We can look back over even just a decade of film and be impressed by how many advances have been made in the special effects field. We can also smile with amusement over how the state-of-the-art effects of yesteryear now look obvious and crummy by today’s standards; this shouldn’t be a big surprise, as the passing of time has not only improved the quality of effects, but has also given us as viewers the chance to better train our eyes and change the way that we (literally) look at films. Certainly effects have changed, but I think it’s worth thinking about how audience perception has changed alongside those FX improvements. The result? An increased demand for photo-realism in special effects on the behalves of both filmmakers and audiences alike.
What got me thinking about all this? So as not to give too much away, feast your eyes on the clip below and then read on:
This is only a commercial for the company Saturn, a consumer electronics chain from Germany (it’s related to European electronics giant MediaMarkt). It’s also a really, really captivating piece of commercial pop art; at only 1 minute and 14 seconds long it could have just been a gimme, but there’s actually a story being told here. It’s a history of technology, sure– the voice-over specifically talks on the broad subject of technology in a broader sense– but taken out of context it’s also a pretty brilliant summation of the history of special effects. Yes, it’s all relayed to us through CGI, but it’s not hard to imagine this as the story of how filmmakers went from stop-motion animating King Kong to using computers to create “photo real” depictions of humans and fantastical creatures alike.
Of course, that clip doesn’t say anything that doesn’t already speak for itself. As technology gets better and becomes more available, special effects will also get better. Filmmakers love their toys and tech as much as anyone else– that’s just the way it goes. But that hardly matters; at the very least, the entire commercial is tightly put together and immensely entertaining and, aesthetically, impressive to look at. For my part, the clip got me thinking about where special effects are going to end up a couple of years from now. 3D technology is all the rage, and Avatar is likely to cause a big spike in interest over the format. (Granted, if it fails magnificently enough– which is at least somewhat likely given the enormous bar it has set for itself– it could also kill the trend almost single-handedly.) When the hubbub over 3D dies down, what’s next? And while we’re at it, do we even need photo-realism in our films? Are we that unwilling to suspend disbelief that we need technology present in our films that completely shatters it?
I don’t have satisfactory answers to these questions, but maybe we can come up with some together. What do you think about the evolution of special effects? Feel free to chime in.