Reality bytes, part 1

I’ve been thinking for the last few weeks about the experience I had of seeing “Gravity”, in gorgeous stereo, on the big screen — an experience I highly recommend. From the point of view of computer graphic special effects, it’s a very important film, a landmark really.

Let us compare it with “Life of Pi”. A lot was made of the computer graphic tiger in “Life of Pi”. In some ways, that synthetic tiger was an important part of the marketing of the film. And yet, when I spoke to people involved in the production, I learned that the tiger was a mix. Some shots were CG and others were of a real tiger. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it’s a telling point.

In contrast, the marketing of “Gravity” doesn’t really emphasize just how much was computer graphics. Of course there was lots of computer graphics, but that’s a given these days for such films. In fact, as I learned from talking to people who worked on the production, it was a lot more than you might think.

In the shots with Sandra Bullock and George Cluny, absolutely everything on screen is computer simulated, except for their faces. Even the actors’ bodies are computer generated — clothing, torso, arms, legs, feet, hands, all of it. In those scenes, you are essentially seeing a computer animated film, with two actors’ faces composited in.

Once you are aware of this unpublicized aspect of the film, watching it becomes an even richer experience. You realize that you are witnessing pure artistry at work, a constructed “reality” as beautifully artificial in its way as any painting by Rembrandt or sculpture by Donatello.

So yes, as a benchmark for computer special effects “Gravity” is extremely important. But to me it is important for another, more compelling, reason — for what it has to tell us about our own future.

More tomorrow.

One Response to “Reality bytes, part 1”

  1. J. Peterson says:

    This reminds me of a Japanese attraction from several years ago. Before entering the theater, all the spectators placed their head into a scanner to record both photo and 3D scans of their faces. When they watched the show (a mini-space epic featuring characters in space suits) all of the audience members appeared in the movie.

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