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Practical vs. Computer effects

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  • [Question] Practical vs. Computer effects

    This could be a thorny question. As such, please? I'd like to request we keep real world examples to a dull roar - only if absolutely necessary.

    Practical effects:
    A practical special effect is one in which a prop object appears to work in a situation where it obviously could not (such as a ringing telephone on stage). No trick photography or post-production editing is involved. This type of effect is normally found in live theatre.
    I'd like to (at least for this conversation) expand it to include physical effects in general - AudioAnimatronics, scrimwork not utilizing computerized projections, etc.

    Computer effects:
    Computer-generated imagery (CGI) is the application of the field of computer graphics or, more specifically, 3D computer graphics to special effects in films, television programs, commercials, simulators and simulation generally, and printed media
    Fairly self explanatory.

    I'd like to advance those as more or less the definitions for discussion on effects used in the park.

    That out of the way, here we go.

    Which do you prefer? More importantly, why?

    The why is something I'm having trouble figuring out internally.

    Take, honestly, animatronics. If you were presented with a figure such as the POTC Auctioneer in the real world, it's highly doubtful you'd believe for a moment that "he" were actually real. The appearance, the motions, the basic device itself presents a caricature of sorts of a person, but it's far and away from realistic motions or lifelike presence.

    Yet I'll go through an Animatronic experience quite literally thousands of times grinning from ear to ear, but a computer generated scene - which at this point may actually be nearly indistinguishable from "real" - quickly stales for me.

    Uncanny valley doesn't completely explain this. Fantastic environments rendered in CGI - however lovingly - are nowhere near as immersive nor do they take me away like a practical effect would. As a good non-Disney example (and hopefully less controversial, I know, breaking my own rule here) I think of King Kong vs. King Kong 3D at USH. The original pre-backlot fire was something I looked forward to on every tour, even though it was just a short "sit in a set and watch videos on TV with sound effects until the heli crashes" followed by a fairly short swing past the big ol' banana breath himself.

    The 3D Peter Jackson / WETA made movie... just doesn't do it for me. All the added garnishes of practical effects - wind in the face, train shaking, water sprays - can't mask the fact that I'm sitting there watching a movie and my brain never once budges off the "huh. Yeah, dinos, spiders and monkeys OMAI can we please get to the Earthquake now?"

    I'm pretty sure I'm not alone in this, and I'm really interested in other views. I have friends who explicitly prefer the CGI effects but they can't explain why in a way that fits in my head.

    Discuss? Please? I'd really like to know.
    Boggard LIEEEEF!

  • #2
    Re: Practical vs. Computer effects

    As a rule, I prefer practical effects. No matter how amazing a 3D effect is, it is still not real. Real as in tangible. I know I will never actually get to touch those animatronics on PoTC, but I could if I were extremely lucky. That leads to a feeling of immersion.

    On the other hand, there is the amazing ballroom scene in the HM. Can I touch those ghosts? No. However, there is something about those dancers. The simplistic beauty of the Pepper's Ghost effect is magical. Many people don't really know how it is done.

    Replace those pirates or those ghosts with digital media and the first time through it is cool. After that it becomes "Been there, done that, what's next?"

    Want to provide me with a digital experience I'd love? Anyone remember the old 360 degree theaters? Make a super immersive 10 minute movie for one of those. As much as some folks might hate this, Avatar would be great for that. Or as the "view" out of windows in a ride-through attraction.

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    • #3
      Re: Practical vs. Computer effects

      Personally, as a Special Make-Up Effects student, I'll take practical over CGI any day as long as the practical effects can do what is needed. CGI does have its place as well - HMH upgrade for example. I don't think they could have pulled off something nearly as cool as they did in the elevators with basic practical animatronics. They could have done something, but unless you have someone actually performing as Jack (heaven forbid the safety harnesses and other issues), animatronics would not suffice.

      Uncanny Valley - I had it in Tron Legacy with "young Jeff Bridges." He just looked.. off to me. An amazing CGI job, but my brain couldn't process it properly. I kept staring at his mouth. LOL.
      Peter Pan: "You know, your hair is on fire."
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      • #4
        Re: Practical vs. Computer effects

        Is a screwdriver better than a hammer?


        • #5
          Re: Practical vs. Computer effects

          Originally posted by lazyboy97O View Post
          Is a screwdriver better than a hammer?
          Part of why I am trying to figure out where the preference is and why - a LOT of people are pretty polarized on this issue. If screwdrivers and hammers had their own lobbies of adherents stating the innate superiority of one over the other, we'd have that conversation too.
          Boggard LIEEEEF!


          • #6
            Re: Practical vs. Computer effects

            To me the perfect effect is a blending of both old and new school techniques. The small additions to fantasyland dark rides are brilliant and immersive, but barley noticeable. Practical or CG can really make or break the illusion, and that’s really the key. Using the right tool for the right job, and usually it’s best accomplished with a combination of the two.


            • #7
              Re: Practical vs. Computer effects

              Well, I've only been on King Kong once but I was totally blown away at how awesome it was. I think Disney could try something like that on a ride like the submarine voyage where it is largely digital, but I don't think it's quite at the point yet where I'd want to see a too many 100% digital ride. For one thing, although digital animals, dinosaurs, aliens, etc. look totally realistic, they have yet to perfect a digital human being to the point where you can't tell the difference between a digital one and a real one. Now, granted, no one is mistaking the Pirates animatronics for real human beings either, but there's something about a digital human being that just pulls me out of the fantasy and screams "this isn't real." I can't explain why. Maybe that's why I didn't care for Beowulf, even though I love the story and I like the actors that they cast. Besides, I don't think I want to have to wear 3-D glasses on every ride I go on. It's fine for Toy Story and Star Tours, and it works for those rides, but too many more then that and it starts to just be irritating.

              Here's another question to consider, if digital effects do get to the point where they are completely indistinguishable from real life, AND are totally convincingly 3-D without having to wear the glasses, would you want a bunch of new digital rides at DL? Keep in mind that on a digital ride, the ride vehicle doesn't need to actually go anywhere (like Star Tours), so you can build a whole lot more rides within the space that you have to work with. Assuming that they were all the same level of quality, would you want 10 digital rides or 2 animatronic rides?
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              • #8
                Re: Practical vs. Computer effects

                Originally posted by lazyboy97O View Post
                Is a screwdriver better than a hammer?
                I'd have to agree with this sentiment, they both have their place, and usually work best when together.

                It really depends on what you need to do with a scene or anything to determine if a practical or computer effect would be best for that situation, or both in unison.
                There is no right or wrong in this debate. It is simply a matter of perspective.
                -Dr. Strange


                • #9
                  Re: Practical vs. Computer effects

                  Originally posted by BogLurch View Post
                  I'd really like to know.
                  In a very real way, you already do -- we all do. Our visual perception systems have been fine tuned for millions of years to read and interpret the three dimensional world in motion. No matter how natural the animation and subtle the shaders, our vision systems can feel the difference between CGI and reality in theme park rides. Printed and projected images, whether computer generated, photographed from life or hand-painted, are representations of reality -- we learn to see and interpret them, to mentally "map them back onto" our real world. Visually interpreting the real world, however, is hardwired into our physiology. Just one of the reasons why even a Gen-1 Pirates auctioneer (viewed at its intended distance and lighting) will have more impact on an audience moving past it than all the underwater Nemo screens in the world.

                  To the question of which works better, lazyboy970 and Wren nailed it (no pun intended) -- it's whatever works best for the story situation and for the people creating the effect. Different films, stage shows and theme park rides will have different requirements, all of which will be interpreted differently by whoever is creating the effect. Be it Georges Melies, Yale Gracy or Johnny Fraser-Allen, the effectiveness of the effect is the result of the requirements of the story, the medium; the state, availability and affordability of current technology; and more important than anything, the ingenuity of the effects artist.
                  Last edited by Mr Wiggins; 09-13-2013, 04:30 PM.
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                  • #10
                    Re: Practical vs. Computer effects

                    If I want to see some amazing CGI, I can see it pretty much any time I want to on my screens here at home. It's become a mundane part of my everyday experience. Seeing it on the big screen at the local theater makes it a little bit more special, but still a pretty common experience.

                    Practical effects are not something a person is in the presence of very often (unless they're a live theater subscriber/worker or local AP holder). In addition to meshing better with physical reality, practical effects retain their novelty relative to CGI, by the simple fact of CGI's ubiquity.

                    tl; dr: Practical effects still wow, CGI is old hat.


                    • #11
                      Re: Practical vs. Computer effects

                      I don't prefer either. And you kind of touched on it a bit. There's a time and a place for each where when used it's amazing. For example, Indiana Jones. The Screaming Snake or the Boulder scene would only be okay in a computer effect, but as an animatronics you get the feel of shear size, depth, and feel. And you don't get that with computer graphics per se in those situations on the ride. Computer graphics to me have always been "icing on the top", not to be over-used but to be used properly. The original Jurrasic Park movie had perfect used of CGI, because you felt the presence of the dinosaurs vs. their environment. Where CGI works well in the parks, as was pointed out the Ballroom Scene and the Ghost Scene in Mansion. Even the mist scene in Pirates works well. The one place where you see that the two aren't working well together, Finding Nemo. The animatronics work, but the 3D scenes are kind of jarring. Where I find pretty good graphic use, is Mickey and the Magical Map, with the exception of the creepy wizard. The performers with the graphics in the back give you depth to the peformance.


                      • #12
                        Re: Practical vs. Computer effects

                        Originally posted by Attic Haunt View Post
                        As a rule, I prefer practical effects. No matter how amazing a 3D effect is, it is still not real. Real as in tangible. I know I will never actually get to touch those animatronics on PoTC, but I could if I were extremely lucky. That leads to a feeling of immersion.

                        On the other hand, there is the amazing ballroom scene in the HM. Can I touch those ghosts? No. However, there is something about those dancers. The simplistic beauty of the Pepper's Ghost effect is magical. Many people don't really know how it is done..
                        As far as the ghosts.
                        There are still "real".
                        There's no CGI.
                        You still feel like you can reach out and touch them.
                        CGI I don't feel would give this feeling.
                        WDI was amazing for their time.
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                        • #13
                          Re: Practical vs. Computer effects

                          Practical, every time.

                          Can't exactly say why, other than that it's more real than any CGI. Some of my bias is because CGI has been highly, highly overused and movies have become a show-and-tell of CGI effects at the expense of any real storyline, and I would hate to see that happen to the rides.

                          Practical effects just are more convincing. More detailed than even the most detailed CGI. It's cooler to have a robot than a picture of a robot.
                          I pledge allegiance to the Earth, one planet, many gods, and to the universe in which she spins.


                          • #14
                            Re: Practical vs. Computer effects

                            Totally depends on the application. Having said that - CGI and what you watch on a screen is so common and (IMHO) so overdone, that if given a choice if either were a viable option, I'd take practical over yet another screen.


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                            • #15
                              Re: Practical vs. Computer effects

                              In my opinion, and I'm not meaning to sound wishy-washy or anything, but I think it depends on what the effect is trying to accomplish and how well it does in transporting me into the world of the show/attraction. I think there are some cases in which practical effects are the best, and some were CG effects are better. There's also instances in which either one is terrible.

                              I think the really good effects are effects which seamless combine practical and CG effects, like Mystic Manor or even the Castle Walkthrough.

                              And just to put it out there, I think the reason why CG effects usually fail is because it most cases it's really easy to say "oh, that's just a projection". Since projections usually "glow" in an unnatural way in a scene, it's usually not hard to spot. But when you instantly know it's a projection, you're instantly reminded of things like movies and TV shows, which subconsciously you know aren't real, so you make the connection that the projection isn't real either and instantly get pulled out of the "world" that the projection attempts to establish.


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