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news • 21 November 2023

Is There Really No CG in the Movies?

Profile picture of Sokratis Synitos

Written by Sokratis Synitos

2D VFX Tutor

This blog from 2D VFX Tutor Sokratis Synitos investigates claims that recent films have been made using only practical effects – and reveals a more complicated truth. 

You may have noticed the latest trend- that is, filmmakers claiming that they shot everything "practical" and "on camera". Are they being truthful? 

Let's explore this claim with a famous case - That of Top Gun: Maverick. 
You can find lots of references online showing the film crew capturing the flying aircrafts on camera. 

Nice one! A more thorough search though will reveal images like this one: 

Tracking markers on a plane? So, what's the deal? 

For certain plane models, the F14 being one, they used stand-in jets as a tracking and lighting reference. So, in the last scene with the "dog fight" you are actually enjoying the spectacle of CG jets. Finally, a quick Google search will reveal that the movie was a nominee for VFX. All these things probably make you think - Why the lie? 
Firstly, it's a bit more nuanced than the impression you may get reading these lines. 
To do justice to the creators, the film is "grounded in reality". They did have to shoot stand-in jets after all. 

Here though, is another reason. And of course, it is a marketing one. 

As you can see from the YouTube comments above, people really admire the idea of a total lack of CG. Studios of course keep track of online trends and preferences, in order to find the right angle to sell their movies. 

We are at the age where movie trailers serve as an early way to get feedback from online commentators. We can all remember how Sonic was redesigned after backlash to the film’s initial trailer. So how can you tell if a film was made using practical shooting methods or "artificial" CG? 

That's the whole point: you shouldn't be able to. From CG Modelling to Lighting to Compositing, the end goal of VFX is to create a believable photorealistic result to serve each movie's narrative. And as in the case of Top Gun, this has already happened without us realising it. 

If the question of 'how' came to mind when reading the last paragraph, our courses are a great place to start exploring the world of VFX! 

Check out these extra links if you are interested in learning more about Top Gun: Maverick and the #nocgi phase of the industry.