Those Nipples Better Be Real

Chicago Tribune’s RedEye August 4, 2011

My world has, for the most part, only gotten better as CGI has improved. It’s let me visit Jurassic Park, follow shifty-eyed Gollum to Mordor and witness Spider-Man swing through the New York skyline in a way the comic books never could capture. But with great power comes great responsibility.

There is a strange and disturbing trend creeping up in my digitally altered movie world: CGI nudity.

Computer-generated imaging allows modest actors to be digitally altered after filming ceases. Pasties and panties are erased, and nipples are drawn on to paint the prudish actors into liberated, flawlessly beautiful beings.

Olivia Wilde, the luscious brunette, recently revealed she has a topless scene in this weekend’s new movie “The Change-Up”—thanks to CGI. This news comes on the heels of Jessica Alba’s much-ballyhooed CGI shower scene in 2010’s “Machete.” Is this the future of film nudity? A nip slip with the click of a mouse?

Sure, I would have remained in the dark about Wilde’s fake areolas had she not used the factoid as conversation fodder on “Jimmy Kimmel Live.” No one (probably) would have been able to tell they weren’t really her nipples if she hadn’t owned up to it. Not to mention there are plenty of movies with uncredited body doubles masquerading as your favorite celeb’s perfect rump. The question is: Where does it end?

If you can computer-generate a nipple, why not go further and create full-frontal nudity or graphic sex scenes post-production? Will actors need to have “no-CGI nudity” clauses in their contracts? Will the price of real nudity be a negotiation point? $5 million for a digital areola, but $10 million for the real thing?

Moreover, what about the ick factor of fake nudity? At a certain point, CGI’d humans stop looking realistic and start looking creepy. It’s why Tom Hanks in “The Polar Express” gave you worse nightmares than Freddy Krueger ever did.

There’s also the obvious flaw of CGI nudity: It isn’t real. Excluding gratuitous nudity that can easily be handed off to a body double, sometimes being naked is important to the authenticity of the movie magic. The moment in which the two lovers fall into bed won’t be as convincing because acting naked isn’t the same as actually being naked. Those titillating scenes will lack the sexuality and vulnerability of being naked.

Let’s not forget that nudity on film extends beyond just sex scenes. The big reveal in “The Crying Game” would have fallen flat if the iconic shot had been computer code. The rape scene in “A Clockwork Orange” wouldn’t have been as terribly realistic and, therefore, as horrifying without the actual nudity.

The fake nudity debate shouldn’t be as black-and-white as “Is it right or wrong?” My concern: Is it necessary? This isn’t an issue of using CGI to manufacture a stunt that is too dangerous for a real person—it’s just a boob. We don’t need Industrial Light and Magic’s help to recreate a nipple.

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