Before CGI, filmmakers were forced to invent all kinds of tricks in order to bring more fantastical stories to life. Detailed models played spaceships and giant monsters, background matte paintings stood in for dazzling cities of the future and canny editing was what it took to make a man disappear. With CGI, the tricks of the past now appear positively antiquated. Where once special effects work was laborious, now whole worlds can be built – and erased – using computers alone.
As CGI has become ever-present in cinema, animators have learned to reshape live-action images with ease – to the point where you might be amazed to learn there was any CGI involved at all. Scroll down for 17 comparison images of famous movies that used CGI to completely transform reality.
17. War for the Planet of the Apes
You’ll never get a monkey to act as well as me, Andy Serkis told the studio – and that’s how motion capture was born.
16. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne insisted they bring him a real griffin, but this was the best they could do.
15. Jurassic Park
Surprise! When Jeff Goldblum was being chased by that massive lizard, there was never anything there, it was all computers! Life finds a way!
14. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales
Impressive, but how disheartening to discover that a movie about ocean-loving buccaneers was actually filmed in a studio, with an empty space standing in for the Caribbean and the ghost of Johnny Depp standing in for Jack Sparrow.
13. Guardians of the Galaxy
Hah, ridiculous. That’s director James Gunn’s brother standing in for Rocket Raccoon. We don’t know if the script required him to look that depressed.
12. The Avengers
The second screenshot is from 2012’s $220 million Marvel movie, The Avengers. The first is from the $220 version.
This is how they made the second-highest-grossing film of all time. A fun game to play is trying to recall any names of the characters or even recalling any individual scenes from Avatar, in spite of it apparently being one of the most popular movies ever. We’ll wait.
10. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
This is modern special effects work at its best: an all-practical set subtly augmented by simple CG. It looks like Emma Watson is on the verge of LOL’ing.
9. Alice in Wonderland
If you want to know what rampant over-use of CGI looks like, here it is. They may as well have just animated the whole damn thing and allowed Mia Wasikowska to stay home.
8. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest
13 years later, we’ve still yet to see a piratical squid-man quite as impressive as Davy Jones from Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest.
7. Terminator Genisys
Strewth! It’s not just Jason Clarke’s oddly handsome Australian mug that got the CGI treatment here: almost the entire background of the shot has been filled in through laziness.
6. The Matrix
When you realise The Matrix’s complicated-looking bullet-time sequence was just Keanu Reeves and Hugo Weaving on string and surrounded by cameras, blockbuster filmmaking starts to seem relatively simple.
5. Atomic Blonde
How to solve the problem of location shooting period movies in 2019: just erect some green blankets in the middle of a street and fill the background in with whatever time period you like.
4. The Jungle Book
There’s something quite haunting about the sight of a child lovingly embracing the cold, dead, body-less head of a jaguar.
3. Beauty and the Beast
We get it, Emma Watson. Imagine being told you’re going to a ball with a prince, then the guy turns up wearing this mad grey scuba suit.
2. Game of Thrones
When you discover Daenerys’ beloved dragon was just a tennis ball on a stick all along, and that Emilia Clarke was more talented than you ever realised.
1. King Kong
Peter Jackson made a monkey out of us with this almost all-CGI shot of colossal ape King Kong clutching Naomi Watts like a human banana.