Open Forum Friday: Could CG Animals Eventually Replace Real Animals in Movies Altogether?

With the animal abuse allegations that came out against Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit earlier this week, there is a renewed conversation in the movie industry about how to ensure the safety of animals on a movie set. Regardless of how accurate the story is, the negative press that it has generated is not good for business. Earlier this year, HBO also decided to completely pull the plug on their horse-racing drama Luck after three horses died on set. At this point, the potential pitfalls of working with real animals in movies are starting to seriously outweigh the benefits. Is it still worth the hassle?

It’s an interesting coincidence that this story has surfaced in the same week that Ang Lee’s Life of Pi hits theatres, a movie that contains the most convincing CG animal to date. Steven Spielberg also used a lot of CG and animatronics for War Horse in order to minimize the use of real horses. It certainly seems like there could come a day where CG completely replaces live action, but at the moment, one of the hardest things to recreate digitally is people riding on horseback. What do you think? Is it wrong to use live animals for movies and TV? Is computer technology now convincing enough to replace the real thing? Would you support a future where all animals in movies are digital creations? Give us your thoughts here on Open Forum Friday.

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  • Dan Squires

    Yes, unfortunately.

  • Cy-Ed

    It’s gonna happen. Sorry Frank.

  • kyri

    I am not sure the tiger in life of pi is 100% cgi

  • La Menthe


    CGI in itself is always bad.

  • Chris Morgan

    Frank would lose his shit.

  • James

    It depends on context. A person patting a horse…use a real horse. The horse is an amazing sidekick, use cgi where necessary. On a business perspective you want efficiency and hopefully a good product for a good price so cgi is obvious.
    I’m also going to suggest that the “Pro real animals at all times” crowd might find that if we were to suddenly just go back to real animals in all films they may find it disappointing and limiting. Kind of like bringing back Billy Crystal as Oscar host, you may realize its not as great as you may think.

  • La Menthe

    >>”good product for a good price so cgi is obvious.”

    Ummmmm…No. It’s CGI that makes all those blockbuters so expensive. And I disagree with you about wanting to abandon CGI. I hate CGI, and think that it should only be used when necessary. But both of us know that that is not the case in big blockbusters. Directors like Nolan have proved that you can use other alternatives, and almost always to a cheaper price.

  • Owozifa

    Unfortunately I’m not sure that reality really factors in.

    Considering the entire abuse problem arose out of something that had nothing to do with actual filming I don’t think it adds much to the conversation. I think the degree of oversight and public attention on animals used in filmmaking probably makes them safer than animals in general.

  • UKMark

    Regulations need to be updated regarding animal humane rights etc obviously. I loved the Movie The Hunter with Wilem Defoe last year but without giving to much away, the CG work was poor.

  • James

    I should have been more clearer when mentioning about product vs price that I was being specific to animals. Really hard to work with, added handling costs, dangers etc. but agree that often a practical solution is better. I’m on the fence really…when you see truly great cgi you often don’t even realize it.

  • Who’s gonna take care of all the destitute animal actors?

  • La Menthe

    >>”when you see truly great cgi you often don’t even realize it.”

    You will, eventually. Transformers was amazing, and nothing looked fake, when it came out in 2007. Now, when I look back on it, it looks pretty faje. The same goes for Avatar, which over time becomes dated.

    That’s why I always favor practical effects over CGI. CGI should only be used in small amounts, and always when all other options fail.

  • To be fair though, the stuff in Transformers and Avatar wasn’t going to be anything that was mistaken for real anyway, whether the CG was good or not, so of course you could look at it and go “That’s obviously CG”. It’s big killer robots and alien lifeforms and worlds. On the other hand, there’s plenty of real-world stuff (I’m thinking environments in particular) that gets CG’d all the time where you might not know it was CG unless it was pointed out to you. With that, it’s more a matter of how well the CG blends with what’s real.

  • bullet3

    Prime example of this is something like Zodiac, where my mind was blown when I saw the effects real and realized how many of the backgrounds were digital.

    CG excels at handling background vistas and doing set extensions, making shows like Game of Thrones and Battlestar Galactica possible.

    I agree though that ideally that’s where they’d stop, as it almost never looks as good when they use it for stuff that could be filmed practically, like stunts, explosions, etc.

  • Maopheus

    Here’s the difference I’d say. Imagine you are watching one of the usual nature documentaries that have been around forever. You are very familiar with how the animals look and feel, how they move. So imagine if one of the big CGI houses were to create a fake documentary where all the animals are CGI, but they didn’t tell you. I think you would not be able to tell real from CGI. However, a tiger in a rowboat, I think your brain immediately tells you that this scenario is unrealistic and therefore you are instinctively looking to see how “they” did it. It’s all about context. Very familiar animals in their natural habitat are very easy to do with CGI. However, a lion walking down an abandoned New York City street like in “I Am Legend” just stands as unusual and your eye becomes more discerning. You have to start engaging your suspension of disbelief in this case.

  • Jonathan

    CGI is unavoidable, and the questions is how we can use it well. And some of you guys give a very good point, and I actually completely agree with you. I believe 2009 is the year I was most generous to the use of CGI in films. You had a films like District 9, where even with a small budget, Blomkamp managed to not only give us great CGI, but also use it very well. The way he keeps everything low-key, and dark, and minor, makes the CGI much, much more convincing. The CGI on the large Alien-ship was barely undetectable – because it wasn’t a shining piece of metal right in front of our face; it was a sinister, bust structure that was hidden behind city fog and the color of the horizon. Even the aliens themselves looked more impressive than what we had ever seen on other hundred million dollar films. They looked real because the creative team that made them, didn’t make them gloom, but actually used the lightning and the color well, and integrated them well with the rest of the picture. That’s a huge mistake with a lot of CGI-objects: lightning and coloring.

    This is a factor I feel hasn’t developed at all the last 10 years. It seems like those who make the CGI want to show off their work by making it visually stand out in the picture, when it really should try to be a part of the picture as best as it can. This, along with the setting, is why the CGI is undetectable in Fincher’s films. He not only uses it to replicate background images, but his team also assimilates them with the rest of the picture perfectly.

    Just look at all the CGI he uses in The Girl With The Dragon Tatto (a film I thought barely included CGI), and notice the setting and the lightning of a lot of the work:

  • B. R. Holm

    Yes,animals don’t belong on movie sets..if they cannot be filmed in their natural environment without being harmed or made to suffer in anyway, I believe computer generated animals in movies is the most compassionate alternative!

  • Val23

    I hope he will. The use of animal trained in movies is barbaric and cruel. Animals such as lions, tigers, bears, wolves, elephants ect… don’t belong to the cinema’ set, they belong to the wild and there they should leave.

    Wild animals used in movies are children of animals from zoos or circus (who were take away from the wild or either were their parents) who are sold to cinema trainer who costantly beaten or torture them in order to make them submited to their orders. The use of real animals in movies, tv series, spot commercial or anything else is nothing but a cruel form of slavery. No animal is really happy, even if they want you to believe so.

    That’s why any director should use only CGI animals (or animatronic mechanical like in Jumanji, or take the scenes from documentaries-footage, like the polar bear in Man of Steel). And they should also use only FAKE FURS.

  • Val23

    You will, eventually. Transformers was amazing, and nothing looked fake, when it came out in 2007. Now, when I look back on it, it looks pretty faje < isn't the same for pratical effects, even more for pratical effects?

    The animatronic dinosaurs in Jurassic Park were great in 1995 but now that I look back I can istanly see that the animatronic are fake mechanical puppets and not real animals.

  • Val23

    There are plenty of sanctuaries who would be very happy to do so

  • Val23

    Only for retrogrades such as yourself

  • Val23

    Unfortunatly it was not

  • Val23

    It’s only a good thing if it’s happening