Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Owen. Owen Wonders, “How does CGI work” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Owen!

Are you a movie fan? Do you like animation or live-action? Do you watch movies in 3D? It makes the special effects seem so real! Have you ever WONDERed how movie makers do it? It‘s not magic! Many times, they use Computer Generated Imagery (CGI).

CGI is the use of computer graphics to make images and special effects.  Do you use the Force with Luke Skywalker? How about going “To infinity and beyond!” with Buzz Lightyear? Do you dream of visiting Jurassic Park? All of these movies use CGI.

To use CGI, designers first make the movie’s graphics. They make the graphics look real by paying close attention to details like texture and lighting. Then, they drop them into the film. If they’ve done their job well, CGI fits right in with the movie.

The first movie to use CGI was Michael Crichton’s “Westworld” in 1973. A few years later, George Lucas used CGI in “Star Wars.” Early CGI wasn’t great by today’s measures. The graphics were less realistic and seemed out of place. However, these movies excited audiences. They brought gunslingers and space stations to life. Soon, designers were working to improve CGI.

In 1993, audiences saw lifelike dinosaurs in  “Jurassic Park. The film’s designers made the dinosaurs move as realistically as possible. They also gave the dinosaurs lifelike skin. These touches went a long way toward making the film more realistic. The movie’s success pushed movie makers to keep making CGI better.

In 1995, filmmakers used CGI to create a whole movie for the first time. The result was “Toy Story.” Realistic characters like Woody, Buzz, and Rex blew audiences away. Pixar soon followed up with other CGI movies like “Monsters Inc.” and “Finding Nemo.”

As CGI improved, its reach grew. CGI in the 2001 film “Pearl Harbor” brought historical events to life. That same year, Gollum became the first CGI character to communicate with live actors in “Lord of the Rings.” Makers of the film used motion capture technology to make Gollum even more realistic. That meant they filmed a real actor and matched the CGI Gollum to his movements.

The 2009 film “Avatar” did something new. It combined motion capture with facial capture. The result was stunningly realistic characters. “Avatar” won three Oscars and became the highest grossing movie of all time. Audiences were blown away by how real its fictional world looked.

Movie makers continue to improve CGI today. Have you ever watched the Hulk smash through a wall? Have you seen Iron Man fly? If so, you’ve seen CGI in action. Other movies that use CGI include the Disney live-action films and the “Transformers” series. CGI has also spread to other areas. It’s used in many television shows and video games today.

Many believe CGI changed the film industry forever. What do you think? What would “Jurassic Park” be like without lifelike dinosaurs? Would Thanos be quite as threatening if he wasn‘t CGI? Would the Star Wars adventures be the same? Not everyone is a fan of CGI, but it has made many new effects possible. Will CGI continue to change movies, or will another technology come along?

Standards: CCRA.L.3, CCRA.L.6, CCRA.R.1, CCRA.R.2, CCRA.R.10, CCRA.W.2, CCRA.W.1, CCRA.W.4, CCRA.W.8, CCRA.W.9, CCRA.L.1, CCRA.L.2, CCRA.SL.1

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