Cineview: Cinema’s Greatest Debate

CGI Vs Practical Effects


One of the great debates of film is whether practical or digital effects should used. Both sides have compelling points, with neither ever being 100 percent correct.

Practical effects purist believe CGI should never be used. It is considered a lazy substitute for something that could have been created by hand. One notable example to support their position is the original Alien released in 1979.

Supporters of CGI tend to have less radical views on the topic, but still remain firm in their stance. They may point to Thanos in 2018’s Infinity War as an example of an entirely digital character being done well.

Another common defense is CGI that goes unnoticed in films, such as color correction in post production.

Both sides tend to ignore the dark side of their visual effects preference, while the other revels in these failures. CGI supporters may mention scenes from movies with dated effects such as A Nightmare On Elm Street. At the end of the movie, it is painfully obvious they pulled a mannequin through a fake door.

Proponents of practical effects point out infamous examples of horrendous digital effects such as The Scorpion King in which the titular king looks as if he were made on a budget of a few hundred dollars.

CGI, when done poorly, can feel weightless and thus pull pull the viewer out of the film. Practical effects, when done poorly, can be easily recognized as cheap props. Whichever a director chooses, it is important to not the rush the process.   

A difficult example to classify as a pro or con is the appearance of Princess Leia in Rogue One. Some appreciated the use of CGI to bring her back, while others argued it would have been best to remove her from the film, since Carrie Fisher could not reprise her role.

As with any controversial topic, both sides mention only their pros while completely ignoring their cons, and refusing to compromise.   The answer to which is better depends on the film and its scale. In general, however, completely practical or a mix of the two is the best approach.