modern storytelling.) 
I assume there will never be another Gettysburg, at least not shot on American soil.

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