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Hidden artistry

Posted on Jan 25, 2024 by Samara Husbands

Hidden Artistry

We’re entering a golden age of invisible VFX, says Christopher Nichols, director of special projects at Chaos Innovation Lab 

In recent years, the rise of #NoCGI has been hard to miss. Whether it’s articles hyping ‘practical-only’ films, or comment sections rallying against CGI in general, the narrative has shifted away from the craft.

Ironically, this is all during a time when invisible effects and filmmaking have never been more collaborative or intertwined. 

That’s right: we are in a golden age of invisible effects. Artists are making scenes possible that never would have seen the light of day – or reached the mammoth scale that we are seeing across theatres and streaming services.

And the truth is, when the average person sees these breakdowns – even the #NoCGI contingent – they are shocked about how seamlessly these elements are woven into a shot. You just can’t tell – and that’s a testament to the artists.

That’s why events like World VFX Day, which took place for the first time in December, are so important. These gather experts from around our industry not only to showcase their work, but to illuminate topics that can start shifting perception back towards the craft.

One perfect example of this is Jonas Ussing, the Space Office VFX founder who recently went viral for his ‘NO CGI’ is really just INVISIBLE CGI video series. At the time of writing, it’s already had over 700k views on YouTube.

By diving into films like Napoleon and Top Gun: Maverick, and showcasing how many invisible effects reside in those movies – both of which were heavily marketed as using no CGI – Ussing is demonstrating how valuable invisible CGI has become. It’s why an epic like Napoleon could be shot in 62 days. 

CGI has never been in opposition to filmmaking. It’s a key ingredient that helps directors, cinematographers and artists work together in service of a greater goal. For all the arguments out there debating practical vs visual effects, the best results always come when they work together. 

This is happening every day to great effect. While the public may believe that many films aren’t using CGI, the truth is that VFX teams are working with filmmakers to ensure a cohesive visual experience, which is probably why most people don’t even know it’s there.

So, when you see a great talk from World VFX Day, or a public essay like Jonas’ – watch, read and share widely. You never know, you might help to shift the tide. Until then, let’s change the message to #RespectVFX.

First published in the January 2023 issue of Definition.

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