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Why fewer computer graphics make for better movies

The reviews for Mad Max: Fury Roadincluding ours — talk at length about the film's practical effects and what a relief they are in a world of computer-generated special effects. And with the rise of the Fast & Furious franchise (which features at least a couple of big, practically achieved stunts per movie) and director J.J. Abrams's renewed commitment to practical effects for the upcoming Star Wars film, this concept is having its moment in the sun. But what does the term practical effects mean?

In short, it's pretty much any effect that is achieved on the set of the film or (occasionally) using in-camera trickery. For a good example, think of the friendly alien E.T., who was a combination of many different kinds of effects that created the sense of a real creature on set with the actors.

Or consider the opening shot of Star Wars, with that giant spaceship that goes on and on and on forever. That's a specially constructed miniature.

Nowadays both E.T. and that spaceship would be created in a computer. And there's nothing inherently wrong with that. But something gets a little lost when anything is possible, and that's too often the case with computer effects. So watch above to get the scoop on why practical effects are sometimes so much better.

Correction: The original version of this article included a YouTube clip featuring an E.T. with a computer-generated face. To better express what we're talking about, we've replaced it with one from the original 1982 version of the film.


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