I’m not going to blog about the Olympics. This is not the place, and aside from the badminton, I’m not really gripped by the Games. What I saw of the opening ceremony (did anyone watch all four hours?) was truly spectacular, especially the giant globe with acrobats running all around its surface, in clear breach of the laws of gravity.
There was also a spectacular aerial fly-by shot of Beijing with overhead views of fireworks making the shapes of footprints in the sky striding across the city. Wow. And wow again. So, it was kind of a disappointment, but a bit less of a surprise, to learn that the fireworks were not detonated “live”, but were pre-prepared using computer-generated effects and inserted into the live feed for the ceremony broadcast around the world. Does that spoil things? The one in the picture below was apparently real, but the fireworks in the flyby were added digitally. They even corrected the animation to simulate the look of Beijing’s famous smog.
We shouldn’t be surprised to learn that such a capability exists, but is it cheating? Does it break a contract of trust with the viewers that what we see represents the skilfull marshalling of talent in the arena rather than the editing suite? It is telling that the man chosen to direct the ceremony was Zhang Yimou, the film-maker who has recently discovered a wearisome interest in serried ranks of CGI warriors and similarly synthetic renderings of Chinese history. It is tempting to see in this manipulation of the ceremony’s global reception a summation of China’s willingness to favour the image over the reality, of perception over actuality. CGI fireworks won’t go off out of synch. They will only behave as planned, with no embarrassing varables to make you lose face in the eyes of the world. Just like the little girl who was not cute enough to be seen singing a song at the ceremony, but whose voice was commandeered by another kid, this was a telling replacement of actuality with image. How cute.
P.S. Check out Bob Rehak at Graphic Engine’s intelligent response to the CGI “scandal” at the Olympics. Mitchell Whitelaw’s blog entry is also fascinating.