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  • Orbitae Films

VFX or CGI?

Updated: Jul 4

The film industry and its audience have yet again found themselves at odds over the claims of 'zero CGI' used in Christopher Nolan’s 'Oppenheimer'. This is so common nowadays that it has reached a point where people and studios are seemingly afraid to even mention that they're using CGI—it's like we're the Voldemort of the story.


But why does this matter? Listen, we don't mind being He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named (a character brought to life thanks to a beautiful mix between SFX and CGI, by the way), but unfortunately, the negative publicity is impacting the art and the artists that work endless hours unnoticed.


Therefore, we are on a mission to demistify the VFX industry, and we are not alone. In fact, for a more in-depth explanation on the subject, we highly recommend watching "No CGI is just invisible CGI", from The Movie Rabbit Hole, hosted by Jonas Ussing.


With this article, we hope to offer more clarity and shed light on the indispensable and gigantic role of visual effects in filmmaking. What exactly is CGI?


A BIT OF HISTORY

What is CGI?
Geroge Méliès - A trip to the moon

The art of Visual Effects has been an integral part of filmmaking since its inception, being used in movies as early as 1900! Pioneering filmmakers like Alice Guy and Georges Méliès were among the first to employ methods such as tinting and double exposures, adding a layer of magic to their narratives. Techniques like rear projections and matte paintings were introduced later. Today, the tradition of illusion continues with digital tools (aka computers) and now even artificial intelligence!


So, although the tools have evolved, the core purpose of VFX remains the same.

What you're trying to do is give the audience a better picture, that tells a better story", Clarence Slifer, Academy Award winner for Best Special Effects, in The Invisible Art.

IS IT VFX OR CGI?

In a nutshell, CGI is about wholly computer-generated imagery (hence CGI), from fantastical creatures to cityscapes. Conversely, VFX (visual effects) encompasses a broader spectrum, sometimes integrating CGI with live-action footage.


VFX side by side - we erased the crew and the cables holding the vampiresse


Therefore, VFX would be the umbrella term that refers to any image alteration that happens in post-production, regardless of whether it's with 3D elements (or CGI) or the compositing of various in-camera footage to create a better image. It's about seamlessly integrating various elements in post to create believable scenes.


In this context, CGI would be a subset of VFX, a tool. This term could be reserved for entirely computer-made creations such as characters, backgrounds or objects. It can also be recreations of something that exists using, for example, photogrammetry.

In other words, CGI is the modern tool of choice when real-world shooting is too expensive, too dangerous, impractical or impossible. It allows filmmakers to render their visions to life, transforming otherwise normal or impossible sets and/or characters.


Behind the CGI scenes for "Artificial Faith". We modified the metahuman and created the clothes from scratch


DON'T FORGET SFX!

While CGI and VFX reign in the digital domain, SFX reminds us of the tangible. In deed, SFX refers to all practical or physical effects that occur on set. These can include elements like prosthetics, makeup, weather effects, miniatures and pyrotechnics.


Unlike VFX, which is applied or created in post-production, SFX is all about creating tricks in-camera, which (we must confess) are often enhanced in post-production. But, for us, the beauty of cinema relies in the blend of all these techniques!

In conclusion, labeling a film 'zero CGI' might be a compelling marketing angle, but it oversimplifies the vast, collaborative art form that visual effects represent. The interplay of CGI, VFX, and SFX is fundamental in modern filmmaking, each element crucial in crafting the movies we love so much (even the ones that are not fantastical!).

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