6 June 2020

sad-vader

CGI RIP?

Since forever, commercials have been inspired by the latest goings-on in popular cinema and TV. You could call that stealing, or you could call it being practical. If the people to whom you’re trying to sell cheesy peas love Mafia tough guys, and swivelly Matrix-style camera techniques, well why not show them a swivelly shot of a Mafia tough guy, enjoying our cheesy peas?

It was like that in 1977, when George Lucas and his visual effects company ‘Industrial Light and Magic’ sent a whole generation into orbit with their Star Wars films. Suddenly every advertiser who could afford it (and many who couldn’t) wanted computer-generated imagery, or CGI, in their ads.

Green-screens became as common on shoots as custardy desserts, “we can fix it in post” was a legitimate answer to every question, and a set wasn’t a set without a pale boffin skulking in the corner behind his kryptonite laptop, nodding every now and again to say that yes, we can certainly turn that ashtray into a spontaneously combusting octopus, for another 50K. (Nobody ever stopped to think that you could get a real octopus and a stick of dynamite from someone’s cousin’s friend’s uncle the fisherman-terrorist for twenty quid.)

But in the last year or so, a refreshing new trend has wild-fired through TV ads. As is often the case, it’s almost exactly the opposite of the trend that went before it. Now, more and more advertisers are making ads that are proudly lo-fi – the charmingly homemade and small-scale answer to the megatronic wowza of CGI.

From McDonalds to Land Rover advertisers worldwide have embraced or at least dabbled in this new, “let’s do it all in camera” aesthetic. Why?

Partly, it’s a bit cheaper, though not always very much. (Doing everything for real often means longer shoots but with fewer people, less post-production but more pre-production, so everything balances out.) Partly, it LOOKS a bit cheaper – and in a year of not wanting to be seen to be spending oodles of money, that’s attractive for some advertisers.

More than those first two… it’s that derivative/pragmatic thing again. YouTube has fundamentally altered the public’s taste and metabolism for visual entertainment. Certainly people are still wowed by effects-heavy blockbusters, in the cinemas and in the ad breaks. But a new generation of consumers are also happy to watch smaller stuff, with lower production values – as long as it’s entertaining and fresh and there’s something new tomorrow.

So, if the people to whom you’re selling cheesy peas love embarrassing dancers at weddings, and stop-frame animations of little figures cut out of newspapers – why not give them a stopframe animation of an embarrassing newspaper cut-out wedding dancer, enjoying your cheesy peas?

Dylan Cotter

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