Did The Force Awakens Save Practical Effects From Extinction?

Did JJ Abrams decision to use practical effects instead of using even more computer generated effects his successor George Lucas created for the series save practical effects and puppeteering from extinction?

Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens

As of last week The Force Awakens will overtake Avatar as the all time high grossing movie domestically and will overtake The Avengers as the fourth highest grossing movie of all time worldwide. This is all after 19 days in theaters and it still hasn’t been released in China. It’s also broken about 40 records so far, being the fastest to every money number imaginable, having the highest opening weekend, and was only a million short of being the highest grossing movie of 2015 with only being alive in 2015 for 14 days. But besides box office records, what does The Force Awakens mean for the film industry? Are there lessons in this seventh installment?

What does it all mean?

Puppeteering

Abrams also brought back a lot of the old practical techniques for the special effects. The main complaints I have heard about The Force Awakens deal with the CGI characters of Snoke and Maz Kanata. Both performances use motion capture and both performances are completely covered in CG. I think our brains know the difference between CG and real life and we unconsciously call BS on CG and our eyes tend to gloss over it. Ask me what happened in a Michael Bay Transformers movie and I have no idea because my eyes simply gloss over all of the heavy action and computer generated effects. This too, Abrams, realized about the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy and took it upon himself to use puppetry and real things to make the world of Star Wars come to life.

Puppetry had become a lost art in movie making, but Abrams brought it back and not only that, he used computers and CGI to get rid of puppeteers, something that seems so simple to accomplish, but this is really the first time CGI has been used as a tool to puppeteering, as opposed to being it’s replacement. Now, you could have a full Yoda puppet (that is if he was still alive), and Frank Oz wouldn’t have to contort his body under a propped up rock on Dagobah, they could simply remove Frank in post, just leaving the Yoda puppet and Oz’s performance intact. Will this be the way movies are made from now on? It remains to be seen, but with The Force Awakens is making it’s way to becoming the highest grossing movie of all time, hopefully the studios realize that part of that success was puppeteering.

The first character we see is BB-8 and it's blatantly obvious Abrams wanted the first thing we see practicial, much like the first thing we ever see from the movie was the first teaser, released in November 2014, where Finn jolts into camera, his face sweaty. A real actor! Real sweat! First John Boyega's sweaty face and then BB-8 to show us how practical a movie can be, further separating itself from the prequel trilogy, but more importantly creating a new future for puppets in major motion pictures.

Realistically this may be a fluke, the studios may still find it cheaper and safer to use CGI and the magic of ILM’s computers; what we need are directors who want a need to take on puppeteering as a serious art form and push it on the studios.

Here's the list of the upcoming films from Disney:

Disney Studios:

The Finest Hours - January 29, 2016 The Jungle Book - April 15, 2016

Alice Through the Looking Glass - May 27, 2016

The BFG - July 1, 2016

Pete's Dragon - August 12, 2016

Beauty and the Beast - March 17, 2017

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales July 7, 2017

Untitled Disney live-action fairy tale film - December 22, 2017

Untitled Disney live-action fairy tale film November 2, 2018

Untitled Disney live-action fairy tale film March 29, 2019

Untitled DisneyToon Studios film April 12, 2019

Untitled Disney live-action fairy tale film - November 8, 2019

Disney Animation Studios / Pixar Animation Studios:

Zootopia - March 4, 2016

Finding Dory - June 17, 2016

Moana - November 23, 2016

Cars 3 - June 16, 2017

Coco November 22, 2017

Gigantic - March 9, 2018

Toy Story 4 - June 15, 2018

The Incredibles 2 - June 21, 2019

Untitled Pixar film - March 13, 2020

Untitled Pixar film - June 19, 2020

Untitled Disney Animation film - November 25, 2020

LucasFilm:

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story - December 16, 2016

Star Wars: Episode VIII - May 26, 2017

Untitled Han Solo Anthology Story - 2018

Star Wars: Episode IX - May 24, 2019

Untitled Boba Fett Anthology Story - 2020

Marvel Studios:

Captain America: Civil War - May 6, 2016

Doctor Strange - November 4, 2016

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 - May 5, 2017

Untitled Spider-Man film - July 28, 2017

Thor: Ragnarok - November 3, 2017

Black Panther - February 16, 2018

Avengers: Infinity War – Part 1 - May 4, 2018

Ant-Man and the Wasp - July 6, 2018

Captain Marvel - March 8, 2019

Avengers: Infinity War – Part 2 - May 3, 2019

Inhumans - July 12, 2019

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