Visual aesthetics has always been a valid element to consider when critiquing movies. If the visuals look silly and unrealistic, the entire movie could become off putting, no matter how well written the story is. We have entered a stage in cinema where the majority of the time, computer generated imagery (CGI) creates special effects. This allows artists to use software to produce effects on a film that cannot be created by hand, whether it be creating an explosion in an action sequence or animating a talking blue hedgehog that can run superfast. Despite CGI being so widely used, it is expensive, and it requires a team of artists to grind until the film’s conclusion.
The first movie to blend CGI and live action capabilities was 1973’s “Westworld.” Through time, CGI has improved immensely and expanded the space in which impossible stories can now be told. With the mix of practical effects, handmade props and sets, movies such as “Star Wars: A New Hope” (1977) and “Tron” (1982) came to life. But artists began to truly seize the power of CGI in the late 90’s and 2000’s. Audiences could enter the digitalized world of “The Matrix” (1999). We could travel to far distant worlds in “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” (2002). Then CGI had the ability to build a world from the ground up, and turn human beings into realistic aliens with “Avatar” (2009). From then on, the power of CGI has remained a fascinating spectacle that has allowed audiences to be fully immersed in the world they are viewing.
Recently, fans and critics are beginning to point out that the quality of CGI in movies is decreasing. If the craftsmanship of CGI is inherently getting better, why is there now a decline in visual aesthetic? Creating a product that can be consumed by millions of people on a strict deadline can be stressful.
Socially, there has been a recent initiative for people, businesses included, to take mental health into more consideration. From experience, I can attest that when stressed, one cannot produce their best work. There has been a recent outpour of support for the artists who are working on these big budget blockbuster films under strict deadlines while struggling to make ends meet.
Dhruv Govil, a 3D artist who has worked on multiple Marvel Studios films such as “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Spiderman: Homecoming,” tweeted a message on July 10, 2022 that generated a lot of discussion.
“Working on #Marvel shows is what pushed me to leave the VFX industry. They’re a horrible client, and I’ve seen way too many colleagues break down after being overworked, while Marvel tightens the purse strings,” Govil tweeted.
If Marvel can ignore the mental health of their employees, one can imagine how other studios are treating their artists.
Creating a movie is expensive, and on top of that, creating special effects for a movie is where the bulk of the budget tends to go. According to This Answer, CGI could cost up to $34-79 million for the post production of a film, which equates to $570,000 spent per minute. For such an expensive task, the expectation would be for the finished product to be visually appealing. If there is so much money being put into a movie or show, why are artists complaining about being underpaid and overworked?
Govil states in a separate tweet that the artists working behind the scenes of these big movies get paid less than 1% of any actor’s salary. VFX artists deserve more credit in the industry, especially when faced with impossible tasks set with strict deadlines. With these big studios that are worth millions, there should be no issue in increasing the pay for these artists who are essential for the success of a film.
Because of Govil, the culture at Marvel Studios is now being placed under a microscope, as artists are exposing the toxic work environment. Fans are beginning to make the connection between the mistreatment of the artists to the poor quality of CGI. Creating visual effects is time consuming, and if artists are rushed the end result is not going to look fully completed. Marvel’s latest additions to their cinematic universe have made fans disappointed when it comes to the special effects in their new movies and TV shows.
Marvel has just come out with “Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” followed by “Thor: Love and Thunder.” On top of the releases of those two movies, Marvel has also released back-to-back TV shows including “Moon Knight,” “Ms. Marvel” and “She-Hulk: Attorney at Law.” There have been moments in each of these productions where audience members can point out the cringy CGI moments that can make the viewing experience awkward.
These awkward instances on screen are known as the uncanny valley, which is when the brain can decipher what is actually real and what is trying to be real. Computer generated images in the uncanny valley usually stir up feelings of disgust and unease. We have seen Marvel create masterpieces like “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Avengers: Endgame.” They have produced many CGI-dependent movies such as “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “Ant-Man” and “Dr. Strange,” and were praised for their effects. It is disappointing to see Marvel take steps backward, just so they can release more and more content.
Instant fan satisfaction has become the answer for many studios who want to keep their audiences subscribed to their platform. In the studio’s mind, quantity takes precedence over quality. That is how Marvel has operated for the past year as they release content back to back. This strategy is not working, but despite this, they have just released their line up for the next couple of years. Because of this eagerness, I believe their content is suffering for it.
There is a history of studios bending to meet the satisfaction of fans that inherently creates more stress on their workers. For example, when “Sonic the Hedgehog” (2020) first came out with a teaser trailer, audiences revolted in horror at the design of the beloved character. People were used to seeing the character with more cartoon-like features. Although Paramount was aiming for a more realistic approach to Sonic, the attempt did not sit well with fans. They were not expecting the beloved character of Sonic to sport human-like teeth, defined muscles and long legs. Ultimately, because of the negative reviews of the character design, the studio decided to redo the film entirely, giving Sonic a new look. Marvel has been prone to do this as well, fixing visual effects while a movie is still in theaters, or even when it is streaming on Disney +. Marvel is even guilty of not notifying their artists when there is a deadline change in the case of the “Avengers: Infinity War” film’s release date being moved up.
There has been a meme circulating social media that contemplates the difference between the computer effects in the early 2000’s versus what effects look like today. When used in the proper way CGI has the capability to create new worlds that look and feel realistic, and at times magical. It can create the most fascinating characters or the most creepy monsters. It has gone far beyond the capabilities of what practical effects used to create. The fact that movies that came out over a decade ago have CGI that still has not aged at all really shows how the proper care and attention to detail can keep a movie timeless. Movies such as “Avatar,” “The Pirates of the Caribbean” and “The Matrix” introduced audiences to a unique viewing experience. They remain stellar examples of what good CGI looks like. But those movies were well thought out, planned and had no rush to be released. When a movie or series is released the critiques should not focus on the visual effects but rather the story they support.
Artists truly deserve better working conditions. I believe that this is the right time for them to unionize and fight for proper pay and better hours. If you look at the credits for any movie or show, there are so many people who have contributed to it. Without these people who work behind the scenes, no matter how well an actor performs, there is no magic to support them. What is a magic show without magic?