Take “Raiders of the Lost Ark” for example. Remember that infamous Nazi face melting scene? They achieved it by making a mold of the actor’s face out of gelatin, meat, and liver among other things and had it set next to a heat lamp that slowly melted it. Afterword they sped up the footage and there you have it! C’est magnifique! I could go on for days detailing numerous effects over the last century of filmmaking, but more importantly, there was a time in the last decade or so when it seemed like practical effects had been thrown to the wayside by the new and shiny computer effects brought on by newer technologies in filmmaking.
Films like ”Sky Captain and The World of Tomorrow”, a film that was entirely shot in green screen (They didn’t even use sets or locations, nothing at all except handheld props and costumes) were being lauded as the new way of modern filmmaking. This thinking held true for much of the 2000′s, some deviations being the wonderfully practical ”Lord of The Rings” trilogy among others, but for the most part CGI had seemingly taken over.
Recently however in the last five years of movie releases a peculiar thing began to happen. Slowly but surely people seemed to tire of overly fake sequences and practical effects began to creep back into the limelight. Now I’m not much a of a horror fan, but the recent “Evil Dead” remake heavily embraced such filmmaking, and knowing that they created a moment with practical filmmaking just baits the question of “How the hell did they do THAT?!” I’m still at a loss as to how they sawed a girl’s arm completely off onscreen. I would have assumed she might have just only had one arm and a prosthetic was sawed in half, but I’m also pretty sure they blatantly showed her utilizing that very real arm beforehand. However they did it, I was wowed. Mission accomplished.
More and more movies began to reincorporate on location shooting, heavily ornate and “lived in” setpieces, and all kinds of manmade visual tricks. Even more dramatic films like the brilliant “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” meshed palpable effects back into the light. “Predators” was one such film. It went back to the jungle, an actual jungle in Hawaii, utilized practical tricks for the Predators themselves, and props aplenty. Now the more you look around the more you see a real effort to wow audiences with a respective meld between both CGI and Practical effects. Even “Interstellar” was lauded for it’s use of special effects sequences, and that was about wormhole traveling through space and across galaxies! Hell, even the Muppets are back!
What George Miller did with this newest iteration of Mad Max was wonderfully brilliant because it lovingly crafted the look and feel of the film with equal parts practical effects and CGI. Just check out this excellent article that details the minutia of several key sequences! http://www.blu-ray.com/movies/Mad-Max-Fury-Road-Blu-ray/74537/ In today’s world of filmmaking anything is possible. From Galaxies far far away to indie darlings that focus on more down to earth questions about love or death, there is room for both takes, and in many cases you need to embrace both. Sometimes the effects can be so good that you can’t tell which is which either. Anyone remember the scene late in “The Wolf of Wall Street” when DiCaprio and Hill are walking down the Italian boardwalk to their boat? Only the pier is real. Which is astounding when you think about it.
My point being that practical effects can be used to great effect in a multitude of ways, as can CGI. We shouldn’t be demonizing CGI either because when they are both used in tandem, the results are spectacular. Personally, I’m most looking forward to JJ Abrams entry into the “Star Wars” universe and he has seemed to be heavily utilizing both resources, as he should. So, I say to you Hollywood: Thank you. Thank you for realizing that movies can be made in many ways, and that using the best of all our abilities to wow audiences is the point. Necessity maybe the mother of invention, but when you have an abundance of skills and tricks, we all win.