When we talk about CGI (computer-generated imagery), we tend to talk about fantasy: alien spaceships, soaring superheroes, armies of apes. These inventions require visual effects, and because we have nothing from real-life to compare to, say, a Na’vi, we’re more willing to accept the approximation. But increasingly, CGI can also be used, convincingly, to recreate real-life, such as in period films.
The latest example of this use of CGI, and one of the best I’ve seen, is The Wolf of Wall Street. In fact, the effects are so good that before I watched this effects reel I didn’t even realize they were in there. Barren beaches were repopulated, scenes were copied-and-pasted from one shooting location to the next, and Martin Scorsese’s camera was allowed to move more freely than ever. The one thing I thought was fake, wasn’t: That lion in the Stratton Oakmont ad was real. (It was just green-screened in.)
We’ve seen this kind of thing before: more than a decade ago, in movies like Gladiator (2000) and Forrest Gump (1994), and more recently, in movies like Zodiac (2007) and The Secret in Their Eyes (2009). Even circa 2014, it’s still not always convincing—The Great Gatsby’s effects frequently felt fake, though perhaps that was by design. The Wolf of Wall Street shows we’re getting closer and closer to the other side of the uncanny valley.