4 Bizarre Ways Movies Use CGI (Without Us Even Noticing)
Digital technology is obviously an integral part of the movie-making process these days, which is why Avatar wasn’t shot in a national park with a bunch of half-naked Blue Man Group understudies. Some uses of computer effects are perhaps more evident than others, such as computer animated characters like Thanos, or that time Tig Notaro was copy-and-pasted into a dumb zombie movie. But filmmakers these days use computers in a multitude of odd, and surprising ways that most of us never even notice, such as how …
Movies Can Now Deepfake Their Way Out Of An R-Rating
CGI being used to censor naughty bits in movies is nothing new; in recent years, Disney+ inserted digital hair to cover-up Daryl Hannah’s bare butt in Splash, thus keeping it more family-friendly – and even way back in 1999, CGI actors were shoehorned into Eyes Wide Shut in order to obscure certain sex acts during the orgy scene, thus keeping it more … family-friendly?
While these examples were pretty conspicuous, recently a film was censored using computer technology, and it was practically impossible to notice. We’re talking about Fall, the thriller about two best friends who get stuck at the top of a terrifyingly high tower and … well, actually that’s pretty much all that happens.
Perhaps the hardest thing to swallow about Fall is that the characters – who again, are stuck at the top of a tower so tall it would make Tom Cruise wet himself – weren’t using the F-word more than every Tarantino movie put together. Well, it turns out that originally they were. The first cut of the film was chock-full of swearing – but when the studio decided to release a PG-13 version of the movie to increase its box office potential, they turned to the same process that previously gifted the world a video of Nicolas Cage belting out “Never Gonna Give You Up.”
Yup, without the budget to do reshoots, the studio used deepfake technology to change “more than 30 F-bombs throughout the movie into PG-13-acceptable epithets like freaking.’” That way, instead of simply unconvincingly dubbing the actors as if it were a bad ‘70s Kung-Fu movie, this actually seemed as though the actors’ mouths were forming the less-offensive words that absolutely no one in that situation would ever really say.
Product Placements Can Now Be Changed Years Later
We’re all familiar with product placement in film and television – it’s the reason why E.T. went wild for Reese’s Pieces, and why the richest dude in the Marvel universe inexplicably used a cheap phone that’s only sold in China. Historically, product placements are set in stone, and can’t be modified, which is why there are still movie product placements for Blockbuster video, a thing that only exists in a single small Oregon town.
But now Amazon is experimenting with “Virtual Product Placement,” which “enables approved products to be seamlessly inserted into participating Prime Video and Amazon Freevee Original content after filming has wrapped.” Like in this clip from Bosch: Legacy, the show enjoyed by dads and … no, it’s just dads, that bowl of M&Ms on the counter is totally computer-generated. Of course, once that deal lapses, Amazon could always replace it with a digital Chipotle bag (perhaps followed by a bottle of CGI Imodium).
More worryingly, this tech also means that ads could be retroactively added to existing media – this isn’t hypothetical, either, it's already happening on streaming services in China. Which could mean that one day, we’ll get VOD versions of Casablanca where Ingrid Bergman tearfully boards a JetBlue plane while Humphrey Bogart drowns his sorrows in a can of Monster Energy drink.
Computers Have Replaced Make-Up And Zit Cream
Unless it’s a dramatic biopic about the founder of Noxzema, no one wants to see pimples in movies. And computers have made that petty desire a reality; visual effects can edit out zits, magically heal scrapes and even delete age spots. Reportedly, on the show Glee, there was “a pimple pass on most episodes,” and the technicians behind the Harry Potter movies allegedly had to take a break from animating flying broomsticks in order to “go through every frame clearing up” the actors’ “complexions.”
But it goes way further than that; visual effects companies are also tasked with “hiding cigarette lines around a known smoker's mouth” or “fixing red eyes” of exhausted actors. Weirder still, some companies perform a “digital face-lift” to “trim jowls and areas like earlobes and noses that grow larger with age” (which sometimes means fixing real-world plastic surgery) and requires “meticulously relighting every pixel.” This isn’t just the odd bout of random star vanity; apparently, this has just become the norm in the industry, with directors being given the option of having their actors “slightly retouched, quite retouched, or full-on taxidermy.”
Nope Revolutionized “Day-For-Night”
Night shoots are notoriously difficult; actors are harder to light, crews get tired, and it drastically increases your risk of a vampire attack. This is why sometimes movies shoot “Day-For-Night,” which means filming nighttime scenes while the sun is still very much up. In the early days of cinema, this required tinting the film blue or underexposing the shot, but more recently, Jordan Peele’s Nope came up with a “new way of shooting day-for-night using a hybrid of film and digital.”
As Peele recently mentioned during an appearance at the Toronto International Film Festival, his plans for shooting a valley at night in Nope were essentially “impossible” because “you cannot light that amount of space at night … it would be too expensive.” As a result, most of the night shots were actually filmed during the day,
But in order to create the vast, detailed image, cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema retrofitted a “decommissioned” 3D-stereo rig that could hold two cameras -- one to shoot film and a digital camera that could “capture infrared red light” – then they overlaid the two images in post-production. For some shots, they even used a “combination of nighttime photography and daytime photography,” meaning that the foreground and background were, on occasion, filmed at entirely different times of the day. Not to mention that the skies in the film were all CGI so that the filmmakers could “completely control” them – this required a “year of research and development” to create the digital clouds (and these ones didn’t even have to rain meatballs).
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Thumbnail: Universal Pictures