CG-Why?

Computer Generated Imagery has revolutionised film making. With photo-realistic graphics, the movie going public has been transported from a world where dinosaurs have been brought back to life, to Middle Earth where a corrupted creature cries out for his precious, and all the way across the galaxy to a world where an entire settlement of blue beings is threatened by man, in search of unobtainium (seriously, makes me chuckle every time they say it) CGI is, when used properly, an amazing creative tool, one that allows film makers to be limited only by their imagination…and computing power…and budget…and time constraints.
Banner from the Movie Avatar
Therein lies the rub, the key phrase, ‘when used properly.’ You see, for every Jurassic Park, Lord of the Rings and Avatar, there are countless other examples of horribly poor, distractingly so, computer generated images.

This issue has been eating at me for a while now. In the past, it could be forgiven, as film makers started to find their way in the world of technology, seeing how it could enhance their story telling. But in today’s world, where personal computers are capable of so much with simple ‘off-the-shelf’ programs, can poor, jarring CGI really be forgiven? The answer of course, is no.

The problem is that CGI has, for some, become the ‘quick fix’. The industry has become saturated with digital effects companies and sadly they’re not all as good as Weta Workshop or Industrial Light and Magic. Yet film makers, it would seem, do not mind one bit, they seem to look at their budget and schedule, think for a second and then come to the conclusion – “We can CGI that.” No matter what your budget, sometimes this just points squarely to a lack of creativity.

Back in the day, before the wonders of CGI, film makers had to be creative in order to work around any financial or practical limitations. Think back to the shower scene in Psycho, the tension and fear created merely through Hitchcock’s choice of camera angles and cuts. A timeless moment of cinema, a classic piece of film making. Yet nowadays, CGI, for many, is the way to go. So much so that it has even led to less innovative location scouting – put your actors in front of a green screen and they can be anywhere you want them to be. It’s a tempting short cut to take, but when you’re dealing with an extremely savvy audience, if you don’t do it right – they’ll notice. And of course there is the scripting, whomever may be writing these movies, or deciding upon the massive over-the-top action sequences to include, if you want your movie to be taken seriously, and know you don’t have the budget for the best CGI possible – rewrite your film. The recent A-Team film, for example, was spoiled by the final ‘CGI-tastic’ set piece. Where as all they had to do was dial back some of the ‘stuff that happens to create added danger’ and they still would have had a pretty cool finale, there just wasn’t any need to go so far. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Going back to film knives, The Expendables has a particularly awful CGI knife moment. One that, quite honestly, between the laughter, made me want to cry…and vomit…at the same time. That’s how bad it was, I wanted to cromit.

It all comes down to a matter of control, just because something is available to you, doesn’t mean you should use it. Because in the end, bad CGI is like Cocaine that’s been cut with chalk and ground up Lucozade tablets*  – it’s a whole lot worse for you and will probably kill you quicker.

*That’s not to say that good CGI is like high quality cocaine, the metaphor does not extend both ways, though I’m sure if you ask Cocaine users they’ll say the good stuff is freakin’ awesome, so in that case it does.

Don’t do drugs.

The Nintendo 3DS

Everything is all about the 3 D’s these days, Sky are offering 3D football, every movie under the sun is “Something Something 3D” hell, I have a sneaky suspicion that the entire world around us will soon come in 3 whole dimensions. So when Nintendo made the announcement that their next handheld console would be 3D…some cynics would have called bandwagon jumping. But this is Nintendo afterall, supreme ‘funnovators’, the guys who took the casual gaming world by storm with motion gaming in the shape of the Wii. Sony has already introduced us to 3D gaming on the PS3, this meant Nintendo had to do something special. That something special was 3D gaming…without glasses.

Now we all have a vague idea of how 3D works, and it involves glasses. Which, to some, look silly and are an annoying distraction – even more so if you need to wear glasses under the glasses. And nowadays they’re not even red and blue so you don’t have that retro charm that made you look like Biff Tannen’s pal in Back to the Future. You just look like a guy with sunglasses on indoors, cheap plastic sunglasses. I say cheap, but that’s only at the cinema. Anyone who’s bought a 3D television will know that most employ active shutter glasses that cost a ridiculous amount of money. I digress. The point is that up until now, 3D displays need to be supplemented with glasses in order to trick our brains into seeing the 3D image on screen. The technology is there for glassesless 3D, and there are even some TVs capable of doing so. However not only are the expensive, they also require users to sit at specific positions at correct distances from the screen in order to experience the effect. Herein lies Nintendo’s genius, they took this tech and put it into a screen where there is generally only one viewer with an intensely focused, fixed, viewing position – giving us the 3DS.

The Nintendo 3DS Console, black

The only problem is – you really do need to see it to believe it! Cue Nintendo’s marketing machine under the slogan ‘Believe Your Eyes.’ In the run up to the March 25th UK release Nintendo will be holding roadshow events much in the same way it did with the Wii to help generate a buzz and give potential customers hands on (eyes on?) experience with their latest offering. This marketing blitz began, almost secretly last week, as Nintendo invited club members to special preview events in Bristol, Manchester, London and Glasgow. I went along to the Glasgow event held at the Lighthouse on Mitchell lane and I can tell you now…

The 3DS is stunning.

Even if we took the 3D display out of the equation, the 3DS would be a wonderful successor to the DS/DSi. The processing power is much improved, it’s akin to that of the Gamecube and the Wii – which on a handheld looks wonderful. That additional power also allows for vastly improved augmented reality gaming over the DSi with inbuilt games like face raiders and AR card games that will astound you. Then there’s the addition of gyroscopes and accelerometers to enhance those AR games and give you the same kind of motion control afforded to you with the Wii Remote. To top it all off there’s wifi connectivity with 2 very special features in the form of Streetpass and Spotpass. Spotpass will have your 3DS searching out for free wireless hotspots when you’re out and about so that it can constantly update game. For example, unbeknown to you, Mario Kart could be updated with a new racing challenge whilst it sits in your bag. When you’re next ready to play, the update is already there and you don’t have to worry about wasting time downloading it. Then Streetpass – this system will have your console seeking out other 3DS’ as you walk about. They will then exchange data like high scores. They can even perform automated battles between you and that user – without you having to do a thing. There’s a great emphasis on community gaming, creating new friendships and connections though your 3DS – although you won’t make many friends if you try to play augmented reality games on the bus, flailing about as you shoot down invisible spaceships. Basically though, it’s the kind of hardware upgrade you’d expect given the kind of tech we’ve been spoilt with in smartphones.

Then there’s that 3D, glassesless display – the Pièce de résistance of the 3DS. Quite frankly, magical is the only way to honestly describe it. On games where the 3D effect works well, it truly is amazing. Removing glasses from the equation draws you deeper into the effect, connecting you, almost emotionally, with the 3D world. Games come to life in front of your eyes, as though you are watching a play being performed on a tiny stage just for you. There are instances, beyond all reasoning, where you think you could actually reach into the display, or where characters just jump off it. It’s like being a child again, discovering a whole new world. We don’t think twice about the actual three dimensional world around us but years of 2D displays have conditioned us to think in a very specific way about what to expect from a screen. Then Nintendo put this screen in front of you and your mind does a back flip – you know it’s not actually real, but the effect is so wonderful it beggars belief. I think that’s why, as I looked around the event, there were so many smiles as we all shared in this magnificent experience for the first time.
Me on the 3DS
Now I mentioned fleetingly in the previous paragraph that 3D is stunning on games where it works…because on some, not many, it doesn’t feel quite right. The most noticeable being one of the launch titles, ‘Pilotwings Resort’. You’d expect a flying game to give a wonderful array of depth however the 3D effect you get is focused more on your vehicle than the scenery in which you fly. This results in a very lovely effect where it looks as though your plane is hovering over the screen, but when you really want to feel like you are up in the sky – it’s rather disappointing. There are also some concerns as to how people will cope with the 3D effect, with fears of headaches and nausia. But of course all of this is understandable seeing as this is a new machine with new technology. And one must also remember that all games can be played with the 3D effect turned off, negating any of these issues whilst taking away from some of the fun.

Back to the positives, one thing that will be magnificent on the 3DS is the prospect of 3D video and movies. Nintendo have promised that blockbuster 3D movies will be available on the console, as well as 3D sports highlights in a deal with Sky Sports as well as a host of other non-game treats. This could be the tactic that proves the winner as it opens up personal 3D experiences to the masses. If, for example, you have 2 children and they wish to watch ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ in 3D, you would need a 3D Blu-ray player and a 3D television as well as those expensive active shutter glasses. For considerably less, you’d be able to buy them a 3DS each and they could then experience the movie in, arguably, a much more immersive way.*

*plan also applicable for big kids!

Finally, I should once again mention the event that made this article possible. In true Nintendo style we were taken on a quickly little adventure deep into the world of the 3DS. We were thrown into the games with a live action Street Fighter bout taking place in front of our eyes before being escorted to safety from hordes of zombies by Resident Evil’s resident brother and sister Zombie killing team, Chris and Claire Redfield. (Unfortunately one of the zombies did get at my leg so there is a high percentage chance that I’m infected with the T-Virus. This suspicion was reinforced on my second visit when the zombies left me alone…obviously sensing one of their own. Thanks a lot Redfields!) All the staff were all lovely, friendly and enthusiastic – not to mention attractive. It is quite hard to talk to a bevvy of beautiful ladies, openly flirt and play this wonderful new machine at the same time, I managed though…just about. I’m a simple man after all – I’m weak. But, as the kids say, massive props to Nintendo for the event (what do you mean the kids don’t say that?)

Nintendo are holding more events, open to everyone, over the coming weeks. You can find out where on their website – www.nintendo3ds.co.uk. Alternatively you can find out more information on their Facebook page – because, you know, everything is on Facebook these days.

Inception

Spinning top from the movie Inception

Inception is a triumph. A film with style and substance. Impeccably acted. Beautifully scored. Perfectly written and visually stunning. But beyond all this, Inception succeeds because of it’s thought provoking and emotional storyline. On one hand we have a super slick heist movie, on the other – an existential quest for redemption.

At it’s core, Inception is a meditation on the self. Like Descartes in the 17th century, it deconstructed the self and questions it’s own existence. We, as the audience, question what is real at every turn as the characters struggle to maintain a grasp on their own perception of the real world. What is it that we value most in our lives? How is that we know what we are experiencing is real? What is the dream? What is reality? For Descartes the ‘real world’ could be a manipulated projection of some malevolent being so we could have no way of knowing. But for Nolan, a simple trick allows his characters to distinguish between the two. It’s sublime in it’s simplicity but this too is open to manipulation. It also questions what if? What if we knew we were in a dream, but it was of our own creation; like gods we could experience anything we want, what if we became the manipulative being? What if we became addicted to our own dreams? Why return to ‘real world’ as was? What would pull us back? Or indeed, what would keep us incarcerated?

The storyline is so beautifully crafted and complex in it’s nature that to talk about it in depth would be to deprive any readers who hadn’t seen the movie of the full enjoyment of discovery. But even going on the discussions I had with my friends on the way back from the cinema, I knew that this would be one of THOSE movies. I look forward to the coming years when Inception has permeated the general consciousness so that we can more openly discuss it’s nature; it’s truth. Inception appeals to a philosophical base within us all, the one that asks “why?” Like the Matrix before it, it does so in such a modern and appealing manner – yet one that’s more accessible than most. Being set within a world we’re all so familiar with brings a level of intimacy that enslavement by robots cannot. This connection to the audience is most important aspect of the movie. It draws us in, it makes us question our own ideas of reality, truth and existence. In doing so, it elevates Inception to the level of a genuinely great movie. At the crux of every great movie, an idea.

The idea behind Inception is not a new one, it’s one that we have held onto for 1000s of years. Therein lies the truth of the matter; what makes Inception such a remarkable film? Inception is so inherently brilliant because it captures the mind as much it captures the heart. How? By questioning reality and examining the nature of love – the very two things that drive us the most.