You ever see a movie and it has some simply amazing visuals yet you know there is no way it cost a ton of money? How did they do that? How can a film that costs $30 or $40 million look just as good, if not better, than a film that cost triple, quadruple, or more than that? It’s all about aesthetics
Let’s compare James Cameron’s Avatar with the cult classic Sky Captain & The World of Tomorrow. Sky Captain’s amazing visuals come more from aesthetics and visual creativity while Avatar is more detail and the quality of face animation from the significant advances in motion capture technology. I think both look amazing. There are a ton of films that look amazing thanks to aesthetics and art design stepping up to shine over high end detail and tech. Look at a film like District 9. There’s a film that looked insanely good and yet had a budget of around $30 million. Or look at Sin City which took it’s adaptation to the visuals as well and looked pretty awesome again thanks to aesthetic design and of course was modestly budgeted thanks to Robert Rodriguez who makes the some great movies with cost effective techniques.
The point is that there are many different roads to making a visually interesting world. In Avatar, one of the reasons the 3D works so well is because the film is very colorful, even in the night scenes. This is covered in the story by giving the forest bio-luminescence which makes the forest glow at night. This not only makes the 3D work during scenes where it normally wouldn’t, but gives the world of Pandora a unique vibe that is rooted in naturally occurring phenomena.
With 300, they took scenes from the graphic novel and made them come to life on screen. You can literally take the graphic novel and read it while watching the movie and the scenes look exactly the same except the film is in motion. They also lifted the book’s aesthetics, using amber, blood red, and black of the primary colors for the entire film. This, combined with the stylistic camera shots, is a part of why 300 became such a huge hit.
District 9 took a small budget and maximized every thing it could with such a budget. It used clever editing, puppetry, some slightly dated but still usable CGI and unique art and character design to help shape a world unlike anything anyone had seen before yet striking parallels to our own. Combine that with a gripping tale and powerful acting and you have a great film.
Those are just a few examples. Many more exist in the world of film and each is fairly intriguing to look at. Hunt them out when you can.