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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
Physical models vs. CGI: When can we expect to see Sci-Fi titles become significantly easier and faster to produce then was the case in the past?


Considering how all F/X seem to be CGI these days, shouldn't it be easier, cheaper and quicker to produce Sci-Fi episodes then ever before?

Shouldn't BSG be able to churn out more episodes the TOS Trek did in 1968?

Is is just that we have just now gotten to the point where CGI is believable and doable with zero physical special effects and it is too soon to be immediately reaping the benefits of quicker and lower cost production?

How long before advancements in computer technology make Sci-Fi shows tremendously cheaper and quicker to produce then was the case in the past?



Anyome feel free to comment, but especially is there anyone here, like nx01Rob, in the industry who can comment on this?
 

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Physical vs CG

As a fan I feel that CG is relied on too much. The CG models still look very fake to me. They are very good and are only to get better very quickly but its not there yet. Thats one of the reasons I didn't like the recent 3 star wars movies, too much CG. The older stuff, not matter how poor it was, looked real because it was real. The CG's look to shiny, almost liquid though the detail that they have is truely amazing, TOS trek for example.

In other asspects of film maker, the CG's are not there yet. One of the things I do have movie experience with if fire. Today CG fire still looks very very fake and costs more to do the actual fire but is much safer. That why movies like Ladder 49, Backdraft, and The Towering Inferno (didn't have much of a choice) all used live fire. Now it did get touched up with some CG but most of what you are seeing is real.
 

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Agree. CGI isn;t there yet. I always grimace at the BSG scene where they bring the Vipers home and they kind of bounce into the docking port.

Check out the opening pan of the real model in the Battlerstar Galactica motion picture and it is deeply impressive in my opinion.
 

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I strongly disagree... BUT... there are many poorly executed CG shots. CG, like traditional FX, simply needs to be done well. The industry seems to tend to put lots of effects in, when I would prefer to see fewer.. but done WELL! CG spacecraft CAN be done superbly... but often are not. I do CG for a living, and I've worked with some lighters that could work magic... but it often requires a great deal of itteration before the shot gets there. The first 10 or 15 takes get the shot to the point where it looks good enough to use, but in the hands of a good lighter, and directed by someone with an eye towards true quality willing to give it another 10 or 15 takes... the shot can reach perfection. I'm affraid budgets often do not allow for this... but if it's a priority, perfection can be achieved with astounding results.

So my point is... CG is not the problem, people are. The same goes for scripts!
 

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CG excells in some areas but not all. I agree that the nearly all CG look for the Star Wars prequels was a serious detractor, but those were mainly scenes where actors were involved. I felt the space scenes looked great. But then there are movies like I, Robot where the robots generally looked fantastic interacting with the actors.

As far as television it all depends on your budget. Galactica only does 20 episodes a year because that's all they're asked for (it's only 13 next year). Show's like Stargate and Battlestar though are certainly pushing the boundaries of CG/actor interaction. Definately for the better too. They're able to get away with a lot more than they used to thanks to CG. Check out the new Season 2 for Atlantis on DVD. There are some great commentaries on several of the episodes. For the episode Siege Part 3, the director comments on the nearly 1/2 episode long amount of CG used for the battles and everything and how much easier it made his job.
 

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Discussion Starter #6
^^^That's my question.

How far away are we from having CG actually make producing Sci-fi less expensive and less time consuming then old fashioned f/x?

With all the CG technology there seems to be these days it still seems to take the f/x people longer to produce effects then it did a decade ago.

Have we, or when will we, reach a tipping point where CG will trully make Sci-Fi as easy to produce as conventional productions?

Theoretically, since non-sci-fi shows like Cop dramas and the like have to spend a lot of time setting up and shooting in the "real world" there should come a time when shows like Battlestar Galactica and Stargate take less time or money to produce then "real world" dramas that don't have a lot of external CG special effects shots like space battles and the like. If not less time it should eventually at least be cheaper.
 

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Discussion Starter #7 (Edited)
drewid142 said:
I strongly disagree... BUT... there are many poorly executed CG shots. CG, like traditional FX, simply needs to be done well. The industry seems to tend to put lots of effects in, when I would prefer to see fewer.. but done WELL! CG spacecraft CAN be done superbly... but often are not. I do CG for a living, and I've worked with some lighters that could work magic... but it often requires a great deal of itteration before the shot gets there. The first 10 or 15 takes get the shot to the point where it looks good enough to use, but in the hands of a good lighter, and directed by someone with an eye towards true quality willing to give it another 10 or 15 takes... the shot can reach perfection. I'm affraid budgets often do not allow for this... but if it's a priority, perfection can be achieved with astounding results.
So is this part of the reason that with all the advances in CGI technology the work still seems to take just as long and be more expensive?

Namely, has human nature wasted away the advances in technology?

I.E. is it a function of human nature to take as long as you have to get something done, done?

I.E. if you can only do six takes it takes six takes. But if you are allowed to do 15 takes you do it in 14 to 16 takes?

Isn't it human nature to expand the work to fill the time you have?

If one concentrated and worked attentively and carefully, could the sixth take often be done as well as the twelth? And how much better is that 15th take then the 12th? Especially if everyone involved had been doing their best on the 12th without the knowledge or thought they still had another three takes to get it right?

None of these may be the case.
Perhaps it is the case that you need those extra 10-15 takes because computer power is such that you can only deal with one or two elements per take - like lighting and texture mapping.

You were a little unclear as to why the extra takes were necessary, if they were computationally necessary to add elements that current computer power won't let you add all at once - for instance.

I'm just trying to brainstorm and understand as to why with all the CGI advances and computer power advances CGI still hasn't lived up to it's advertised potential.

It seems close from everything I've read and seen, but what else remains specifically to bring us to the level that we've been approaching for years but haven't yet gotten to.
 

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When something becomes easy, it loses it's value.

Getting something to look like a video game is easy. It's the last 5% of realism that takes 50% of the time. I don't know about anyone else but I'm always aware that I'm watching a movie or TV show. When I see obviously fake CGI stunts, I'm completely unmoved whereas if a real stunt man is doing something, even allowing for safety wires being removed, I still feel like some effort has gone into providing me with the entertainment.

CGI's big advantage is that things can be changed easily or modified where models would need a reshoot, however, it is true that models shots can often still be produced cheaper. Unfortunately it means that producers would have to leave the warmth and comfort of their office and the coffee machine.
 

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Discussion Starter #9 (Edited)
I'm convinced that CGI can be done at a level of realism equal to using scale models.
Otherwise I doubt ILM would have closed down their scale modeling division.

I've also seen proof of what can be done with CGI in the form that NX01Rob did on the Enterprise series' season four.

However, that level of sophistication has been the exception and is not yet the norm.

How long before it becomes the norm and not the exception? And what are the factors involved?
 

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Nice Rant. Why so many takes? Well, really perfectly lit shots usually include perfectly placed specular flashes, shadows, spill, fill, and all sorts of subtle lighting effects that you see in real time when lighting a real scene, but that often require intensive rendering in order to see the results. When you see a CG shot that looks fake, it is often because the lighting has not been done well, although texturing, geometry, and a host of other things contribute to mediocrity just as effectively. The kinds of effects you get when you layer on pearlescence, specular variation, material qualities and their interaction with complex lighting that also must reveal itself to the camera at just the desired moment... these are the things that require many take to get perfect. It is not because the artist is mediocre in their approach that it takes a lot of takes.
 

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Discussion Starter #11 (Edited)
drewid142 said:
Nice Rant. Why so many takes? Well, really perfectly lit shots usually include perfectly placed specular flashes, shadows, spill, fill, and all sorts of subtle lighting effects that you see in real time when lighting a real scene, but that often require intensive rendering in order to see the results. When you see a CG shot that looks fake, it is often because the lighting has not been done well, although texturing, geometry, and a host of other things contribute to mediocrity just as effectively. The kinds of effects you get when you layer on pearlescence, specular variation, material qualities and their interaction with complex lighting that also must reveal itself to the camera at just the desired moment... these are the things that require many take to get perfect. It is not because the artist is mediocre in their approach that it takes a lot of takes.
So it's because you lack the computing ability/power to do all the effects at once and it requires multiple takes - or more accurately layers.

That's what I was asking. Thank you.

Earlier you made it sound as if you were simply redoing or tweeking the same thing over and over, as a director often does when doing multiple standard film takes. I've never read a CGI effects person describe adding another level of detail as doing extra "takes." A "take" implies you do the whole thing over again from scratch - not an added level of detail.

Now that you've clarified what you meant your statements make a lot more sense then they originally did.
 

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I do CGI for a living, and "takes" are actually called "passes." CG renders can be broken up into several passes, which can be added together in many different ways in a compositing program. These different passes can be combined in different ways to give different results in the final image. For instance, you can make a light be green instead of red, or give the side of the ship more fill lighting.

In my opinion, CG models CAN look as good or BETTER than phsycial models. It just takes a lot of work, and alot of time. Sadly, some of these shots have to be delievered on a tight deadline, and can't be brought to the level of perfection that they need to be.
 

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Discussion Starter #13 (Edited)
Understandible.

So will increased computing power eventually allow better performance to occur with less and less time?

Is the learning curve and skill sets needed to do this work change drastically as computing power improves?
 

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I stand corrected on my terminology. I've never gotten to work on a film project. I directed all the cinematics for 2 James Bond games for Electronic Arts. I had a lead lighting guy that was some kind of god... he could give the art director exactly what he asked for very quickly... but the volume of shots we had to do meant we had to have lots of people working on lots of shots, so the lead would coach the juniors, who would take much longer and many more "passes" to get things good enough.

More compute power decreases the time to wait to see a shot. We had a "render farm" of 30 machines that would spit out sequences pretty quickly, but seeing a still image does not tell you how the light moves and changes throughout the shot, so rendering out full quality passes takes time and money.

Real-time rendering, which means that the computer can render frames at a rate good enough to watch the lighting dynamically is still a ways off. There are fantastic real time renderering software, but they typically use different algorithms that do not deliver the full quality needed for the highest quality.
 

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hell_fighter_8 said:
As a fan I feel that CG is relied on too much. The CG models still look very fake to me. They are very good and are only to get better very quickly but its not there yet. Thats one of the reasons I didn't like the recent 3 star wars movies, too much CG. The older stuff, not matter how poor it was, looked real because it was real. The CG's look to shiny, almost liquid though the detail that they have is truely amazing, TOS trek for example.

In other asspects of film maker, the CG's are not there yet. One of the things I do have movie experience with if fire. Today CG fire still looks very very fake and costs more to do the actual fire but is much safer. That why movies like Ladder 49, Backdraft, and The Towering Inferno (didn't have much of a choice) all used live fire. Now it did get touched up with some CG but most of what you are seeing is real.

I agree with you. CG can be very realistic, it depends on who is working on it. For example star trek 1 "dir cut" CG didn't look to bad to me, very nice. However CG most of the times looks down right horrible and very very crisp and to fake looking. You look at all movies shot with models with no computer docktering such as Star Trek 2...you are buying that that ship is really out there. If you need an extreme close up you build a large section "mock up" of the smaller scale ship. It gets to be a lot of work but its worth it to the very end. I think Star trek 1-6 looks better then the most recent cg out there and that was done over 20 years ago. Sick with what works until you can duplicate that, I guess is what I think. ;)
 

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Discussion Starter #16 (Edited)
So I guess we'll probably have to wait a few years for there to be enough computer power to reduce the now needed computer farms and multiple passes to anything near a straightforward, almost real time endeavor.

At least CGI is becoming easier and easier to do at the Hollywood level where they can afford such hardware. Maybe it at least won't be so long until those at the F/X house level can crank out HD quality effects at a reasonable pace.

Hopefully that might soon allow networks like sci-fi.com to lower their budgets and production times so that we aren't waiting over a month for the second half of a season to begin or much much longer as shows like BSGalactica take almost 5 months off for summer breaks. :eek:

There are already only two more episodes left in this year's season and I just know I'm going to be climbing the walls having to wait until September, muchless if they take until January of 2008 as they first announced!:drunk:
 

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I think we're there, already, Chuck. Just look at all the crappy movies that Sci-Fi Channel is churning out. :D Just as with the crappy model work we've seen over the years on some of the lower budget movies, we've now got CGI done the same way.

As to your essential question, we have several years ago reached the point where quality effects are simpler and cheaper to produce according to everything I've read on the subject. We've seen this in the greater quantity of special effects that would have been prohibitively expensive (when looking at the fx budget numbers you have to take inflation into account and you'll see the huge difference in cost per second of effects).

My impression from what I've read and from playing on the computer with Paint Shop Pro and other programs is that the quality of the production (sufficient time and talented labor spent) is the main factor. I think most of the fellows who do these effects for the big companies have an excellent, artistic eye (just like their modeling forebears) and are technically proficient but sometimes aren't given enough leadership nor input to put on the final polish.

More than anything, just like the quality of the scripts, there has got to be good "proofreading" of those effects. If it's like what I do at times, I'll be so into getting some details just right that I can't look at it objectively any more--not able to see the forest for the trees so to speak. I've come back and looked at some things later and found that, though I may have gotten the details right, I'd lost the essential "realness" of the image.

You've got to look at the talent "bell curve" as well. Only a very small percentage of folks are able to handle this sort of work and by the time you get to the cheesy stuff (BSG excepted, IMHO) they're churning out on cable, you've got some of the less capable or less experienced fellows getting in over their heads and not really realizing just how unrealistic their stuff is.
 

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Speaking as a freelance motion graphics guy ... it's mostly about time. Render time, simulation time (for fluids and particles), but most importantly, polishing time. Often, there simply isn't enough time to take another run at it to fix something or polish the look.
The other thing is having a staff that has the eye and attention to detail to polish the look before going to final render, I suppose.
 

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fiercegaming said:
. . . You look at all movies shot with models with no computer doctering such as Star Trek 2...you are buying that that ship is really out there. If you need an extreme close up you build a large section "mock up" of the smaller scale ship. . . . Stick with what works until you can duplicate that, I guess is what I think.
I think I'm with you on your philosophy here. I love models but don't have a problem with the relatively new medium of CGI. Whether you're using physical models or CGI, in the end, you're still attempting to trick the eye by manipulating screen images in some manner.

The work on those films you've mentioned is incredible and shows what a good eye those fellows had.

Theoretically, it should be possible to do exactly the same thing with CGI and even better. It often doesn't happen though. :(
 

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I do this for a living too.

One thing you guys have to realize is that even though the tools may be different, the way films are made hasn't changed much. There's still a ton of red tape, politics, and the money-vs-time equation to deal with. And don't think that because the models are virtual that there are only computers making these things. There are artists behind the scenes, just as there were when physical models were king. Those artists need enough time to make their virtual models good too. And they get salaries and benefits just like model masters do. And CG quality is also subject to the same budget and time constraints as real models. Dont think that just because you see some bad CG that its because the programs and artists that make it must suck. That is your personal bais showing. There has been a MASSIVE amount of really lame physical modeling and filming done in the past.... it all comes down to time and money. If you have the money you can hire the best artists and buy the best software. If you have the time you can really tweak out every detail until everything looks perfect.

Unfotunately, those circumstances are rare and therefore so are the instances where the CG is perfect. Which is exactly how it has always been.

The thing CG affords us is the ability to go places and do things that physical models could never allow. And the truth is there is a LOT more CG out there that you realize. That's because a lot of it is so good, you can't tell its not real. Its easy to pick it out when its science fiction, but when its something more down to earth mixed in with live action... well sometimes you can't tell at all.
 
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