8 Hilariously Failed Attempts to Use CGI in Political Ads
Most people became aware of CG (computer generated) effects with the release of Jurassic Park, though they've been around much longer than that. Politicians discovered CG around 2008 (some are still working on discovering the internet) and boy, are they not making good use of it.
Here's what they're doing instead.
In this ad, Carly Fiorina's Republican primary opponent is described as a "wolf in sheep's clothing." Using the power of bargain-basement computer graphics, they're going to take that single phrase to a place sanity has long abandoned. Hang on:
It begins with a peaceful scene of some sheep standing in a green field, and typical bland politician phrases flashing on the screen: "Purity. Piety. Wholesome. Honorable." Just as you are about to fall asleep, out of nowhere, a sheep on a pedestal begins to rise out of the ground.
Before you can finish saying, "What the fuck," they explain that this sheep is Fiorina's opponent, Tom Campbell, and then strike him down with lightning.
His crime is that he is only pretending to be a real Republican, and is a "wolf in sheep's clothing". You can tell because of the glowing red eyes, a dead giveaway of wolves.
Another clue is the shoes. Distinctive wolven shoes.
So it looks like halfway through, even shitty compositing with a pirated version of After Effects got too rich for their blood and they went even more low-budget. Someone managed to put together a sheep costume so terrible that even furries would consider it beneath their dignity.
The kicker is that those clips weren't even shot for this project. The ad maker actually re-used footage from a previous project. Which leads to the frustratingly unanswered question of what the hell kind of project that was supposed to be.
The Democrats followed up with a very polished parody of the ad where Carly Fiorina is "Demon Sheep 2". While it no longer makes a visual effects artist want to burn their eyes out, I feel that fancy elitist qualities like competence, logic, and actual compositing work are no substitute for heart.
In the hearts of Californians, there will always be only one demon sheep.
My Opponent Is a Floating Head
Would you vote for a floating head that flickers like a hologram of Emperor Palpatine? Me too.
Unfortunately the voters of Multnomah County didn't feel the same way, and Piluso lost this one. Her opponent, Diane McKeel, spent $237,000 of her own money on this campaign, most of which I can safely say did not go into this ad.
I don't know what the "Committe" to Elect Diane McKeel Multnomah County Commissioner was thinking when they sponsored this ad, but it was around Halloween, and I guess someone came up with the bright idea to talk about how "scary" Piluso was, and the best way to show that would be to put her head in a strangely aquarium-like Halloween scene.
I guess the hologram look is supposed to tell you she is a ghost, and they couldn't find any body shots of her so they hid her behind a rock (I think it's a rock). Alternatively the head is supposed to be attached to the rock, and she is some kind of horrible rock-human Frankenstein, which I guess is pretty scary for something that can't move.
Barbara Boxer: Evil Blimp
This ad is actually a fairly straightforward metaphor:
Quite simply, Senator Barbara Boxer becomes inflated with "hot air" and threatens Our Way of Life, typical political hyperbole really. It begins during an ordinary session of Congress.
Suddenly, her head begins to swell, with power or something, and power is lighter than air because it begins to lift her off the floor. And then, uh...
...she smashes right through the Capitol dome. Okay. Sure.
As she floats out of Washington, she evolves into her final form, sprouting an armored wall of TV screens.
Now completely matured, the full-grown Boxerblimp terrorizes citizens at every scenic vista in northern California.
Half the shots cut off the whole top half of her head for some inexplicable reason.
Not as she's coming into or leaving the shot, it's cut off like that for the entire 10 second shot or whatever. Most likely the maker of this ad is as good at scene composition as they are at CG. Or subtlety.
Will anything be able to save California from this horrific senatorial blimp beast? Yes! Apparently it's challenger Carly Fiorina talking at you a whole lot. I'm not sure what she said because it's boring. But whatever she said apparently has the power to smite the Boxtrosity from the sky and send it plummeting into the ocean.
And that's why you need to, um... buy Carly perfume, I think.
Attack Of the 50 Ft. Pelosi
This ad takes the term "scare tactic" as literally as possible, conjuring up the image of a scaaaaary movie where House speaker Nancy Pelosi is literally a scaaaary monster who physically destroys American cities:
It sets the tone playfully with a title that conjures up images of old school monster movies, movies stylistically known for their...
...giant cartoonish heads. Seeing how well they captured that vibe, who wouldn't immediately be put in mind of The Blob or Them! or Attack of the 50 Foot Woman? If it doesn't have a tiny body and a giant balloon-like bobble head, who could possibly accept it as a B-movie monster? But enough on that. So Obama and Senate leader Harry Reid pull some switches labeled "Healthcare," "Stimulus," and "Bailouts," and the power overloads their lab creation:
Giant-Headed Yet Strangely Flat Nancy Pelosi. She bursts through the roof, as politicians are wont to do (see the Barbara Boxer Blimp) and goes on a cross-eyed rampage.
Clearly, the inability of her eyes to coordinate working in the same direction is an example of the failure of her "bipartisan" policies. So what can defeat this horrifying California Congresswoman? Why, the votes of Pennsylvanians, of course!
Each laser is a vote. No, really.
Yes, this is an ad for Pennsylvania congressional candidate Tim Burns, who, no matter how many votes he gets, will never be allowed to take a California congressional seat, because he and Nancy Pelosi are running in two completely separate political races.
Damn our broken system.
Mark Kirk Transforms
This one isn't very complex. Apparently there is a cardboard cutout of Mark Kirk, Senatorial candidate, in front of the Capitol Building. This cutout transforms into a robot and starts smashing shit up.
By "transform," I mean the robot pieces randomly appear over the cardboard cutout. It doesn't even look like the cutout is in the same universe as the robot, it just looks like a layer someone forgot to turn off.
Next, there is a lot of gratuitous smoke. There is smoke when he smashes parking barriers, there is smoke when he claps his hands together, whatever.
And lens flare!
All that smoke makes sense when you realize this is the worst designed robot ever made, and I'm saying this as a kid who had to play with Go-bots. Considering that in the course of this commercial, the robot doesn't even have to transform from any original shape, there's no reason it should have any weird-shaped arms or legs left over from when it was a car or plane. But it does anyway.
The maker of this ad claims: "This 3D animated ad was produced animated, rendered and audio-mixed in three days." I'm not sure if that's supposed to be a boast or apology but I know which it should be.
Meg Whitman Is a Deformed Jerk
The main thrust of this ad is that Meg Whitman is a jerk, which is true:
It's a little difficult to pay attention to that message, however, when LOOK AT THAT FACE. IS THAT SUPPOSED TO BE THE GUY FROM MASK?
Yeah, I was talking about the 1985 movie, not the Jim Carrey movie.
Although that sort of works too. Anyway, the point is that this is clearly supposed to be a caricature, of the kind everyone totally accepts in political cartoons. Unfortunately this is 3D, and thanks to the Uncanny Valley effect, things that look cartoony and funny in 2D can look horrifying and wrong in 3D (this is also known as the Polar Express Zombie Effect).
Here's a political cartoon of Meg Whitman.
Distorted and unflattering, but not to the level that sends you running for your chainsaw and making bargains with God. You get the intended message, "You should hate/boo this person," and not, "You should fear/start a foundation for this person."
If you're wondering how close that caricature is to Whitman, the answer is, "not very".
Actually, now that I'm over the initial terror, I'm getting Ron Howard more than anything.
The Badly Animated Rat vs the Badly Animated Ox
A lot of people don't realize how versatile computer animation is. Not only can you make terrible videos in 3D, but also in 2D. In this prime example, John Oxendine is running for governor of Georgia against "King Roy The Rat":
I don't know much about his opponent - he may literally be a rat - but I don't care. I would still vote for that rat, thanks to this ad.
John Oxendine is represented in this abomination by an ox that stands uselessly in front of scenes of disaster and does nothing.
This is the guy the ad is supporting, mind you.
In 1993 I did a project for English class using computer animation (it was a report on Richard Wright if you care). It was terrible, because at the time there was no good home software for computer animation, just this piece of shit. The first Toy Story wouldn't even come out until 1995. My classmate Don Hertzfeldt blew me out of the water with his hand-drawn animation, and continues to do so today, curse him. In retrospect, I had created one of the most boring, poorly-drawn, poorly-edited presentations in high school history.
It was about 5 times better than this ad.
CG Ron Paul
CG is really handy for cases where the thing you want to show is too expensive, or dangerous, or doesn't exist - like dinosaurs, explosions, spaceships, other planets, or alien robots. Or Ron Paul.
Possibly one aim of this ad was to make people believe Ron Paul was so much in demand that he didn't have time to appear in an ad.
I don't think anyone bought it.
So I threw this around the old workplace and we came up with two possibilities why Ron Paul "needed" to be Polar Expressorized for this ad. Theory one was that you can't put the real Ron Paul underwater.
Which is very valid. Ron Paul is well-known to be water soluble. But this is evading the question of why Ron Paul needs to be underwater in the first place. The ad has a narrative that involves flood waters receding from America in general, but I can't think of any reason why Ron Paul needs to actually be in that water. He's not doing anything about it, he's just standing in it.
The other theory about the necessity of a CG Ron Paul is regarding the final shot. In a spin-out shot, they show him speaking to a large crowd that has gathered to see him, and damn if they were going to be able to pull that off without special effects.
I myself would have gone about it by saying, "Let's get you on the greenscreen, Ron, and we'll bring in a digital crowd," but I congratulate these guys for thinking out of the box and doing it the other way around. "Let's get footage of a real crowd cheering at nobody and we'll build a fake Ron Paul there."
For more about the dark underbelly of CGI effects, check out CGI Boobs: 7 Special Effects The Stars Want to Keep Secret and The 5 Miserable VFX Jobs That Make Movies Possible.
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