Sunday, July 22, 2012

The value of traditional set designs and prosthetics

There is much to be said about CG when it comes to action and science fiction story telling but there is something lost by removing traditional set designs and prosthetics from the mix. Just as there's something lost when cartoons are computer generated rather than hand drawn.

What is lost is a type of story building, character for smoothness, the personal touch for the impersonal and often the humour that comes along with oddball designs and strange methods of conveying an event. CG is wonderful for making the flight of a hero believable to our eyes but there is nothing like the humour that comes of capes flapping incorrectly, visible strings and undies that get hiked a little too high in the flight simulating process.

The biggest thing CG has going for it is the ability to make events more believable, with less breaks in story continuity. It is big and loud and smooth and portrays the story seamlessly and so seems the best choice in almost every case. So much so that it is hard to find movies and TV shows without it nowadays. And some of the genres most affected by CG were those that used to revel in the world of puppetry, papier mache masks and real furry monsters with goggle eyes. Children's stories are often produced using CG. Even the classics like Big Bird have become CG for the most part.

And this is truly a pity. There is much value in the older methods of story telling that is often overlooked for smoothness and quick release. The worlds created through puppetry, prosthetics, traditional set designs and costuming are potent for their ability for convey self-contained worlds disconnected from our own, for their realism of action and movement despite our efforts otherwise and oddly for their dreaminess as they convey the imagination rather well and in a stylised manner that is a tad classy in its own way if properly realised.

My opinion of this, rarely asked for but I'll give it anyway so you can ignore me at you own will, is that each story told has a style its own, a world its own, and because of this each story has a storytelling method best suited to it. Some absolutely do require CG. Yet others would be best created on stage, through puppetry, using black and white cameras and jolting action, as a silent movie, with hand moved models and stop motion camera work, with shadow puppets or with full sets and gloriously awkward prosthetics painted brilliant colours.  Choosing the correct method for conveying a story is important and while CG seems to offer the most modern and easily consumable style CG does in fact ruin some stories completely simply by being the wrong method of telling the story.

Not all stories are best conveyed using the written word only. That's why there are comics and movies and cartoons and plays and songs. When it comes to the method of telling your story you choose carefully if you're a writer. Shall it be a short story? A poem? An article or a book? But strangely, this careful choice is not always made by those producing works for television or the movies. The choice is often made by fashions and fads, by those interested in the money behind the scenes and in guiding consumer consumption. The quick and smooth solution is often picked simply for the fact that it is quick and provides a smooth finish. But the essence of a story may not match and in such cases the story often loses its power. Luckily this is not always the case and there are plenty of space adventures and comic book adaptions that are coming out to prove it.

Still, you can't beat the old methods of making someone fly for laughter. Nor the traditionally made scientist's lab for spookiness. Or even old school spider webbing for that "oh, ick!" response. CG spiderwebs just don't cut it most of the time. On this note, there is nothing funnier than grown men dressing up in silly costumes only to prance about a set and utter the overly-serious "Muhahahaha" of the evil villain. All dignity is lost while at the same time a brilliant story is told. There is little to nothing lost through the breaks in continuity provided by more traditional methods of story telling. Rather, there is much humour to be gained and humour only adds to the delight of the audience when viewing the story.

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