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CGI's Hits and Misses of 1998

From hit movies to recent mergers, Eric Huelsman relays every facet of what happened last year in CGI and how it is going to effect 1999. Includes Quicktime movie clips.

Besides contributing heavily to Hollywood's biggest box-office year ever, CGI made some impressive technical and creative gains in an industry always on the lookout for trend-setters (read: money makers). Here is a look at some of the events that helped shape 1998 and should make 1999 an even more impressive year for CGI. On the Water Front The biggest splash on the CGI scene in 1998 has, of course, been Titanic. While arguable as to the novelty of the subject matter or the greatness of its performances, there is little question that Titanic's successes hinged a great deal on the inspirational attention to detail that James Cameron and the good folks at Digital Domain employed to recreate the ship and its tragic sinking. While much has been made of the high cost obsession for making it look real, few could fault Titanic for the technological breakthroughs the picture made (e.g. "rotocap," a combination of motion-capture and rotoscoping that provides CG animators with model, motion and shading libraries that can be manipulated quickly and in endless ways). More importantly, however, was how Titanic' s CG shots were seamless to the point where they advanced a sometime forgotten element in today's movies - the telling of the story.

The Big Hits of 1998

Of the year's other special-effects spectaculars, only two were really earth-shattering in terms of box office. Those of course being the end-of-the-world disaster epics Deep Impact and Armageddon. Much like Titanic, Deep Impact depended a great deal on its story and subtle performances. Armageddon, by contrast, was a bucking bronco of a movie whose CGI, like everything else, was way over the top. Still, it succeeded as a movie due to the eye kept on promoting its story line. Again, a bonus for movie-goers (and an added bonus for the people at Edmund Scientific, who enjoyed a two-fold increase in the sales of backyard telescopes).

By contrast, 1998's other big screen CG spectaculars like Lost in Space, Sphere, and Godzilla, despite their massive budgets, tended to be box office losers, proving perhaps, that no amount of explosions, space ships or out-of-control dinosaurs can help any picture that pays little attention to how well it tells its story. I'm sure I'm not alone in thinking that the studios responsible for these duds would have been better off hiring William Goldman for a tenth the price of the CGI simply to fix their dumb scripts. Somebody Call the Orkin Man - The Bug Hits of 1998 Coming on strong at the end of the year (and just in time for the holiday season) were the two all-CG animation hits, Antz and A Bug's Life, produced by DreamWorks/PDI and Disney/Pixar respectively. These two pictures proved that the general viewing audience is willing to "ante" up big boffo for what has previously been pretty much a kiddie domain theatrical release animation.

CG Production on the Rise and Other Good News

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