The harmful mythology of “we didn’t use CG”

Posted by Matt Birchler
— 3 min read
The harmful mythology of “we didn’t use CG”

Todd Vaziri: FXRant: The Most Egregious Example of "We Didn't Use CGI" Mythology (So Far)

In 2023, I can't believe we're still dealing with these ridiculous, bold-faced lies. "Gran Turismo" had over 1,100 digital visual effects - digital effects that producer Qizilbash and director Blomkamp asked for and directed. And paid millions of dollars for. But you'd never guess that from this featurette. Any reasonable person would assume, after seeing that studio-produced video, that no visual effects were used in the film.

It is patently ridiculous the way movie studios perpetuate this myth of “no CG” in films that have CG in nearly every shot. I can’t keep track of how many people think that Oppenheimer or Mission: Impossible or Mad Max Fury Road have no CG because the marketing around those movies implied (or even stated outright) that they weren’t doing CG like other, lesser films. Here’s a Corridor Crew video breaking down the CG used in the iconic stunts in the recent Mission: Impossible films.

In the Gran Turismo promo video that triggered Vaziri’s post, director Neill Blomkamp says:

There’s a lot of different approaches to movies like this, especially in the 21st century. The temptation is to go all digital. The cars can be animated, you can film with tracks as background plates and do digital cars, but in this case everything is real.

And then actor Darren Barnet:

Shooting this movie without green screens, without projectors…I think that gives a more honest performance.

The absurdity of these statements is just insane to me. Here’s a still from the Befores & Afters piece when the movie came out, showing an example of them shooting on a green screen.

Without importing too many of their photos into this post, I’ll just say you should go to the Befores & Afters post and check out the example of “tracks as background plates and do digital cars” being used all over the film, despite Blomkamp inexplicably giving a quote for this featurette saying they didn’t do that: “in this case everything is real”. Okay…

The damage done to the truth is seemingly permanent. Even years after films' releases, some people still believe the mythology that there are no digital visual effects in movies like "Mad Max: Fury Road" and the recent "Mission: Impossible" films, and the phrase "practical is always better than 'CGI'" continues to thrive.

Belittling the works of CG artists is a massive disservice to those people working incredibly hard to (maybe ironically) create effects so good it makes people think they’re practical effects, and believe CG is trash.

There’s absolutely value in shooting things practically, and often the best effects are created when some elements are practical and others CG. But we belittle the work of people doing great things when we make videos like the one Sony made for Gran Turismo, which seems to only exist to say “CG is bad and this movie didn’t use it,” even though they totally did…all over it.

Without getting too deep in “we don’t like to credit people doing essential work on productions,” I also think this is related to the “the actor did all their own stunts” narrative that gets spun up as well. Again, actors doing some or most of their own stunts is great, but stunt performers do so much work (yes, even on those films famous for the star doing their own stunts), and they’re also often left out of the conversation, and sometimes even deal with marketing narratives that they weren’t even used.