My Speculative View Of Tokusatsu's Wonderful Mixture Of Old School And New School Techniques

It can't be denied that even when it's 2017 some old school methods are still used along with new school methods. You can tell that while filming methods and equipment have been replaced by new school equipment (ex. remote controlled electric fans, better fog producing machines, higher pixel for cameras, better CGI is now available) but there's still a bit of old school methods going on. Take note that this isn't only applicable to Toei but also other studios that produce Tokusatsu or similar shows. Also, this is just a glimpse. If you want to learn more, get a real expert in filming techniques to explain the rest. I'm just sharing my thoughts in this post.

The wonderful combination of CGI and real life action scenes

There were some super risky stunts that were done before the dawn of better CGI special effects. One of my favorite examples is the use of the Flame Sword in Super Sentai. I thought of what could have happened while the stuntman Kazuo Niibori did this stunt in Bioman. I wish that the Flame Sword had more screen time but it would be too dangerous to do so. Later flaming sword scenes would use a combination of real flames and CGI flames. A good example would be how Kakuranger carried out its flame sword stunt in episode 20. Shinkenger though didn't use any real flames considering that they wanted more screen time for the flaming sword. I think they could have had a real flame sword start-up for stock footage while using the impressive CGI flames for the rest of the scene. Still, I can't deny that I'd still go for CGI flames since I want to see the flaming sword have more screen time. This just leaves me the question why didn't Bioman use a combination of CGI and real flames back then when they were using CGI for certain scenes like the Biomen's other sword techniques used CGI?

CGI is used when you have impossible to film scenes such as the transformation sequences of the heroes from civilian form to rangers, humans transforming into something else, the mecha combination sequence (though I think stop motion may also be involved in some scenes during the past), the fancy fighting techniques and finishing moves because they can't be done in real life. A good example would be how Ryu Voyager appeared. It's obviously the use of CGI. The use of CGI has evolved overtime. As much as I like the plot of most old school Super Sentai but I don't deny how the CGI of the 80s are pretty limited compared to what is available today. The use of CGI for impossible to do scenes are still evolving and learning from mistakes that come along the way in how to do them better.

My wild guess is that a lot of these explosions are set are pretty real while they do get edited or there could be some special filming techniques make the explosions appear closer than it looks. The distance may be farther than we think yet it looks like the explosion is just behind the back of the cast in spandex. Hmmm care to get an explanation from Michael Bay anyone? I guess some the exploding cities are actually the miniature cities destroyed while CGI is used to exaggerate the explosions.

What appears gigantic on screen is actually much smaller in real life 

Super Sentai mecha and enemy mecha have a combination of digital technology and the use of model figures. What looks gigantic on-screen are usually model figures for the mecha or enemy fortresses or just a man in a suit. If I'm not wrong mecha combinations are usually a series of stop motion and the obvious use of CGI. The giant monster battles use a combination of miniature cities and CGI. These methods seem not to disappear but only advanced with newer and better techniques to carry things out. It's like it's already 2017 but you're enjoying a lot of old school music played with top of the class quality on i-Tunes or Spotify.

IMO I feel it's all about the spirit of Super Sentai that you can't really do away with the suit actors doing the giant robots and giant monster fight scenes. Sure you have those impressive use of CGI special effects to combine the mecha (while there may also be the use of stop-motion figures in-between) but you can't deny how it's nice to see two actual people do the fight scenes while using both a miniature and/or CGI city for the fight scenes. A lot of self-made footage are still spliced here and there while fight scenes are still filmed by stuntmen. I just feel that the classic use of suit actors to film the giant battle scenes has been improvised throughout the years with better techniques to make it look like a giant robot battle happened in the middle of the city but it was just some miniature cities and CGI settings.

Here's a rare behind the scenes footage of Dynaman. Although I wish videos like this showed what happened behind the scenes with newer Super Sentai but I think this method was just improvised throughout the years. This is a scene of the Grand Gizmo from Dynaman. We get to see a lot of DUNDUNDUN here comes the gigantic machine that's squashing the city. But when we go to the studio it was just a miniature model that was used. I think a lot of stuff in new school Super Sentai still use some improvised new school miniature models like the Orion in this year's Kyuranger. All these get spliced into some wonderful CGI. Maybe this method won't disappear from Tokusatsu anytime soon but it will continue to get the benefits of new school technology.

Why do some old school methods still exist while using newer technology to do so?

From a blog called English for Communication, here's something that I find would explain why old school methods are combined with new school methods:

The first and most obvious reason is the cost. In hindsight, practical effects and practical stunts are cheaper and less time consuming. Once you shot it, you can threw the scene into the editing room, threw in necessary CGI and Sound Effect and that's it! Jobs done for that scene. You don't need the artist to put CGI in every scene, because many of their work was done on the set already. The other reason is to keep the art alive, they could easily do it all CGI with some capital. If you compare the Zyuranger's Daizyuzin fight to the Megazord fight Scene from latest Power Rangers movie, Power Rangers was apapted from Zyuranger, you can see the difference clear as day. Power Rangers movie used CGI for Megazord but Zyuranger used real actors in a robot and monster costume and had a bout on a miniature city scene. It looks fake but there is a charm to this type of the style, considering that Star Wars Episode VII switched to Practical effect based shooting from CGI-loaded Star Wars Episode I-III. Also tokusatsus are made to sell toys to the child audiences, if they see that the actors and the fights are real, most kids will eat their toys up in no time.

In the end, I want to think that this is really what you'd call an amazing blend of old school and new school methods. This would be like you can't live in the past but you can't forget its lessons either. It's all about finding a middle road whenever it's possible. Somehow old school methods aren't so old school if you think about it. It's like having a clay oven in your house but it was produced using modern technology. You're still using some form of stone grinder this 2017 but it was produced using modern technology. You're still listening to a lot of golden oldies but you're listening to them on modern equipment. Mailing confidential documents placed inside envelopes is still on practice while they're delivered around using modern technology. On the other hand some stuff like VHS tapes, cassette tapes and typewriters are now obsolete. Even when they're obsolete yet we learn the principles like proper finger position for typing while we take advantage of the opportunity to edit before printing so less paper will be wasted.

It's all about preserving the lessons of the past while embracing change for the future isn't it?


  1. I think the reason why they didn't use as much CGI in Bioman was because it was still in its infancy. You have to remember, that was back in 1984. Even the special-effects heavy blockbusters of the 1980s didn't use as much CGI as they do today.

    1. Hmmm you do have a point about how CGI back then was still not ready for big time use unlike today. Bioman's CGI wasn't all that impressive considering the time it was in.


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