What can we learn about ourselves from CGI?
I recently took my son to an open day for a university he was interested in. We were looking into film, TV, and video game production courses. As expected, the college was showcasing showcasing some of their students' work, but I found myself struck by one image in particular. The subject-matter wasn't particularly remarkable, it was night-time, a dark alley in some non-descript city, wet from some recent rainfall. But what striking about it was the level of detail, the way that the recent rain had formed into small pools and rivulets around the cobblestones, the way that the streetlight and moonlight played off the stones and the wet concrete.
I said to my son, "Come see this! It's so realistic, it could be a photograph, but someone has constructed this in 3D on a computer. You can even see seams in the concrete, you can make out tiny fissures and cracks, it looks incredible..." The artist had even thought to include the dented tops of rubbish cans, random trash and detritus so carefully placed by the artist as to make it seem careless and arbitrary.
Well you get the idea...
And while photo-realistic CGI is nothing new (and constantly improving) I found this image one of the most impressive that I had ever seen before.
It gave me cause to think, and helped me realise a couple of things:
Firstly, how far we had comes in such a short time in computer generated graphics? From the early days in the eighties of Max Headroom, and Dire Straits' 'Money for Nothin' music video (google it kids). Or Hollywood movies like 'Tron', 'The Last Starfighter', or 'The Lawnmower Man'. I can remember as a kid being so impressed by these graphics with their clean lines and perfect symmetry.
Which let me on to my second -and far more important- realisation:
That it is the details, the tiny imperfections which made this image so realistic. And what a thing! To think that we had come so far in the development of technical precision and perfection that we were now at the point where inclusion of the imperfections was the remarkable thing.
What can we learn from this? What does this say about us as human beings? Well, perhaps that you with all your tiny flaws and imperfections, with your scattered and sometimes poorly hidden trash, maybe these are the things that make you you. Maybe these are the things that make you authentic. That make you remarkable. And when I look at my son, my beautiful boy, who is beleaguered by my own ghosts of anxiety and depression, and I think of all the things that I love about him; and what I love is all of his imperfections. His anxieties, his worries, because they are what makes him uniquely 'him'.
And perhaps, just perhaps, all of those social media influencers out there, the Instagram models with their filters and Photoshop obfuscating their own flaws and imperfections will undergo a similar evolution. Perhaps we are now starting to realize and see just how fake and unrealistic these images are. Perhaps deep down inside all of us there is a yearning to see something more real, more human, authentic, and relatable.
The unbelievably lifelike images below are all created on computer using the Unreal Engine. I take this as a tribute to nature and not as a competitor, copy, or slight, and marvel at the artists' ability and the technical competency.