Since it’s been a few weeks since the Barbie movie’s release, I couldn’t resist talking about it even as an intro to a larger topic. I won’t spoil anything or rehash what’s already been said a thousand times, instead I want to look at the set of Barbieland. The set was made with minimal CGI, keying audiences into the magical world of practical effects.
For those unaware, practical effects are those effects done in a film physically, with minimal computer generation done post-production. Though I’m just now getting more into film, and it’s still a bit out of my wheelhouse, I think the process of doing practical effects is so fascinating. Most film-goers, whether they are die-hard fans of the medium or not, tend to prefer practical effects over CGI. Computer generated images can age much more poorly than practical ones, and audiences tend to find an uncanny feeling that comes with CGI even if it looks realistic.
Some incredible moments in modern movies are done practically, an amazing feat considering the advancement and ease of technology. One of my favorites is the first multiverse jump in Everything Everywhere All At Once, which I was shocked to learn that it was done with no computer generation. Filmmakers accomplished the scene by opening the camera shutter, having Michelle Yeoh act in slow motion, and hiding a leaf blower behind her.
I also adore when horror movies use practical effects, since they can accomplish some absolutely insane shots. Iconic horror figures such as Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger have their monstrous faces created practically, terrifying audiences with an incredible realness to them. It’s always fascinating to see filmmakers try to create increasingly complex creatures and scenes using as little computer generation as possible. I now look specifically for practical vs. CGI in movies I watch, and it adds another layer of enjoyment to my film experience.