What makes CGI convincing?

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  11 November 2013
What makes CGI convincing?

Hi everyone, I'm new to the forum

I've just started an 8 month personal project, and I thought I would join a community to help me get through it. I'm currently in the R&D phase, trying to prevent fatal mistakes (although I am sure something will go wrong.

In my opinion, this question is possibly the most important in the industry; What makes CGI convincing? Well from what I understand so far, I think the most important factors are: Avoiding the uncanny valley, in both cartoons and realistic CGI. Perhaps stepping away from human-like character designs, to prevent the inevitable comparison with real humans, while still portraying believable emotion and movement, creating the illusion of life. Maybe it's all about creating a better version of reality that the audience can accept as real? Is there really a point in trying to replicate reality with CG in film? Can human characters ever be successful?


Any thoughts?
 
  11 November 2013
I guess ultimately it depends on what it is that you want to do. I mean, do you actually want to create realistic people in your project?

For me, personally, I'd much rather watch something with style than a perfect recreation of reality, because in the case of the latter, it always comes off as nothing more than an attempt to show "look what we can do" instead of actually making a piece that means something. In other words, the motivation feels dubious. If I want to see real people, I'll watch a real film. The beauty of animation, for me, lies in its scope for creativity.
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  11 November 2013
I suppose it's all about the story, if a realistic CGI human is necessary to tell the story better then it would be appropriate, but that's never the case as you can film them. I guess all choices should be made because of the story, and if made for other reasons (e.g. technical difficulties, showing off, experimentation with new technology) will make the audience reject the film
 
  11 November 2013
I watched an interview with John Lasseter a while ago. He said that many modern-day animated movies don't have a good story. While Pixar, always making new kinds of stories that don't have the typical "inside-matters-more-than-outside/follow your dreams" kind of story, their movies become very popular. Many people would end up basing the success off of the CGI, thinking that's what the audience wants more. They don't look at the story.
I personally think that the artist has more freedom. More depth, more detail, etc. I learned that, to be good at drawing, you should practice anatomy and learn to draw in the most detailed and skilled way possible. Even if all you're going to draw are cartoons. That way, you have the potential to do whatever you want. CGI artists have a lot more potential than just paper, so the likelyness that they'll create something amazing is a lot higher.
 
  11 November 2013
Leading off by putting a lot of weight on the Uncanny Valley seems a bit myopic.

Consider this article.

http://www.popularmechanics.com/tec.../robots/4343054

When people talk about "realistic CG" and the potential pitfalls of the Uncanny Valley, the films "Final Fantasy" and "Polar Express" are usually held up as examples.

I think those films suffer from poor execution more than this abstract, apparently unprovable theory. First and foremost, you are on drugs if you think either of those films feature remotely "realistic" looking characters. I would say neither of those movies feature any remotely realistic looking characters, so much so that one couldn't even remotely apply the pseudo scientific idea of the Uncanny Valley to them in the first place. I think both movies suffer from poor designs, modelling and animation execution. Not to mention bad marketing...

Human characters are sporadically highly successful in VFX films. Long shot digital doubles are pretty mundane. Medium shot to full frame face replacement/severely cg modified faces are pretty doable.

My favorite is the talking head girl: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JF_NFmtw89g
Lots of people made claims that they knew, or could tell, or "felt" themselves in the Uncanny Valley. I call BS. It is easy to pick out stuff when one is aware, but if someone had to pick her out of a lineup of, say, 10 real video clips...no way. And that is from 5-6 years ago.

The whole "which is real in the image, the apple or the banana? Ha Psych! They are both real, the rest of the room is fake!" game was pretty lame in back in '06, or further back I imagine.

I believe, mathematically, that perfect CG people are possible, and are executed sparingly due to fiscal constraints. I say mathematically because at the scale of human perception, things are pretty darn well understood. Light works a certain way, the physical forms can be measured down to ludicrous metric detail, motion capture is insanely tight, and getting tighter all the time; physical simulation is pretty accurate..etc. If you are scanning someone on a small stage with multiple 4k cameras; if you didn't get it, you didn't need it.

I think that there is no point in trying to recreate reality in CG, unless it serves the purpose of doing something that couldn't otherwise be done; because, recreating reality in CG would require so much real life reference to begin with, just use the reference.

My personal quip, in relation to this idea of theoretical perception analysis, involves camera movements. When the camera is moving in insane ways, that I intuitively feel no mechanical camera rig could possibly execute, I am taken out of the shot big time...although that might be a byproduct particular to me having "looked behind the curtain" of film production. Along the same lines, I think the Neo vs Agent Smithx1000 scene suffered from this idea a bit. Besides the really blatant iffy shader/cloth sim jacket Neo was wearing...when he is doing stuff that is just out there like running along the heads of the Agent Smith's heads, you just know it's fake.

Are you thinking this way because you wanted to do a "realistic" cg character and wish to have an excuse to do something a tad more lowbrow? Screw it man, Mr. Potato Head is an AWESOME CG character with only deformation on his lips, eyelids and arms, primarily that I can tell. People still love simple puppets, and you can keep a 4 year old fairly well entertained for at least 10 minutes with a sock puppet, to this day.
 
  11 November 2013
Originally Posted by Stankluv: Consider this article.
http://www.popularmechanics.com/tec.../robots/4343054


Considered. It's a hypothesis without a lot of data to back it up. With this in mind - it still almost perfectly describes the reaction a lot of us have in artificial characters whether they be human or non-human. The "it-looks-a-bit-creepy" factor.

Even without glorious data to back it up, it's a theory which makes a lot of sense on paper - and on a purely anecdotal basis, it does seem to be true. My own personal take on it is that there isn't a single curve to describe everything relate-able to the uncanny valley. When using the theory to describe our reaction to digital characters onscreen the curve flattens out when dealing with non-human creatures such as animals, monsters or aliens - the valley isn't as deep as it is for humanoid characters.

My hypothesis is that if you plotted peoples reactions to things like robots or practical creature fx to things like CG animated characters and creatures - you'd get a whole bunch of different looking valleys.

Originally Posted by Stankluv: When people talk about "realistic CG" and the potential pitfalls of the Uncanny Valley, the films "Final Fantasy" and "Polar Express" are usually held up as examples.

I think those films suffer from poor execution more than this abstract, apparently unprovable theory. First and foremost, you are on drugs if you think either of those films feature remotely "realistic" looking characters.


They certainly weren't going for cartoonish. I know it's been a few years since Polar Express and Final Fantasy came out so it's probably easy to look back now and think "they don't look realistic at all". But the goal of those films was very much pointing towards realism.

Originally Posted by Stankluv: I would say neither of those movies feature any remotely realistic looking characters, so much so that one couldn't even remotely apply the pseudo scientific idea of the Uncanny Valley to them in the first place.


That's kind of the whole point of the theory, it's about how realistic you determine something to be versus your reaction to it - "not very realistic" is still a plot point on the graph.

Originally Posted by Stankluv: I think both movies suffer from poor designs, modelling and animation execution.


Yeah - although I think visually, Final Fantasy did have a number of things going for it.

And to briefly refer this back to the original poster, there isn't one or even a few key things you need to get right to make things magical - it's a whole range of things which need to happen.

Originally Posted by Stankluv: I think that there is no point in trying to recreate reality in CG, unless it serves the purpose of doing something that couldn't otherwise be done; because, recreating reality in CG would require so much real life reference to begin with, just use the reference.


There lies the challenge. That's part of why you do it. You don't do it for practical reasons. You do it to push against what we can and can't do. I love the fact that Zemeckis was pushing this - even if I thought the results came up way short.
 
  11 November 2013
Originally Posted by Stankluv: when he is doing stuff that is just out there like running along the heads of the Agent Smith's heads, you just know it's fake.


Well, yes. Because it's not physically possible to run along the heads of multiple Agent Smiths in real life. That was the whole point of the Matrix films - a sense of distorted reality. It wasn't supposed to feel real. At the time those films came out, they were incredible - we'd never seen anything like them before. (I say this as a lay person, not as a VFX practitioner, so happy to be shouted down)
 
  11 November 2013
Let`s ask Mr. Feynman about sociocultural theorys:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IaO69CF5mbY
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  11 November 2013
Originally Posted by MGernot: Let`s ask Mr. Feynman about sociocultural theorys:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IaO69CF5mbY


Wow. In my pseudoscientific opinion, he needs a haircut and a new shirt. Amazing CG though - it's almost as if he's a real person
 
  11 November 2013
It's hard to pinpoint specifically, since everything needs to be on the point at all times to make cgi convincing. I do think that it's becoming more and more of a directing problem than anything technical; cgi being treated as cgi. For example, a fully cg scene in the hobbit movie will always look fake if it's showcased in a way that separates it from how the director would've shot the scene if it were real. In a way it kind of reminds me of an over-stylized kung fu fighting scene; It's visually beautiful, but usually looks fake and devoid of any true tension.
 
  11 November 2013
Originally Posted by Stankluv: I think those films suffer from poor execution more than this abstract, apparently unprovable theory. First and foremost, you are on drugs if you think either of those films feature remotely "realistic" looking characters. I would say neither of those movies feature any remotely realistic looking characters, so much so that one couldn't even remotely apply the pseudo scientific idea of the Uncanny Valley to them in the first place. I think both movies suffer from poor designs, modelling and animation execution. Not to mention bad marketing...



Well the uncanny valley describes how the closer something gets to seeming human, the more the viewer becomes repulsed by it until it reaches FULL human likeness. They tried to make them very human-like and failed. Therefore they were probably much better off sticking with stylised designs unless they could replicate reality 100% and then there would be no point as they could just film the actors. Unless of course it was very difficult to film the scenes as you mentioned.

Last edited by CG247 : 11 November 2013 at 11:27 AM.
 
  11 November 2013
My point, in shorter form is; substitute "creepy" with "did not like for the specific reason that it is poorly executed" and ask yourself which is more plausible.

As to the films in question, with regards to the creators goals vs. our perception; such a distinction is irrelevant. I saw FF in the theater, long before I could make a cg cube or had any kind of savvy on the matter, it is is just nowhere near realistic. If it is nowhere near realistic, why talk about how people feel because it is approaching realism?

And, to totally flip the tables on the subject, look at the Disney World animatronics. Most of them have been pleasing millions since before I was born(1974), but as an 8 year old I remember thinking, "That looks cool, and kind of like a real person, but I can tell it isn't, and more importantly, Abe Lincoln talking is boring; let's go to Space Mountain".

Very realistic, not perfect, millions of people not creeped out. Good execution.
 
  11 November 2013
Quote: What makes CGI convincing?
...good comp!
 
  11 November 2013
Originally Posted by serenatheanimator: CGI artists have a lot more potential than just paper, so the likelyness that they'll create something amazing is a lot higher.


I couldn't possibly disagree more!
Point in case: I have never seen anything done in cg, that even remotely matches the stuff the great artists of past times did. Like Raphaels subtle, almost fragile sketches.
Pure beauty! You should go to Paris

To me, what makes cgi (or stories in general) work, is to set up some rules about the world you create, and stick to those rules. Make the world believable. Not by visual complexity, but in the way your characters acts and feels.

And don't try to make fully realistic humans. You will fail (sorry, but you will) and it will be for no good reason.
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  11 November 2013
Originally Posted by Stankluv: My favorite is the talking head girl: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JF_NFmtw89g
Lots of people made claims that they knew, or could tell, or "felt" themselves in the Uncanny Valley. I call BS. It is easy to pick out stuff when one is aware, but if someone had to pick her out of a lineup of, say, 10 real video clips...no way. And that is from 5-6 years ago.

The only way you could hide her from me is if all the 'real video clips' were shot in a Botox clinic. So not 'real people' either.
But seriously. You can hide her from my parents maybe. But not me. Sorry.

But I was under-welmed by Benjamin Button too. But again like the Matrix-you know it *has* to be fake. However i remember being more satisfied with really 'young adult Brad' than 'really old man Brad' oddly enough.

But here is a good case study. I personally like a lot the human characters in Tangled. Now contrast that with the 'humans' in Pixar's early films-in the extreme case the first Toy Story.
In Tangled the characters are cartoony human.
In Toy Story (1) the characters are not completely real. But cannot act like toys either. The animation is quite clunky actually.

Are the differences between the two films entirely about improved techniques? Probably...
 
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