Digital realism: Reality or fake?

When we talk about digital realism, we think of some fiction movies, such as Jurassic Park (1990), The Matrix (1999) and Avatar (2009) and so on. The advancement of new technology allows filmmakers use technology, such as CGI, 3-D computer animation, or computer synthetic images to make films that to present reality to audiences.

Therefore, Manovich pointed that with these technologies, a viewer has the experience of moving around a simulated 3D space (2011: 785).

It is undeniable that realistic visual effects provide a good visual experience for audiences.

James Cameron described his effort on Avatar as “the seduction of reality” meaning that he wants to create an experience so detailed and textured that audiences could surrender completely to it. Visual effects always have been a seduction of reality, more so today than ever before. (Prince, 2012:9)


Indeed, Avatar (2009) is film that represents the use of digital technology and this is a 3-D film. These objects in this film were created by digital technology and some scenes were shot in the studio rather than real world. Another example is Arrival (2016) where some scenes and images were created by digital technologies. The alien comes to earth and tries to communicate with the human. These scenes do not exist in real world and only exist in people’s imagination. However, new technology helps these imaginations become reality in a film.


These scenes in fiction films do not exist in real life, so filmmakers have to use digital technology to create them. To some degree, using digital technology is an important way to present reality to audiences. However, some films reflect some social problems, such as poverty, policy and so on, so if a director wants to reveal some social issues in the real world, then the scenes and stories need to come from the real world rather than the studio. If these filmmakers use digital technology to create images and film in the studio, for the audience, it may in other ways seem fake and unreal. Although digital technology can achieve reality for audiences, it does not mean that all films have to use digital technology to present reality. Therefore, for some fiction films, using digital technology presents reality and brings a good visual experience to audiences. It is, However, not suitable for other films.


Manovich, L. (2001) ‘Synthetic realism and its discontents’ and ‘The synthetic image and its subject’, in The Language of the Media, University of California, San Diego.

Prince, S. (2012). Introduction: Beyond Spectacle. In: Prince, S. Digital Visual Effects in Cinema. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.p1-10.

Dandan LI


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