(Source: Variety.com)         As the Screen Actors Guild readies its first-ever awards to stuntpersons, some have found irony in recognizing a community at the exact moment when CGI advances seem destined to render that community irrelevant — or at best secondary — to creating thrilling action on film.

If you express such views to stunt performers, get ready to be brained by a (breakaway) chair and hoisted up on wires in front of a bluescreen. They’ll tell you nothing could be further from the truth. According to Jane Austin, president of the Stuntwomen’s Assn., “CGI has opened up a ton of work for us. We have more work than ever, and we’re able to do bigger and better things.” Stuntmen’s Assn. topliner Steve Kelso concurs. “It’s made our industry so much safer, and made for better movies.”

In every way, asserts stunt vet Conrad Palmisano (“Rush Hour 3″), “things are looking rosy.”

Married to great practical action, CGI is a fantastic tool. It gives you great new ways to move and hold people, move and hold cars and motorcycles, and come in after the fact and take it all back out.

“Someone’ll say, ‘How are you gonna get Will Ferrell to go 180 mph? We can’t tow him.’ And if you know what’s available you can go, ‘No; we’ll shoot some ‘plate shots’ at that speed, do some matte shots; he’s gonna sit in a car in front of a greenscreen and never drive at all.’ Process shots used to look very phony, and CGI has been great for those.”

Unquestionably, technology has the potential to bypass practical work. Of SAG Ensemble nominee “300,” Kelso says: “They didn’t put 1,000 people marching across the plain. They took 100 guys or whatever and multiplied them, and it looked really good. So sure, we’re losing a little work with some of the ND (nondescript, meaning ‘you’re one of a crowd’) soldier work, horse work or huge scenes of cars or crowds. But the stuff we’re gaining, getting stuff to look better and be safer, far outweighs that.”

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