In 1983, a long time before Hollywood audiences fell in love with Computer Generating Imagery, also commonly known as “CGI”, the first experiment in a commercial motion picture film that combined live action and archival footage took place. This happened in Woody Allen’s groundbreaking film, “Zelig”, which he wrote, directed and starred in. Allen was the first filmmaker to use CGI in his production, which would be the beginnings of CGI, which would transform films into places we’ve never been before. CGI would forever assist the filmmaker in making his historical storytelling credible to all audiences.
“Zelig”, which is no doubt one of his most brilliant storytelling gems from Allen’s catalog of films is about a freak documentary about Leonard Zelig, who has paranormal abilities, like a chameleon who changes himself just by looking at someone; for example, in a presence full of Chinese people, he would change right before your eyes and become Chinese. The culmination scene is when Leonard one day disappears all of the sudden under unclear circumstances, and the psychologist, played by Mia Farrow, who is in love with him, and has been desperately searching for him until she saw him in the movie theatre movie screen, that was screening news from the world. At that moment, Leonard is standing amongst the crowd of people saluting the Adolf Hitler in Nazis Germany. Here is a beginning of a new computer technique that allowed Leonard to be pasted in the archive footage of that time.
The next major motion picture production using CGI was “Forrest Gump, directed by Robert Zemeckis, a story about a not very intelligent man that by accident became involved in historical events. The film won six Academy Awards, and many scenes would be never forgotten, as well as memorable quotes: “Life is like a box of chocolates…you never know what you’re gonna get.”. Forrest Gump was full of historical figures like JFK, Nixon or Elvis Presley. After the critical and commercial artistic success of “Forrest Gump”, CGI became the King of Hollywood.
“Zelig” was a black and white movie because the computer technology did not advanced to the point to solve matching colors. Ten years after “Zelig” was made, Forrest Gump made that possible.
However, computer technology is not that simple that can be seen from outside. It takes time and effort to build it. The producers of the last American hit, “Avengers”, were sharing their challenges, especially with the battle scene on the street of the city. The main characters were created in the computer and then carefully applied to match against the panoramic view of New York where the film was shot. Matching the colors became the ultimate challenge to the point that was easier to build the city on the computer. The production took one year.
Nothing easier is with animation movies that seem to be under full control of graphic computer designers. Building the reality using the CGI has the limitations as movement, gestures and mimic of the human face. But there are no doubts that technology is more and more advanced.
However, manipulation with computer images would not replace what is cinema about – the story.
The new HBO production “Hemingway and Gellhorn”, which was first aired on HBO on May 2012, utilized the archive footage from the domestic war in Spain, the Japanese invasion in China, and finally the Hemingways’ home in Cuba. Directed by Philip Kaufman, film is a saga about Hemingway and his third wife, Martha Gellhorn, starring Cliff Owen and Nicole Kidman.
According to the movie it was Hemingway, who made Gellhorn a full pledge war correspondent (describe what you see your own eyes, Gellhorn) and had a big influence on her writing. In exchange she was credited for inspiring him to write a novel “For Whom the Bell Tolls”. Serving as a reporter in Spain in 1936 was just beginning of her carrier which she became dedicated to the rest of her life. She went to Spain, China, Finland, Hong Kong, Burma, Singapore and Britain. She became more obsessed with it that Hemingway who, while she was away, stayed in their house nearby Havana, Cuba and was sending angry letters to her “Are you a war correspondent or my wife?”.
Now nearly everything that Hollywood produces is mainly CGI, most of them sacrificing the stories. However, CGI, can truly enhance films. They are essential tools that need brilliant filmmakers who have a real historical story to tell, like Woody Allen, Robert Zemeckis, or Philip Kaufman.