Game-changing movies which used special effects in a new way
September 09, 2014 6:56 AM
A Dame to Kill For takes computer-generated effects to another level. We take a look at the biggest leaps CGI has taken in the movies.
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004) Boasting a star-studded cast including the likes of Angelina Jolie, Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow sounded like it was going to be just another big-budget adventure movie. But first-time director Kerry Conran had something far more special in mind; Sky Captain was going to be the first major film with no real sets. Instead, actors would perform in front of empty bluescreens, where the the incredible imaginary worlds would be added in later by computer artists. Conran first set up the idea for Sky Captain in his living room, with no more than a Mac, and spent four years making a teaser trailer – the finished article wowed production companies, who leapt at the chance to make it. The movie’s plot, where aliens attack a steampunk-inspired New York city, is entirely forgettable; but the astonishing special effects really showed what was possible for the movie world.
Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991) The Terminator, first released in 1984, featured stunning practical effects; a cyborg, with the likeness of Arnold Schwarzenegger, hunted Sarah Connor, for she would give birth to the leader of the human resistance in a future mankind-versus-robots war. Puppets, stop-motion, you name it – The Terminator had it all. But for its 1991 sequel, the effects were upgraded, as were the stakes. Arnie’s bad guy is now a good guy, and helps Sarah and her now teenage son escape the terrifying T-1000 (Robert Patrick), a killing machine made of ‘liquid metal’ and out to destroy the Connor bloodline. Industrial Light and Magic, who were behind the film’s graphic effects, had to grow from a team of six to 36 just to accomodate the T-1000, which ultimately took eight months to finish. The villain’s shape-shifting, whether disguising himself as another character, or morphing into the floor in a particularly chilling sequence, still looks good today – and won a few Oscars at the time, too.
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002) Despite the huge-scale battles, record-breaking practical sets and general epic scope of the second The Lord of the Rings film, its defining feature was actually a single character: Gollum. As Frodo and Sam march on with their journey they meet him; a pathetic, pitiful but very dangerous creature who becomes their ally and guide. Gollum was created by many different people; actor Andy Serkis gave the initial performance alongside Elijah Wood and Sean Astin (who played Frodo and Sam), while a team of digital artists traced his movements and created the Gollum we see onscreen. It was the start of the motion capture technique, which we see in many of our blockbusters today, including the record-breaking Avatar, and the rebooted Planet of the Apes franchise – which stars Serkis as ape leader Caesar.
Avatar (2009) After seeing the mould that The Two Towers had set with Gollum, director James Cameron decided to smash it wide open again. His movie would see ex-marine Jake travel to the distant world of Pandora; there, he would encounter Pandora’s native race of Na’vi. In order to move a colony, Jake will connect his mind with his own specially grown Na’vi body – his Avatar – and become one with the tribe. Avatar took four years to complete, and once the actors had finished their parts, it still took 47 hours per frame to animate them as the blue-skinned natives, and fill in the incredible flora and fauna of Pandora. The success of Avatar is in the detail; it’s a totally believable world, and began the question of whether we should start awarding motion-capture actors – especially in the case of Star Trek’s Zoe Saldana.
Sin City (2005) Following the groundbreaking technology of Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, Sin City took bluescreen effects to another level. By again placing actors in front of blank screens director Robert Rodriguez, who was only really known for the family-friendly Spy Kids movies previously, decided to bring the beloved comic book to life. To get the crime-filled world of Sin City off the ground, where the stories of different characters weave in and out of each other at will, the cast had to be perfect; luckily, Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba and Bruce Willis helped achieve that. Secondly, the effects had to be out of this world; the main difficulty was to make the computer-generated, black-and-white Sin City be seamless with the live action performances. But by following the comics panel-by-panel and, in Rodriguez’s own words, ‘tranlasting’ as opposed to ‘adapting’, the unique visual style on the page was brought to the screen intact.
In the mood for a movie? Or just a dark place to fill your face with a tub of popcorn? Whatever your motivation, there are plenty of reasons to hit the cinema this winter. Here are some top picks for the months ahead