Best CGI practices: DC vs. Marvel
Who is going to win the battle of the century? A conversation about the best CGI practices is impossible without at least a brief mentioning of the two largest cinematic universes — Marvel and DC.
So, we will not attempt to do the impossible. Even more so, we will try to answer who does CGI better and why.
To make our analysis easier, we have mainly used the most recent movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and DC Extended Universe, namely Avengers: Infinity War and Justice League. Both movies attempt to make a similar point and have a similar premise, so comparing them makes the most sense.
Of course, if you are a fan of superhero movies, the answer is hardly going to surprise you. But you might not know why things are the way they are. So for all the curious people, we decided to take on a challenge and look into what makes visual effects of the one movie so much better than the other. We have tried to be objective… But let’s be honest — it is a movie, and a little bit of subjectivity is unavoidable. Now that you are warned, let’s proceed to the battle of the century.
You might think, that it should not be an important factor, but movies are made for an audience. If the special effects do not impress or immerse it means they did not deliver what they promised. So, if we count it as criteria, we need to acknowledge that people’s perception of DC’s the Justice League was not the best. The audience did not believe the world is set up and found the special effects funny and awkward.
On the other hand, Marvel’s latest Avengers delivered its visual effects perfectly. It joined the list of the movies with the best CGI practices. There is an integrity to the world created by Marvel in Infinity War. The audience agreed that it had one of the most powerful VFX and rewarded the movie with excellent reviews and their money.
The earlier DC movies did this a little better than Justice League. Man of Steel, for example, might have not been the best movie, but it had a beautiful world. The CGI in the movie was seamless and felt real. It was easy to believe that everything happening on screen might have taken place in the real world, even though DC stories are set in a fictional dimension. It is still among the best CGI practices in the history of cinematography. Justice League was much weaker in that sense. Every CGI heavy scene took the viewer completely out of the established world.
Now, let’s move on to Marvel. The thing with Marvel is that the action in the movie is meant to be set in our world. That means that the world they create needs to both feel realistic, and fantastical at the same time. And we might be a little biased here, but Marvel delivers on both of the aspects excellently. It handles explosions and real-life actions just as well as it does the creation of fantastical universes from scratch. Infinity War is one of the movies that used the best CGI practices in Hollywood. When you watched the movie, we bet that for at least a second you probably completely forgot it was all made up. And that is the best compliment a CGI artist can get.
Winner: both (or none, if you will. The older movies saved the day for DC)
Some might question whether those two movies even need to be compared. In the case of Marvel, the audience was dealing with an already well-received and established universe, while DC is still trying to create an equally powerful cinematic presence. But the budget that both movies had spent to create the world is what evens them out. Though completely different in quality, and scale, they had $300 million budget in common.
What makes the difference is how they decided to spend it. To make sure that the new movie is going to showcase some of the best CGI practices, Marvel spends most of its budget on VFX (and actors). Most of Justice League’s budget went on rushed re-shootings of the movie. Instead of investing in believable graphics, they basically shot the same thing twice. That is why that despite having large production value, the movie seemed flat and rushed, and some of the visual felt like a joke. Just remember Henry Cavill’s badly removed mustache.
The quality of CGI is not always about how it looks but also about the inside culture of the company. If the company wants the visual effects it produces to be among the best CGI practices, the company needs to treat visual effects right.
Marvel thinks of CGI as an integral part of its world-building and directing. The studio went so far as to start running a course that teaches upcoming directors how to use VFX in their directing. At Marvel, CGI is not a limitation but a power. Even though visual effects are expensive, they are much cheaper than massive reshoots and practical decoration of the same scale. Besides, people that do VFX at Marvel love their job and push the boundaries with every project. Just hear the director of visual effects talk about her experience working at Marvel.
DC views CGI as a necessary evil. Warner Bros. Entertainment is not invested in integrating it into its directional process and views it more as a post-production necessity. That might be why some of the effects feel out of place, forced, and inappropriate. When you watch CGI heavy scenes of Justice League, you wish the movie did not use special effects altogether. It might have been the result of constant conflicts that they did not use the best CGI practices in the industry. But it does not excuse them, they definitely could have done better.
A blockbuster movie that using CGI is almost a rule, not an exception. Most of the VFX for large movie productions are even done by the same companies. Which means that to be among the best CGI practices the movie does not need to use it all the time — just when it is necessary. Marvel, however, relies on mindblowing visual effects a little too much. For example, many group shots in Infinity War were not shot with everyone in the same room. All the characters’ parts were shot separately and then reunited using the power of CGI. It does not mean that the effects are bad, but sometimes they are too much. Not without reason, Marvel movies are almost synonymous with CGI animation.
DC is a little more reasonable with its special effects. That might be the reason that the scenes that are not CGI heavy feel very human and simple. In the earlier movies, the studio was even more rational with its visual effects. That is why we will give this point to DC.
And the best CGI practices are…
At this point in space and time, it is unquestionably Marvel. It should have not been a surprise, considering that in the above-mentioned categories Avengers: Infinity War got 3.5 out of 5.
You might have noticed that we did not say much about the skill of the artists, and there is a reason. Both D and Marvel use similar CGI studios, and that is why there is no doubt that the visual effects are of an excellent quality. What does make the difference in the quality of CGI is when, how, and why those special effects were used. And that’s where Marvel movies are an obvious winner. No matter how much I love the DC Extended Universe, Justice League needs to accept the defeat.
The main reason we, at Digitec, were so passionate about the battle between two the VFX battle between the largest superhero universes is because we also do (and love doing) CGI animation. Our professionals strive to up their game with every single animation they produce. And we like sharing our knowledge (and unbiased opinions) with the world. Contact us if you are looking for a CGI solution for your movie, website, or other marketing purposes.