Opinion: CGI More Than Cheap Production Trick

new techniques offer better visuals, scattered audience approval


Courtesy of 20th Century Studios

Over the years, the use of computer-generated imagery, commonly known as CGI, has become increasingly popular in movies.

However, its use has sparked debates over whether or not CGI is really enhancing the film or just distracting audiences from the story. Oftentimes, the animation can end up looking phony and makes it harder to take the movie seriously.

An example of this would be the 2019 remake of “The Lion King.” The movie was marketed as being live-action, but the dependence on CGI left viewers wondering if it really was an animated movie. The film also received criticism for making the animals look too cartoon-ish. 

Reviewers claimed the use of CGI allowed for no emotional connection to the characters or the story. Not only that, but the fact that all the animals break out into song and have human-like expressions also added to the feeling of emotional disconnect. 

While I have not yet seen the newest adaptation of “The Lion King,” just by watching the trailer, I got the sense that the photo-realistic CGI was its biggest downfall.

Yet, sometimes the situation in which directors choose to use CGI for their movies is more complicated. A good example would be the most recent film adaptation of “The Call of the Wild.”

Like “The Lion King,” all the animals and the scenery were created using CGI. While many criticized the decision to create the main dog character, Buck, using animation, the cast and crew defended this choice.

“We wanted to overcome the limitations of using a real dog. We could only do that with a [CGI] dog,” director Chris Sanders told IndieWire. 

The fact that there were so many action and adventure scenes in the movie made it almost impossible to use an actual dog, which is why Buck was created by a computer. Actor Harrison Ford, who stars in the movie, also supported the use of animation by saying that even though “there’s a lot of CGI, the job is real, and the storytelling is real.”

It’s not just Ford and Sanders supporting the decision. Animal rights group, PETA, praised the creative team for choosing CGI instead of exploiting a dog to danger and called the film’s visual effects “stunning.”

In the past, there have been situations where animals were treated poorly on movie sets. One particular incident occurred during the filming of 2017’s “A Dog’s Purpose.” Leaked footage from the set showed a dog being forced into a pool of churning water as it struggled to stay away from the edge. 

In response to the video, the filmmakers faced animal cruelty accusations from multiple organizations even though cast and crew members denied that the dog was put in a dangerous situation. 

Unlike “The Lion King,” I watched “The Call of the Wild,” and the CGI didn’t bother me. It would’ve been interesting to see how the movie would’ve differed had Buck been played by a real dog, but I don’t think the visuals took away from the overall story.

In short, I think that the use of CGI really depends on the movie. While in general a film tends to be stronger when the least amount of animation is being used, it makes sense why a movie like “The Call of the Wild” would choose CGI.

Purely live-action films are also usually better received by audiences. That being said, it doesn’t look like film directors are going to hold back from using CGI and animation anytime soon. It all comes down to if the story can hold up with or without CGI.