Opinions are, as a common aphorism will tell you, equal parts ubiquitous and odiferous, but they constitute 35% of the traffic on the internet.  (The remainder of the internet consists of 40% porn, 22% slander and 8% butterscotch ripple.)  One opinion that I run into often is the assessment that practical special effects, i.e. actually throwing a stuntman out of a building like Burt Reynolds did in ‘Sharkey’s Machine’ is better than computer-generating the equivalent, like James Cameron did in ‘Titanic.’

The MS-QOTD (pronounced, as always, “misquoted”) demands to know whether you’ve seen this boy, asking:  Do you prefer “practical” special effects or full-on CGI madness?  (Make sure to show your work!)


About Author

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture! And a nice red uniform.


  1. Practical effects all of the way! In this day and age, it is too easy for people to try and do stuff with CGI, if I want to see a car get blown up, I shouldn’t be able to want to click and drop the effect. Plus when it’s practical it brings me more into the action, whereas CGI takes me out. There are some cases where one needs CGI, like in Lord of the Rings creatures, but otherwise CGI can get off my lawn.

  2. Practical where feasible with CGI to enhance if/when needed.

    For me, it’s all about the interactions between things. Sure, some actors are amazing and can actually make you believe they’re looking at something that isn’t there, but for the most part, it just doesn’t feel right.

    Give me Mark Hamill crawling around in a cramped hut with a Muppet instead of someone talking to a tennis ball any day of the week.

    • George Chimples on

      Yeah, the Star Wars original trilogy vs the prequels/Special Editions basically makes the entire case for practical effects. Puppetry and latex have a physical tangibility that CG have yet to match.

  3. I think a healthy mix of both is the best. The strength of practical effects is creating a consistent, believable, and tangible look to the shot. The strength of CGI is to create something that is impossible (or impractical) to create with practical effects. I think Marvel does this exceedingly well. A few examples:

    1. Red Skull: It didn’t even dawn on me that Red Skull’s nose was digitally removed when I watched the movie, because the makeup was so good. They did as much as they could with practical effects, and that made the digital work virtually invisible to me. For what Hugo Weaving looked like before his digital rhinectomy, see link here: http://tvandfilmtoys.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/redskull_efx.jpg

    2. Iron Man: In Iron Man 2 and the Avengers, Iron Man’s legs were entirely digital, but because his torso was costumed, it looked great.

    3. Hulk: They based as much as they could off of Ruffalo’s performance, and…well, ’nuff said.

    As far as the setting is concerned, I am okay with backgrounds being digitally inserted after because they usually provide more depth than a painted on backdrop. However, the actual room or immediate surroundings of the characters should be as real and detailed as possible. I haven’t seen Prometheus yet, but I hear they’re super old school about their sets, especially the spaceship. It also seems that real sets gets better acting out of the actors, where as entirely CGI sets makes it difficult to get in character.

    As for the question of which is better, puppet or CGI Yoda, I prefer CGI Yoda. The puppet Yoda in the original movies is great because the technology wasn’t there yet, but I feel like in today’s movie world, CGI characters are the only way to go. If we were to ever see a new live-action Star Wars with Yoda, I would hope they would go the Gollum route, with an actor doing the walking and talking as much as possible in full mo-cap. That creates a more realistic character.

  4. CGI does have it’s short comings. Just look at the Blade movies. I still prefer CGI. Look at the Avengers movie. Beautiful. There are few movies that do have great practical effects. Underworld and Hellboy are 2 movies that jump to my mind.

  5. I prefer practical effects. I feel something special when I see light reflect on the skin of a really well done prosthetic or see flame or dust settle that I know must physically be there. It’s visceral. And it matters.

    Having said that, if it is CGI, I prefer the “dreamlike” effects in Lord of the Rings, which at times felt like it had an impressionistic or purposefully less realistic feel to them. It stops my mind from trying to wrap around what it is I’m looking at and lets me experience it as an effect, rather than something “realistic.”

  6. I like a mixture. In some cases, CGI can do a job pretty well and better than what makeup and props can do. But I don’t like it overused. For instance, I’d much prefer rubber suit Godzilla to a CGI Godzilla, but I have no problem with a little digital sprucing up or using CGI for things like attacks. CGI isn’t much different than, say, airbrushing in photography. If used properly, it can make something lovely look divine. But overuse it and you’ve got a disaster.

      • To be honest, I only somewhat am able to tolerate it now because of the retcon they did in the Japanese Godzilla movie “Godzilla: Final Wars” where they retconned it as being merely another creature (now called Zilla) that was mistaken for Godzilla by the Americans. Still dislike the movie, but at least now I can stomach watching it as the late weekend movie when nothing else is on.


  7. I think one of the problems seen in newer movies is the over reliance on special effects, whether practical or CGI. The Star Wars prequels are a good example of this.
    Sometimes, it better to leave it to the imagination, allowing the viewer to imagine a monster far worse than anything on screen (Think Hitchcock).

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