Technology pushes animals out of films

Bear necessity? Real-life animals in feature films may soon disappear.

In 1895, a dog wandered past a camera recording one of the first-ever films. Animals have been regular movie stars since then, but technology means they could soon be a thing of the past.

What’s happening

A small, colourful bird flutters across the screen. Behind it, thick, overgrown jungle comes into focus. This is the opening scene of The Jungle Book, a film full of beautiful, wild animals and luscious landscapes. In reality, though, the whole thing was created in a small studio in Los Angeles.

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Visual effects have led to the success of films such as Avatar. Now, filmmakers are turning to the same technology for their on-screen animals. In the past, working with animal actors was notoriously difficult because they can be unpredictable. Some animals can be harmed on sets, while others are too dangerous to handle.

Modern technology makes that struggle unnecessary. Life of Pi shocked audiences with its animated tiger and, in the 2020 film Call of the Wild, Harrison Ford’s dog co-star was played by a man in a motion-capture suit.

It doesn’t stop with animals. A company is currently using similar technology to make a film with James Dean, an actor who died over 60 years ago.

Are computer-generated images better than the real thing?

Some say…

Definitely. Not only is technology more predictable than animals, but it also widens the possibilities of cinema. Films like Life of Pi and The Jungle Book show humans interacting with highly dangerous, wild animals. This is safer for the animals as well as the actors since animal rights organisations say it is cruel to use animals for films.

Others think…

Of course not. Images of a creature created by a computer remove the true character of a real-life animal. Often, the unpredictable actions of on-screen animals are the most endearing moments on screen. It also takes a huge amount of money and skill to create a realistic beast. Using the technology on humans could also spell the end of actors completely.

You Decide

  1. Do you think actors will be replaced by computer animation one day?

Activities

  1. Using a smartphone or camera, make a film about the birds and animals you can see outside, or about your own pets, if you have them. Capture how they move on screen.

Some People Say...

“CGI makes you less inventive.”

Steven Spielberg, film director and winner of three Academy Awards

What do you think?

Word Watch

The Jungle Book
This 2016 remake of the classic cartoon has been described as “live action”, whereas the whole film was made inside a studio in the US.
Notoriously
Famous or well-known, typically for a bad deed or actions.
Motion-capture suit
A wearable device that records the body movements of the wearer. Computers are then used to make the animals look highly realistic.
Computer-generated images
Known as CGI for short, this is footage made entirely by computer technology.

Subjects

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