A computer hacker learns from mysterious rebels about the true nature of his reality and his role in the war against its controllers. Starring Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne and Carrie-Anne Moss
EVERY summer Hollywood is inundated with big-budget action films with a visual effects budget larger than the net gross of a small country. After all, leave it to the film industry to find new ways to blow something up.
They call it the magic of the movies for a reason, and as such, here’s a look at the top 10 films (in chronological order) that took their craft to an exciting new level and caused a visual revolution in theatres, thanks to the awesome folk at AskMen.
10. Tron (1982)
It’s not that Tron was the best movie ever made, but it was one of the most creative. This was the first time computer-generated imagery had ever been used to such a massive extent in a movie. Visual effects group MAGI used a “SynthaVision” process to render the graphics, which basically means it made the computer see simple shapes as solid objects with density.
This occurs mostly in scenes where the Lightcycles and Recognizers are used, which normally corresponded to scenes where live actors weren’t the focus — because at the time, the technology didn’t exist for live-action figures and CGI animation to be used together. Instead, filmmakers needed to use hand-drawn animation with the live-action shots (mixed with editing) to create what you saw on screen.
Here’s where things get even more fun though: Many Disney animators initially refused to work on Tron, as they felt computers would put them out of a job. A little more than two decades later, those fears came true and Disney closed their hand-drawn animation studio in favour of CGI. However in the irony of ironies, Pixar guru and industry visionary John Lasseter eventually ordered the facilities reopened, as he saw the value in both type of releases.
Another fun fact? Tron was disqualified from the 1982 Visual Effects Oscars, as voters felt the film’s computer-aided effects were considered “cheating.”
9. Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)
The irony of a movie like Terminator 2: Judgment Day is that it stands on its own so well that you forget it’s a sequel. Nobody talks about the original to the same extent they do this one — and if we’re being honest, the less said about the later sequels, the better.
A large part of that T2 success is because of the visual effects used that earned the team an Oscar. Unlike something like Avatar that is mostly CGI, only a fraction of T2 is comprised of effect shots. The most famous of them all, though, is the T-1000 morphing sequence, which cost over $5 million to produce over an eight-month period.
Not since Tron nearly a decade earlier had a film looked to change the game in the same way T2 did — and it was noticeable. Utilising Industrial Light and Magic’s “Cyberscan” (photorealistic CGI) technology, they projected a laser over the face of Robert Patrick, who played the T-1000 model, and then they were able to build the 3D visuals over the scan.
They then paid extreme attention to how Patrick carried himself while shooting the scene and matched up his movements with the character’s movements. Director James Cameron also borrowed the liquid effects from his 1989 hit The Abyss, to fully round out the impressiveness of the scene.
8. Jurassic Park (1992)
The movie brought dinosaurs to life on-screen … freaking dinosaurs. How is this not an accomplishment? Believe it or not, though, while Jurassic Park is thought of as CGI-heavy movie, it’s really not! Director Steven Spielberg had several actual audio-animatronic dinosaur models built, because they brought a sense of depth and actual realism to this film. However, there were some shots that CGI had to be used for, and those were very much among the first of their kind.
As many critics have pointed out, this was a movie about dinosaurs — and if the grand reveal the first time you really see one wasn’t spectacular, the movie would be seen as a failure. As a result, Spielberg had to ensure those first moments when the extinct creatures made their debut were nothing short of magical and he conspired with the famed Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) group to pull off the illusion. It worked!
7. Toy Story (1995)
Pixar has been a game-changer from the beginning, as they put equal emphasis on quality storytelling and quality animation. Toy Story was the first fully computer-generated full-length feature film ever. Each frame took hours to complete, which may have been intensive — but it certainly paid off.
The movie and its style set the mark for how future films of this kind should look and even feel which has earned the company numerous top awards not to mention the trust and respect of the movie going public which is no easy feat.
They understand not just how to make movies, but how to make audiences respond to those movies. If you can get through the first 10 minutes of Up or the final sequence in Toy Story 3 without tearing up a little, you may not actually be human.
6. The Matrix (1999)
“Whoa.” As it turns out, Keanu Reeves’ character Neo wasn’t the only one to get his mind blown seeing what could happen in The Matrix. When the film debuted in 1999, audiences couldn’t wrap their heads around what they were watching. Don’t get us wrong, they loved it, but mostly they were still trying to figure out how these amazing concepts were being shown on screen.
Nicknamed “bullet time,” the most well known special effect from the film was a simulation that was used to show objects in ultra-slow motion … in this case, the objects were bullets. The technique used is a version of an old-school photography technique known as “time slice,” where multiple cameras are placed around an object and simultaneously set to shoot. Then, when those shots are strung together, what follows is a sequence in which audiences are seeing a 2D “slice” of a 3D moment caught on film. Again … whoa.
5. Gladiator (2000)
Setting movies in ancient Rome is pretty commonplace in film history, but Gladiator redefined the practice as a science (for multiple reasons). First, Ridley Scott’s Oscar-winning epic recreated the famed Coliseum in grand fashion. Filmmakers took a small-scale version and, through the magic of the movies, made it into something that would easily rival what it must have looked like at the height of its glory.
However, recreating the venue was only half of the movie’s CGI accomplishments, as producers were thrown a curveball when actor Oliver Reed sadly passed away before filming wrapped. So the film had to find a way to “virtually revive” Reed for his final shots. Special effects group The Mill used computer graphics to put Reed’s face over the body of the double being used for the late actor. It’s only about two minutes of footage, and most of it takes place at night and uses partially obscured shots, but it was a key scene that was needed to close out the character’s story. The cost? A cool $3.2 million.
4. The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-2003)
One of these days, the Academy Awards are going to be forced to recognise the talents of actors who appear on-screen as a CGI character. Many have thrown Andy Serkis’ name around as the first person likely to break that barrier — and it’s no mystery why!
Serkis is the man who helped bring Gollum to life in the Lord of the Rings trilogy (as well as Caesar in Rise of the Planet of the Apes.) This was the first time an actor’s performance was combined with digital animation to make this advanced CGI character really live on the screen. Serkis was actually only supposed to voice Gollum, but when animators saw the way his face moved when recording dialogue, they knew they were onto something special.
Wearing a motion-capture suit, Serkis would eventually appear on camera opposite the real-life actors, and then the Gollum character would be placed over him in post-production. Director Peter Jackson relied on Star Wars legend George Lucas and producer Rick McCallum to help hone in on these concepts, and really became a trailblazer for a new style of filmmaking as a result.
3. Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004)
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow was not a huge hit by any stretch of the imagination, but it was the first movie to be shot entirely with a blue screen. In fact, had it not been, the film probably wouldn’t have been made — as the plot focused on giant robots roaming the Earth. Not the easiest thing to shoot …
Director Kerry Conran and a team of over 100 filmmakers created a multi-layer background that would allow his actors (including Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie) to be added in post-production. Now, it wasn’t that layered filmmaking was anything new, but nobody had used it to make an entire movie before. There was literally no set; it was all added in after the fact. Conran was even able to shoot a mock-up version of the movie ahead of time, to give the actors a better sense of how the finished product would look.
The movie was supposed to be a throwback to the olden days of black-and-white filmmaking, but instead, it became a preview of how later films would be shot — including Sin City, which came out not long after.
2. Avatar (2009)
Avatar is without a doubt one of the most complex films ever attempted … and it worked. The movie furthered the use of fully CGI-created environments and characters beyond anything that was out there (or would be for years to come).
Remember, director James Cameron is a perfectionist (and we mean an absolute perfectionist) and he first looked to release the film in 1999, but no studio would give him the money for the massive budget. It’s rumoured that Cameron was inspired enough by Peter Jackson’s work on the Gollum character in Lord of the Rings to decide that the visual medium had gotten to a point where his Avatar world could be built to his strict standards.
Eventually, he did find the massive budget for the project, and was given the green light to begin production. The movie took four years to make and became the first completely digitally shot movie to win an Oscar for Best Cinematography.
The film’s finale sequence alone was enough to show this was a movie that film majors will be studying for years to come!
1. Inception (2010)
Christopher Nolan is as visionary a director as there is in the industry today. He makes movies differently — and often they involve stellar special effects. The one that really stands out, though, is Inception — for which he was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. The movie had sequence upon sequence that was absolutely stunning, and combined techniques in ways that had yet to be seen.
Take, for example, the Paris street scene where the city looks to fold up behind Leonardo DiCaprio and Ellen Page. What audiences don’t realise is that all the aspects that have to change with the sequence … how it folds, how the people and objects in the shot change based on the directional change, how the lighting should look, etc. Nolan’s visual effects team (which won the Oscar that year) had all of those details down and then that had to match up with the audio and the actor’s reactions and all sorts of factors that make our heads hurt just thinking about it. And that was just one of many scenes that involved that type of detail!
That’s the magic of a Christopher Nolan movie — and it’s something hard for others to duplicate.
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