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  • Writer's pictureRowan Karrer

Why I hate the term CGI

Updated: Jun 3

I'm not sure why I'm weighing in on this debate again. Maybe it's just schadenfreude to watch this myth be so perfectly debunked.

Ever since I was a student I hated the term CGI. It's not that I don't use it. For years I actually tried not to, sanctimoniously using terms like '3d rendering' or 'digital composite' as if I could somehow influence the people around me. I realised soon enough that I was embarassing myself and stopped being a wanker and just fit in. CG is an industry accepted term after all. However, it remains true that we have really shot ourselves in the foot with this.

The term 'computer generated' directly implies that the computer 'generated' the work. That all we did was press a button. We are not artists, just technicians. This is simply not true - although to be fair in some fields of 3d animation the role is purely technical - say rotoscoping and camera matchmove. Even in these instances though, it is far from true that the computer does all of the work. It is incredibly laborious, technical, and fastidious labour that requires a significant body of knowledge and training in order to do well.

It makes more sense from our perspective to refer to the imagery as 'rendered imagery'. However, when I hear those words repeated back to me it makes me realise I sound like the kind of person who hallucinated a meaningful difference between the terms 'person of colour' and 'coloured person'. I just don't want to be one of those guys - so I let it die.

As so often is the case, this debate begs the question; Who fucking cares?

I can see why a visual effects artist would be frustrated at the hate our medium receives, but deep down the ignorance of the critics is actually a compliment. The haters of CGI genuinely don't know what they're talking about because they can't tell the difference between our work and reality - and that's a good thing. If they could, they wouldn't be so quick to dismiss it. Modern film making is not possible without visual effects artists. It's as simple as that.

Audiences have become accustomed to such a high standard of imagery that they seem to assume it is just a matter of automation, or purely the result of modern technological advancement. That anything blue or green magically disappears when placed within a metre of a plugged-in workstation.

This would be like someone assuming electricity and light bulbs are trivial inventions because all they did was flick on a switch. How many people can coherently and precisely explain how light bulbs work? Much less recreate a functioning one from raw materials without help? Have you ever even considered how vast and complicated the electricity grid must be to make that technology possible?

It is only by the cleverness of many people that it is made so simple for us to consume. Philosophically speaking, we as modern humans take far too much for granted.

To be fair when CGI is bad, it is particularly bad. I've always felt that the problem with CGI is that it doesn't have any intrinsic charm to save it. It is a souless medium - it must be embued with soul. Say for example, the pencil drawing of a child, however crude or rudimentary, has a sweetness to it that 'my very first cg turd' simply doesn't - and never will.

It was this issue that led me to pull so hard against the CGI aesthetic the past 6 or 7 years, and hopefully this is visible in my personal artworks. Having said that, CGI remains an incredibly useful tool and medium, it's what pays the bills, and I'm grateful for the life I have built around it, and the stories I get to enjoy because of it.

That's the end of my rant. If you're at all interested, check out this "No CGI" debunking series - it's very well put together.

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