.. I feel like I'm wasting a fortune just standing here" (Treehouse of Horror VI). This was the attitude of many animators for years who struggled to advance their technology while battling financial constraints.
In the last decade, however, great advancements have been made not only in the capabilities of computer graphic artists and software but in the ability of computers to animate more for less; it didn't hurt that animation studios were granted larger budgets to explore CGI options. Feature films like the CGI breakout hit Toy Story paved the way for more investment in computer animation and now people in the film industry are beginning to wonder whether computer animation is destined to overtake the role of real, live actors.
CGI is an acronym for computer generated imagery; this field encompasses many different specific computer graphics such as landscaping, people, animals, weather and other special effects (Pierson, 2002, 3). 3D computer graphics were primarily used for special effects in TV and movies before the trend of feature length computer animated films caught on, animators focused their efforts on creating new, and ultimately cheaper and less complicated, ways of dealing with onscreen special effects. Traditionally, special effects could include anything from a fire in a burning building to a full on explosion, or even the tricks of an illusionist which were too complicated to be performed in reality.
With CGI animation, television and film producers can sidestep the often messy and unpredictable hazards of physical special effects and actually make the outcome closer to what they had envisioned to begin with. Specifically, special efforts on computer began to take the place of the creation of miniatures (used when large scale models are too cumbersome) and also to take the place of hundreds of extra cast members for shots with large numbers of people (Payne, 1994, 201). Computer animation meant that producers didn't need to deal with unnecessary numbers of people or tricky special effects, and also that they could produce the required special effects under a perfectly controlled environment.
CGI has progressed from this rudimentary usage into full-scale animation that includes all cast members, all scenery and all special effects. As the animation software becomes more advanced, computer animators have been able to upgrade from what seems very similar to regular animation to intricate, detailed and often very lifelike landscapes, special effects and even characters. Although animators have struggled for years to perfect the animated form of a human, the results are getting closer and closer to the kind of realism that is already found in CGI landscapes (Lovejoy, 2004, 178-179). As yet, the computer animated human has not fully satisfied either animators or audiences simply because of the high level of realism granted by the other aspects of the film. The desire of computer animators to achieve near-reality with their graphics is the reason why some people in the industry have started to wonder about the future of the real, human actor; the reality of computer graphics at the moment makes it seem very unlikely, however.