I haven’t decided on what I want my career to be. I have so many interests I want to pursue. Quite a few of them include going to Hollywood to be a part of the movie making process.
I like writing scenes and scripts, directing, acting, but most importantly I love creating special effects makeup. I enjoy watching monsters, reading about monsters, and creating monsters. Like Leonardo de Vinci or Vincent van Gogh, special effects makeup masterminds are artists that are only bound by their imaginations.
As I pursue this hobby in my spare time, I’ve realized that this form of creativity is a dying breed. The Age of CGI is taking over.
CGI stands for Computer Generated Imagery. In recent years starting in the 1990s, CGI has been increasing its mark on cinema. I admit, CGI can be a great tool in developing a film, however it is true what they say “too much of a good thing is bad.”
Some movies require CGI to pull off. For instance, “Toy Story,” “Shrek,” “Monsters VS. Aliens,” and “Jimmy Neutron” were all made from complete CGI. “Jurassic Park” even used CGI to bring the dinosaurs to life.
Instead of creating a being completely virtual, the creators of “JP” actually built dinosaurs to scale, striving to make them look as real as possible.
Then later in production, to make these dinosaurs run, walk, jump, growl, etc., the use of CGI was very handy. When “JP” opened in 1993 (after three years of production), the dinosaurs appeared to be real because they were not engineered solely with a computer.
Like medicine, CGI is a good thing…when taken at the right time. You wouldn’t take cough syrup if you didn’t have a cold. So why use CGI when it can be set aside?
I believe CGI goes too far when it creates main characters from real actors. Take “Avatar” or “Alice in Wonderland” for example. Real actors Sam Worthington and Helena Bonham Carter were digitally transformed. I understand that Hollywood has the ability to do such effects, but they are starting to overkill it.
Let’s journey back to the early days of Universal Studios. Back in the 1920s, Lon Chaney “The Man of A Thousand Faces” had no CGI. He created his own looks the old-fashioned way… makeup. In “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” Chaney distorted his body with a 70l-pound hump on his back. In “The Phantom of the Opera,” he disfigured his face by using latex.
Jumping into the 1930s, makeup artist Jack Pierce created Frankenstein’s monster in the 1931 Boris Karloff movie “Frankenstein.” Again, no CGI to create the flattop or neck bolts. Pierce also created the original “Wolfman” (1941). Lon Chaney Jr. sat for hours in the makeup chair to create the illusion of a werewolf. It paid off. On screen he looked like a man who was consumed by the curse of lycanthropy. It’s much different from modern werewolves like in the Twilight saga. In “Twilight: New Moon,” when Taylor Lautner transforms into his wolf form, it is obviously CGI and looks more like a big dog than a combination of wolf and man.
1933 really broke boundaries with “The Invisible Man,” starring Claude Rains. Knowing that at that time there was no such thing as CGI, I was puzzled after I watched it. “How’d they possibly do that?” I wondered. It was so realistic; I was blown away by how impressive that technology was.
As it turns out, wires and a matte process, in which two shots were overlapped, created the visual effects. More impressively, the wires weren’t even visible.
In 1981 a new process was created in “An American Werewolf in London.” When David is transforming into a werewolf, his face changes into grotesque shapes.
Rick Baker helped develop the use of robotics to create this illusion. By pushing air through the robotic face, it would change shapes. The snout would extend, the mouth would open, the ears would grow, etc. Again, CGI was unheard of even in the 1980s.
CGI has only been around for roughly 20 years, and the way I see it, it is not going anywhere. In a desensitized nation of instant gratification, Hollywood is going to keep advancing its means of production in order to produce more movies in less amount of time.
It’s a little upsetting that the age of special effects makeup artistry is slowly drifting. Maybe we can’t teach these new movies some old tricks, but we can keep the movie magic from dying. I will always admire the classic films and the genius artists who broke down so many barriers. I will do my part to share their legacies, even when Hollywood forgets them.
Jessica Brown is the photographer for the Barrow Journal. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.