What Are Digital Extras?

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Many people don’t realize that as computer animation has evolved, some of the movies that they watch are populated with “digital extras”, or ‘computer generated extras’. Digital extras are ‘people’ who are actually computer generated, often used to fill in a crowd scene in a movie.

A director may choose to use digital extras for one of several reasons, not the least of which is that it can be more cost effective, and easier to control. But you do lose something in the process.

As Ben Affleck explained in an interview, he chose to not use digital extras for the crowd scenes in his film Argo, because computer generated extras still don’t seem entirely human, if you look closely, and you lose the randomness of features and movement that real people have.

Wikipedia observes, of computer generated extras, that “CGI is used because it is often cheaper than physical methods, such as constructing elaborate miniatures for effects shots or hiring a great deal of extras for crowd scenes, and because it allows the creation of images that would not be feasible using any other method. It can also allow a single artist to produce content without the use of actors or other contributors to the project.”

So the next time you are at the theater, or watching a movie on DVD or on-demand, check out the crowd scenes and see if you can spot the use of digital extras.

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