Very well done recap of the most important VFX advancements made in the last few decades.


Author Notes

Movies today are enhanced (or perhaps overloaded) with a amazing technologies that can bring almost anything to life. Here’s how we got here.

What did you think of the list? Did you agree or disagree with our choices? Do you have a pick for a so-so movie that’s elevated by amazing effects? Or a good movie ruined by bad VFX? What’s your favorite effects-laden film? What do you think we’ll see next? More 3D? 4D? Smell-o-vision? What topics would you like to see us cover on future Movie Lists?

Let us know in the comments!


O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)
Directors: Coen Brothers
This musical’s visual effects are all in the color-correction. And the result is every bit as eye-popping as any monster movie, we think.

The Perfect Storm (2000) 
Director: Wolfgang Petersen
Before The Perfect Storm, water was either droplets, or it was a mass of liquid. Computers couldn’t parse the two motion patterns… until The Perfect Storm charted a new course in effects.

The Lord of the Rings (Trilogy, 2001-2003)
Director: Peter Jackson
Peter Jackson and WETA Digital built some amazing AI, so that all those orcs, goblins, and Urok-hai could move independently, and realistically, in MASSIVE battle scenes.

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2001)
Directors: Hirunobu Sakaguchi, Motonori Sakakibara
Not a successful movie - but a successful use of motion capture technology… and we wouldn’t have Andy Serkis as Golum or Avatar without the early, pioneering work of this film. 

The Matrix Reloaded (2003)
Directors: The Wachowskis’ movies are perhaps most iconic for the bullet time technique from the first Matrix movie, but Universal Capture, which debuted in the second film, is probably the most notable contribution to movie technology to come out to the trilogy.

The Polar Express (2004)
Director: Robert Zemeckis
The first film to use all existing motion capture technology to create fully CGI performances out of actual movements from actual actors (mostly Tom Hanks) to create all the movements in the film. 

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004)
Director: Kerry Conran
The advent of the digital backlot - shooting live actors on mostly green- or blue-screen sets, is a fairly common occurrence today (Sin City, 300, and the Hobbit are recent examples), Sky Captain was the first film to create digital landscapes for their characters to inhabit. 

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006)
Director: Gore Verbinski
CGI characters may have been a common occurrence by this point, but until the crew of Davy Jones’ ship walked (scuttled?) onto the screen, CGI performances and live actors had to be filmed separately. No more, thanks to ILM’s Imocap technology!

Avatar (2009)
Director: James Cameron
Of course Avatar had to make our list (James Cameron does love innovating!). It’s the culmination of pretty much every technique we’ve described so far, plus some 3D thrown in to boot! Most notably, Avatar pioneered the use of live rendering, and facial capture as large-scale set pieces were being filmed.

Gravity (2013)
Director: Alfonso Cuaròn
Even with all the advancements in creating digital objects, creating convincing light on said objects remained a challenge. Until Alfonso Cuaròn’s Gravity debuted a system where lighting was digitally calculated, and then actually projected onto actors faces.


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