What's Really Real? 10 CGI Movies That Raised The Bar
August 27, 2014 - 5:40 pm
The MatrixNo CGI list would be complete without mentioning the 1999 cyberpunk classic. You can thank (or angrily yell depending on your perspective) The Matrix for introducing “bullet time” to the masses. The process used a huge system of cameras to slow down (or speed up) the actions of the actors. CGI effects like flying bullets helped to complete the effect and gave it its name.
The AbyssJames Cameron (get used to reading his name because it appears a lot on this list) changed the direction of modern filmmaking with this 1989 underwater sci-fi flick. The Abyss gave audiences the very first CGI water effect. This scene actually caused the shift of movies away from traditional animation and toward the brave new world of computer generated imagery. The computer generated water could mimic human faces and took the effects gurus six months to make the 75-second sequence.
TitanicEverything about Titanic made it seem destined to fail: an immense $286 million budget (when adjusted for inflation), shooting delays and attempting to accurately capture one of the most immense disasters in history. The fears were put aside when audiences poured into theaters to watch the groundbreaking technological feat of seeing the gigantic Titanic flying through the sea, crashing into the iceberg, and eventually sinking beneath the waves. Simply put, the gargantuan scale of the CGI had never before been attempted – but it was pulled off perfectly.
Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the RingThe first in the trilogy shocked audiences with the lifelike humanoid creature Gollum. Actor Andy Serkis wore the most advanced motion capture suit of the time and each of his facial tics and stumbling movements were captured by cameras. The incredible effect has since been used in numerous films and video games, but it took LotR to truly show its possibilities.
TronThere were a few early attempts at CGI, but nothing impressed audiences as much as the motorbikes of Tron. Back in 1982, there weren’t CGI effects in every film and no one knew how the technology could really be applied. But then Tron came along and showed us a computerized world filled with speeding bikes, blinking lights and the most top-notch effects of the day. Okay, we know they don’t look so impressive now.
AvatarDirector James Cameron has carved out one of the most successful directing careers of all time, at least partly due to his willingness to push the limits of CGI further than ever before. Avatar blew audiences away with its advanced motion capture technology. Like in Lord of the Rings, actors wore motion capture suits and their movements were digitally rendered in a computer. Thanks to Avatar, the medium (and especially 3D filmmaking) has reached heights that had previously been dreams of only the most tech-savvy nerds.
Star Trek II: The Wrath of KhanThis 1982 flick is notable because it includes the very first CGI sequence in a film. The one-minute sequence looks almost shockingly out-of-place in today’s technologically advanced films, but at the time it was revolutionary. The clip offered audiences a brief look at the possibilities of CGI, but it wouldn’t be for another seven years until the technology really leapt forward.
InceptionThe most recent film on this list didn’t push the CGI technology further in any one direction, but it did further muddy the distinction between special effects and “reality” in the movies. Gone are the days of Tron’s computerized motorbikes or Terminator 2’s T-1000 robots. We were impressed with those effects, but we always knew they weren’t real.
Inception was different. Now we’re being showered with worlds that may or may not look unbelievable. How can you know what's “real” anymore? You can’t. But if that scares you, then you should stop watching films.
Terminator 2This franchise took the liquid-based CGI technology of The Abyss to incredible new heights. Audiences were astounded to see the morphing, twisting, liquid T-1000 Terminator meld through iron bars, regenerate after exploding apart, and generally behave in a manner that was totally unreal.
The 1991 opened the eyes of America to the possibilities of CGI and paved the way for director James Cameron’s later hit films.
Jurassic ParkStop motion animation was attempted during the creation of 1994’s Jurassic Park – and quickly thrown away. Steven Spielberg wasn’t happy and instead turned to the CGI geniuses at Industrial Light & Magic (who happen to be responsible for 60% of the films on this list) to bring his dinosaurs to life. The film was a tremendous success and became a turning point in the history of filmmaking CGI. Movie studios became inspired to invest in the technology, and even greater effects were soon to come.