In a decade in which it seems like every director of a Hollywood tentpole genre film is obsessed with using as much green screen and CGI as they can fit into a movie, a few filmmakers have tried to stick to old-school practical effects as much as possible.
One such filmmaker is James Gunn, who recently took to social media and said that The Suicide Squad will have “more practical effects and sets than any big-budget comic book film ever.” The comment was in response to a question on Instagram by user @ryancmckinney who asked Gunn if he went with more CGI or practical effects for the film:
Later, on Twitter, Gunn made a point to thank all the people involved with the creation of those practical effects, saying that he used them wherever possible, with the “biggest, most beautiful sets [he’d] ever seen by Beth Mickle, real locations, real costumes by Judianna Makovsky, pyrotechnics by Dan Sudick, prosthetic effects by Legacy & more.”
This isn’t the first time Gunn has been adamant about and proud of how many practical effects were used in his film, having previously talked about how many were used in Guardians of the Galaxy and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. The director, however, was quick to caution that is in no way slighting CGI or the amazing work done by the VFX team in that regard:
Me too. I hope to God I’m not coming off as negative about CG which can be beautiful & spectacular & necessary; I’m forever grateful to the VFX artists who have worked on my films. This is just about not relying on post production to do the work that should be done in production. https://t.co/rpLlJIjY3t
— James Gunn (@JamesGunn) March 5, 2020
The Glen Berry he’s responding to is absolutely right: It’s become trendy (even from some film critics and entertainment journalists) to bash CGI – lord knows, I’ve voiced my issues with it before. The problem is, too often that criticism is a general bemoaning of the proliferation of digital effects in movies now which is an oversimplification and reduction of how CGI is used. What they really mean to say is that they’re specifically tired of rushed, green screen CGI. When someone complains about the “bad” CGI in a movie, they’re likely talking about a big action sequence or something stuffed full of fantastical or superpowered elements that break the bounds of physics.
In reality, CGI is used everywhere, constantly in movies, in places fans don’t even realize it’s being used. Take, for example, when Marvel had to add a computerized helmet onto Captain America from the 2012 timeline in Avengers: Endgame because test audiences couldn’t keep track of the current and past Cap during their fight:
— BD (@BrandonDavisBD) August 23, 2019
Until that was mentioned at D23 Expo last year, fans never even knew it wasn’t a real helmet Chris Evans was wearing. Why didn’t they just use a real helmet, you might be asking? For starters, in scenes that were fixed in post after filming had wrapped, they couldn’t exactly get Chris Evans, one of the busiest guys in the world, to come back to reshoot those specific scenes. For another reason, wearing a helmet would have meant them having to stop filming in order to fix his hair every single time he took the helmet off, an unnecessary delay they didn’t need. Lastly, it’s just hotter and harder for the actor to see in a helmet – they’re not cool and comfortable, especially in a fight sequence under bright stage lights. When you add all that up, it was far easier, faster, and more practical to just digitally add a helmet.
CGI is regularly used in small ways like this, either to fix things in post or to tweak and make adjustments. Even the movie that is considered the benchmark and standard of practical effects, Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, used CGI in ways audiences didn’t even realize: After the famous kitchen scene, Alan Grant and the kids are climbing through the air ducts to escape the velociraptors. At one point, Lex, played by Ariana Richards, falls through a grate and desperately tries to hold on. A stunt double was used in that scene and accidentally looked directly at the camera. So they had to CGI Richards’ face onto the stunt double in post-production. Audiences were never the wiser, and this was back in 1993 when digital effects and CGI were far less advanced than they are now. Imagine how much more subtle digital work is able to be done now in 2020.
In any case, when a movie manages to marry incredible practical effects with excellent CGI, the result is a visually stunning movie. If the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise is anything to go by, The Suicide Squad is going to be one eye-popping film.
The Suicide Squad hits theaters on August 6, 2021.