When Steven Spielberg recreated towering brachiosaurs using only computer wizardry for his 1993 classic Jurassic Park, computer-generated imagery (or CGI) skyrocketed to popularity among the big-budget action and sci-fi directors looking to inject some thrills into their story. At first, it looked like practical movie effects might die a slow death in the wake of superior technology. That did not happen. Quite the opposite, in fact. In spite of the popularity of CGI, old-school practical effects remain highly treasured among innovative filmmakers around the world. Why is it that hand-crafted effects remain so popular? That’s a question with a lot of answers.
1. Real Spectacle Never Fades, Even When It’s Tiny
Even on repeat viewings, even 20 years later, even if you hated the end result of the movie itself, it’s hard not to be impressed when the massive alien crafts of Independence Day break through the clouds to impose themselves on an unsuspecting urban populace. Of course, those models were only about ten feet long in real life, but that’s the beauty of practical effects. A superbly built model and a close-up camera angle can transport the audience to a world where it IS possible that the White House might shatter like glass in the wake of an alien super ray.
2. Smaller Stunts Have Bigger Impact
When the audience understands that what they’re seeing on the screen is 100 percent real, lighter carnage can make for unexpected thrills. In one scene in the Dark Knight, Batman manages to flip a semi truck face-forward on a Chicago street without harming a single storefront. In the opening moments of Casino Royale, James Bond chases a suspect in a gravity-defying foot chase across a series of cranes. In both cases, there is no doubt that these stunts are not the creation of some computer, they are well and truly happening, and the result is more exciting than all the CGI-crafted planetary-level action scenes you could imagine.
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