What happens when CGI becomes perfect?

We saw Avatar: The Way of Water today. I don’t think I want to say too much about the movie itself. I think you already know if you are the kind of person who will enjoy a movie like this. Judging from the box office success, most people at least were willing to go sit through it. Personally, I liked it okay, and thought it was an improvement on the first. Sarah called it Toxic Masculity: The Movie and she has a fair point. Teenage boys and their testosterone is apparently a cross-species thing.

The main thing I’ve been thinking about is how seamlessly the special effects work was, and how quickly I forgot I was watching a movie that was almost entirely rendered on computers. As a child of the 80s, I’m used to being able to immediately spot most SFX shots because for the longest time, true verisimilitude was beyond our technical reach. To do CG water in a way that is indistinguishable from reality, I would have thought impossible even just a couple of years ago. Clearly fucking not. The water in this movie absolutely astonished me.

There were still a few seams here and there. Probably some rushed shots. Shots that weren’t able to use motion capture in particular jarred me a bit in places, but it’s a testament to the tech and the craft of the people working on these films that I was able to forget I was looking at CG for 90% of the run time (conservative estimate).

So we’re what, maybe a couple of years out from special effects artists being able to perfectly emulate anything they want, anything the directors and creative team can imagine. We’ve been getting there for a while, but I really wonder what the future of visual arts looks like when this is possible. Is it a good thing? If you had asked me in my animation obsessed twenties, I would have said absolutely. That’s before I learned how soul-crushingly awful it can be to work in that special effects industry.

I can’t help but think about what the human cost is of films like this. It’s not like James Cameron is known for being a great guy to work for. Still – what sights we saw today. How amazing was it that I believed it so thoroughly. An alien world has never felt so real. The sight of the pristine wilderness of it and what the “sky people” brought me to the brink of tears.

I’m grateful for getting to see it. I hope my enjoyment didn’t come at too high of a cost for the workers.

Scroll to Top