Computer Generated Imagery

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Example of a CGI film ( Llama Drama , 2013, Blender Foundation )

Computer Generated Imagery ( CGI ) is the English technical term for images generated using 3-D computer graphics ( image synthesis ) in the field of film production , computer simulation and visual effects . The term describes computer animation in film art - in contrast to computer animation, for example, in computer games .

A process called Daylight Generated Images is generally used for pure photo productions .


Since the mid-1970s, a start was made on the implementation of computer-based external vision systems for flight simulators ( Computer Generated Image Visual System (CGIVS) ).

Before 1977, CGI was still a matter for universities and research laboratories, from which short films occasionally made their way to festivals. Only a few artists were given the opportunity to explore the possibilities of the new equipment and programs in these institutions. The first CGI effects appeared in Star Wars in 1977 , in which a 40-second computer-generated animation of the Death Star can be seen. The wire frame model of the Death Star was entered into a PDP-11/45 mini-computer using a Vector General 3D3I graphics tablet and then photographed from the screen with a 35 mm camera.

In 1982, for the film Tron , which takes place for the most part in a kind of humanized computer (programs are embodied by people), part of the scenery was computer-generated, the rest consisted of sets. The actors acted against black and gray backgrounds, the footage was black and white and was colored by hand afterwards. All vehicles in the computer as well as some characters, the virus scanners and the bit , were created as 3-D vector graphics in the computer. A Dicomed film recorder transferred the rendered images onto 35 mm negative film. Live action and computer animation were combined on an optical printer and provided with additional effects.

The Genesis sequence in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) showed a bare planet that is transformed by a Genesis projectile and goes through millions of years in time lapse to be a living green paradise in the end. This fully computer-generated sequence was the first to use fractals to model mountains and was shown again in the following two films, Star Trek III: In Search of Mr. Spock and Star Trek IV: Back to the Present . It was worth an article on the spectrum of science .

With the science fiction flick Starfight , the first film of this genre was released in 1984 in which all space scenes, including the fights, were realized entirely using CGIs. The first computer-generated being did not appear until 1985 in the film Young Sherlock Holmes (German: The secret of the hidden temple ); a knight composed of the broken glass from a church window. 1986 in Basil, the great mouse detective , Disney combined figures drawn for the first time with a moving 3-D background, which had to pass through the clockwork of Big Ben .

The first computer- calculated morphing sequence was shown in 1986 in The Flight of the Navigator , which shows the spaceship morphing into flight mode or the fixed ladder.

Generating water realistically with the computer was first achieved in 1989 in the film Abyss . In 1991 the experiences gained in Terminator 2 - Day of Reckoning in Abyss were used to create the liquid metal effects for the T-1000 terminator .

For Jurassic Park in 1993 for the first time anatomically almost correct and living-looking animals, in this case dinosaurs , were created and realistically animated.

In 1994, Babylon 5 was the first television series to use CGI on a large scale. 1995 came with Toy Story of Pixar , the first completely inside the computer resulting film in theaters. The first fully computer-animated movie with a largely realistic representation of people was made in 2001 with Final Fantasy: The Powers in You .

Recent developments

Large film productions such as the prequels for Star Wars or the Lord of the Rings trilogy also manage to create realistic mass recordings using CGI.

The company Weta Digital in New Zealand was commissioned to create realistic effects for the Lord of the Rings films. In order to be able to properly stage the huge battles, the computer program Massive was developed, which breathed artificial intelligence into the orcs, elves and humans. The aim was to make the figures in the crowd react to obstacles, noises and / or their surroundings themselves. The pool of possible actions (such as the various movements) as well as different fighting and death sequences were obtained from a database into which the operations in advance by motion detection (English motion capturing ) were read. Even actors in the foreground of huge scenes are often computer-generated (an example of this is the deployment of the Uruk-Hai in front of Helm's Gorge ). Main characters were recorded conventionally and copied into the scenes.

At the beginning of November 2019, Martin Scorsese's mafia thriller The Irishman hit American cinemas before it could be streamed on Netflix . In it Robert De Niro , Al Pacino and Joe Pesci play the leading roles. The actors, who were over 70 years old at the time of the recording, report on their lives in flashbacks up to the 1950s. They are artificially rejuvenated using CGI technology.

Criticism of CGI

CGI has been criticized by critics and film fans, as films are largely shot digitally and few or no effects are created by hand. Before there were CGI effects, e.g. B. Splatter effects can only be made by hand; some films set standards, such as B. Tanz der Teufel (1981), The thing from another world (1982) , Nightmare III - Freddy Krueger is alive (1987) or Hellraiser - The gate to hell (1987). Fans complain that splatter effects occur on the computer in some films, such as B. in Hot Fuzz (2007), 300 (2007), Shoot 'Em Up (2007), Kick-Ass (2010). These effects look partly unrealistic in comparison to conventionally generated effects and, moreover, they are nothing special compared to effects like the transformation in American Werewolf (1981). Some fans only accept CGI effects when the effects could not be created without CGI, such as B. in Transformers (2007). Some directors are also against CGI, for example Quentin Tarantino , who did not make a film digitally and said himself that he would start writing novels as soon as films are only made digitally, and Christopher Nolan , who uses as much as possible in his films CGI does without and prefers to work with models.

Major computer animation films

In chronological order, the following films are examples of the development of computer animation technology:

Major computer animation companies

The following companies are listed in alphabetical order:

CGI - step by step

Everything begins with drawings by an artist, a photograph or a clay model that shows the director's wishes: for example Hulk destroying a car, an actor who completes impossible battle scenes, or a lifelike character ( Gollum in Herr der Rings ), which is played by a real actor and linked to him in the final film.

On the basis of these models and drawings, a modeller works with three-dimensional surfaces on the computer in order to create a suitable computer model. Sometimes such clay models or the faces of actors are scanned with special laser scanners to give the modeller a point of view from which to start.

When the 3D modeling is done, the animator instructs the computer on how to move the model. For example, how a car rolls over when it is overrun by the Hulk, or how Gollum's face behaves when he speaks.

Sometimes the animator uses existing movements that are captured by real actors - as was the case with Gollum, for example - or physics-based simulations, for example to be able to realistically depict the dent in a car (see Motion Capture ).

Once the modeling and animation are done, a virtual camera and exposure are put in the computer, and a rendering program runs over the animation for a long time, often an hour or more for each individual frame. In this way, images are generated that show the realistic movements of the 3D model. The fine tuning is done by the technical director. He adjusts the light and material and repeats the rendering of the scene over and over again.

The CGIs are then seamlessly combined with the live action elements, for example recordings of real actors or background landscapes, using compositing software in order to create the final images of the film.

See also


  • Barbara Flückiger: Visual Effects. Film images from the computer. Schüren, Marburg 2008, ISBN 978-3-89472-518-1

Web links


  1. ^ Ergonomics abstracts. Volume 12, University of Birmingham, Ergonomics Information Analysis Center, Printed and published for the Ergonomics Information Analysis Center, Dept. of Engineering Production, University of Birmingham by Taylor & Francis Ltd., 1980, p. 74 online
  2. David Hutchison: Special Effects Vol. 3. Starlog, New York 1981, ISBN 0-931064-39-2 .
  3. ^ A b David Hutchison: Special Effects Vol. 4. Starlog, New York 1984, ISBN 0-931064-65-1 .