8 Everyday Things You Had No Clue Were Actually CGI
Special effects used to be a rare addition to films (hence the qualifier "special"), but these days, anybody with enough money can crap out dizzying visual spectacles for whatever natural disaster + animal movie pitch they came up with on shrooms. But at least it's not seeping over into real life, right? We can look at science magazines, furniture catalogs, or car ads and feel confident that what we're seeing is 100-percent real and not CGI.
Well, sorry to break it to you, but ...
Car Commercials Often Don't Feature Real Cars
Next to a house, a car is the biggest purchase most people will make in their life. So car companies spend an insane amount of money trying to convince people that their car is the one that will keep you safe / get you laid. Many print ads for cars feature a 3D model rather than a real photograph, but car manufacturers have to make commercials too, so you can at least be assured that the 2017 Dinoburner you're seeing whip around those corners is definitely the real deal, right?
You know where this is going. Meet the Blackbird.
How the hell do they fit 20 X-Men in there?
While it looks like a turtle that lost its shell, that little go-kart is becoming one of the most filmed cars in the world. You see, cars take a while to design and build, and commercials take a while to film and edit. By the time the first cars that could be used in a commercial are rolling off the assembly line, it's too late to start shooting ads. In the past, prototype cars were used, but that can cause problems if the designers decide the car needs a slightly different chassis or doors that open upwards.
To make up for this gap, many automakers use the Blackbird as a stand-in. It's a generic-looking chassis which can be adjusted and tuned to behave like anything from a Prius to a Mustang, allowing the marketing people to film the car doing cool car commercial stuff before passing it along to the CGI artists, who add the body and styling.
No, they didn't make an Animorphs movie (for some reason).
If only this had been around when the Pontiac Aztek was released and somebody had a chance to say how stupid it looked. Who knows how many senseless losses of respect could have been prevented?
Nearly Everything In Catalogs Never Existed
We have to give some credit to the layout editors at SkyMall, because few other catalogs can make an otherwise completely rational person say, "Yeah, I could use a portable hot tub!" A big part of it are the photos. Those crisp, clean pictures of shiny new gadgets make whatever the hell Orbitwheels are seem like an attractive purchase.
Unfortunately, they are almost certainly fake.
The salespeople aren't human either, but we saw that coming.
More and more, catalogs and marketers are using CGI versions of their products in catalogs. Photographing stuff is expensive, and even after an entire day of shooting moodily lit tubes of toothpaste, sometimes it still doesn't look right. The lighting can look weird, filthy humans can smudge the shiny bits with their gross hands, or maybe the art director wants it to be a particular shade of blue that doesn't exist.
But with the miracle of computers, product designers and marketers can tweak and polish to their heart's content with cheap keyboard monkey labor. Artists can crank out multiple iterations of a ThrustMaster dildo until it glistens in morning sunlight in that perfect way. And everybody is doing it -- including, we're sorry to say, IKEA.
Et tu, Flurvenbergsen?
As you may have guessed, building an entire house so you can show off your furniture collection is expensive, even if that furniture is from IKEA. IKEA can now digitally render entire rooms to put in their catalogs, which is a vast improvement of their old method of breaking into homes and replacing all the cabinets while the owner was on vacation. Likewise, they can digitally render individual items, thus saving them the stress of having to assemble real IKEA furniture for a photo shoot.
Most Of NASA's Space Photos Have Been Retouched
We all have that one friend who used to put glitter in his milk in middle school and now sees conspiracy theories everywhere. You can show them any breathtaking, awe-inspiring photo of the rugged moonscape, and they will confidently tell you it's fake. This hasn't gotten any better in recent years, now that anybody with a laptop can give themselves a six-pack or D-cups. A few years ago, conspiracy wackos claimed to have proof of NASA's photographic fakery because of these pictures of Saturn's moons:
Naturally, NASA responded by ... totally admitting it?
NASA has never really hidden that many of the photos released to the public are heavily processed. Take a look at this gorgeous picture of the Cat's Eye Nebula taken by the Hubble Telescope:
There was already a "Cat's Anus Nebula."
In reality, the light emitted by the nebula is almost entirely red and far too faint to be seen by the naked eye. Human eyes can only see a pathetically small portion of the electromagnetic spectrum, but despite our protests, most celestial objects don't give a shit if we can see them or not. To compensate, space cameras usually take a black and white picture of all the light they can see, and then, like a Southern country club, they filter out the colors they don't want.
In the case of Cat's Eye, scientists were interested in how much hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen is in the nebula (it seems NASA takes pictures for science and not just desktop wallpapers). Each element reflects a slightly different shade of red light, so they take a picture of each shade they're looking for, and then make one of them blue and the other one green. So yeah, we're sorry to tell you that the astounding picture of space that's the background for your Einstein misquote is in fact a giant fake.
Nature Documentaries Lie A Lot
If there's an animal you like, you can find a video of it doing things narrated by David Attenborough. While other kinds of documentaries usually have a specific angle or agenda to convey, nature documentaries simply want you to see this polar bear rip apart a baby seal. They're like the realest reality TV show.
Except they wouldn't be in this article if that was true. Turtle: The Incredible Journey is a 2009 documentary which follows a loggerhead turtle as she swims back to her birthplace to lay her eggs. It was marketed a nature documentary ... even though filmmakers revealed that they had staged several scenes by putting rescued sea turtles in front of a blue screen or flat-out creating CGI models. If this is "documentary," so is 101 Dalmatians.
This explains all the musical numbers.
And the tense scene where animals are caught in a net? All animatronics.
Above: the expression when you find out you're a robot.
Even the BBC, which is the only reason you even know about that zombie ant fungus which keeps you awake at night, is not immune from "touching up" their documentaries. In Frozen Planet, there is a scene showing a polar bear giving birth to her cub. What the documentary fails to mention, however, is that this was happening in a Belgian zoo.
Nanook would be proud.
In another documentary, a chameleon and a weird-eyed species of insect are both shown to be living in a forest, when it was actually a BBC studio. While there's nothing wrong with filming things in captivity that are difficult or impossible to see in the wild, it should at least be presented as such. Attenborough himself has criticized the excessive use of CGI in documentaries, saying, "If you wanted to confuse the audience, you've got more ways than ever." Unless he's fake too, and they're trying to throw us off.
Movie Poop And Pee Is Usually CGI ...
There's an old joke that if a movie wants to show a cow, they bring in a horse because they look more like cows on camera. The audience expects Washington, D.C. to have skyscrapers and for bald eagles to sound like red-tailed hawks, so the producers make movies more "realistic" by faking it. Likewise, we expect poop to look a certain way, and movie studios are happy to oblige.
In The Other Woman, there's a scene in which Leslie Mann's Great Dane fulfills many people's fantasy of taking a dump in the middle of Cameron Diaz's apartment. Unfortunately, even Hollywood dogs aren't trained to squeeze out a picture perfect turd on command. But moviegoers paid top dollar to see this film, and they deserved nothing but the highest-quality shit. The result? Studios pay someone a small student loan's worth of money to pay someone else who went to art school to digitally sculpt the perfect poop.
That turd cost more than you made this month.
And it doesn't stop there! During a panel at Comic-Con, special effects coordinator Ian Hunter talked about a hitherto unnamed movie which had a scene where Satan pees in an alley (our research tells us it was Schwarzenegger's End Of Days).
So when you're sitting there watching the Prince of Darkness taking a leak, remember that some poor production assistant most likely had to pee in front of a team of intently staring animators to get it right. Just for you.
... And So Are Guns And Blood
Urine isn't the only bodily fluid movies have to simulate. Films which feature gunshot wounds have to use fake blood, since directors aren't allowed to shoot cast members anymore. For many years, various forms of syrup and food coloring were used, but that can get expensive in large quantities (looking at you, Kubrick), and if you fuck up the shot, you have to clean up the set and hose down the actors before you can start again.
Luckily for studio janitors, nowadays we can merely CG the blood and keep tweaking it until looks right. The Expendables 2, which had approximately 500,000 deaths, did not have a drop of fake blood anywhere -- it was all computer generated. Likewise, this Walking Dead supercut shows that sometimes, cleaving a skull in twain with a machete is best left to computers. This leaves porn as the most realistic medium in the realm of bodily fluids.
But the trickery doesn't stop there. Action movies now frequently use computers to tart up their gunfire. If you've ever fired a gun in real life, you've probably noticed that muzzle flashes don't look like they do in movies. That's because in real life, muzzle flashes are a bad thing. They give away your position and can temporarily blind you if you're shooting at night, which is why many military weapons are designed specifically to stop muzzle flash. But in movies, they have to look cool as shit.
In the olden days, movies used a special type of blank which would make the pretty fire shoot out of the gun, but since that's not always consistent and blanks are kinda dangerous anyway, many movies now rely on CG bursts of flame to get the job done. Not only that, but there are different kinds of muzzle flashes, depending on the kind of movie you're making. Something like The Avengers might use cartoonier, teardrop-shaped muzzle flashes ...
Now you know why he's half blind.
... while a gritty thriller like John Wick uses starburst-shaped flashes.
Few things can convey thematic tone like digitized combustion.
Even The Weather Is Fake
Though rain on your wedding day is decidedly not ironic, it's still a pretty big pain in the ass. Conversely, if you're shooting a film, sunshine when the script calls for rain might be the thing fucking up your day. Sure, for close-ups you can use practical effects (read: water hoses), but what if you need an entire city street getting rained on? Due to our scientists' disappointing lack of progress in making Red Alert 2 a reality, we don't have a machine that can directly control the weather. We do, however, have machines that can fake the hell out of it.
Weather has a heavy impact on the tone of a scene. For instance, in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, having scenes take place in a blizzard helped remind the audience that the movie is depressing as shit. But since it's wildly inconvenient to wait for an actual blizzard, many of the weather effects were digitally added.
"Shot on location in Acapulco."
And it's more than turning good weather into crappy weather; it can go the other way, too. In years past, cameras and film needed a lot of sunlight to shoot effectively, so they could usually only film on sunny days (why else would anyone move to California?). Today, digital cameras can shoot in much lower light, opening up your options if you want to make a movie, but don't want to deal with earthquakes or LA in general. A show like Game Of Thrones uses Northern Ireland's rolling green hills, but the UK's notoriously bleak weather would normally make it a tricky proposition. With wheelbarrows full of money, however, you can turn that dreary, cloudy day into a beautiful, sunny one:
And a previously bland, boobless scene can become a cavalcade of exposed breasts.
Food Is Being Replaced By Computers
This one is pretty obvious, right? You only have to visit McDonald's once to find out that the smashed amalgamation of bread and "meat" in your bag bears no resemblance to the fresh, glistening double cheeseburger on the menu. For years, this was accomplished by meticulously placing the condiments and then spraying the whole thing with a veneer, making it as enticing-looking as it was inedible.
It seems only logical that fast food companies would make the shift to CG versions of their products for print ads. But what about those commercials where they have celebrities endorsing the restaurant by taking a big honkin' bite out of a juicy slab of beef? Yeah, those are starting to be replaced with CGI too. In most cases, you probably didn't even notice, while other times ...
Good to see the South Park guys branching out to other areas.
That's LA Rams (man, that's still weird to say) running back Todd Gurley taking a bite of a clearly computer-generated Carl's Jr. burger which is apparently being suspended in midair, since Todd's fingers are nowhere to be seen. Viewers were quick to point out how horrendous this Twilight baby of a burger was, so Carl's Jr. eventually reissued the ad with slightly less shitty manipulation.
This never would have happened when Carl Sr. was in charge.
But sure, this is still easier than handing the man a burger.
For more ways CGI is getting out of hand, check out 31 Mind-Blowingly Ordinary Scenes You Won't Believe Are CGI and 6 Famous Movie Moments That Look Hilarious With CGI Removed.
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