Critic's Picks: 10 Landmark CGI-Meets-Live-Action Movies

12:51 PM 4/15/2016

by Stephen Dalton

With 'The Jungle Book' getting raves for its stunning visual trickery, THR film critic Stephen Dalton picked ten other live-action films that made indelible use of CGI. Here they are in chronological order.

Photofest (3)

  • Tron

    1982

    Buena Vista Distribution Company/Photofest

    An early milestone in digital animation, Disney’s glossy sci-fi thriller recruited four leading computer graphics companies to generate less than 20 minutes of cutting-edge visual effects. Because the primitive computer used had only 2 MB of memory, background detail had to be heavily blacked out, hence the film’s stark techno-noir look.

  • Terminator 2: Judgement Day

    1991

    TriStar/Photofest

    Reuniting with Arnold Schwarzenegger on this iconic killer-robot franchise, director James Cameron pushed the limits of emerging digital technology. Computer graphics were still so limited that the liquid metal T-1000 Terminator effects took the equivalent of 25 man-years for just five minutes of screen time.

  • Jurassic Park

    1993

    Universal Pictures/Photofest

    The first of Steven Spielberg’s chomping, stomping dino-thrillers broke new ground with its photorealistic simulations of giant killer reptiles. Supervised by George Lucas’ Industrial Light & Magic, the dinosaur effects took between two and six hours of work to animate each single frame of movement.

  • The Matrix

    1999

    Warner Bros./Photofest

    The mind-bending power of this modern sci-fi classic from the Wachowski siblings lies partly in its inspired innovations in CG visuals. The Matrix pushed the effects envelope with its ultra-slow-motion “bullet time” scenes and its “universal capture” process, which allowed sets and characters to be digitally stored, manipulated and recycled.

  • Minority Report

    2002

    20th Century Fox/Photofest

    Loosely based on a short story by Blade Runner author Philip K. Dick, Steven Spielberg’s stylish future-noir murder mystery was the first film to have an entirely digital production design. The award-wining visual effects team used Photoshop and 3-D animation software to create CGI cityscape sets, and animated actors to block out Tom Cruise’s live-action shots in advance.

  • Sin City

    2004

    Dimension Films/Photofest

    Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller’s bloodthirsty comic-book pulp noir became one of the first films shot entirely on a "digital backlot," its starry ensemble cast playing against green screens, and stylized backdrops added later. This innovative process allowed actors in shared scenes to never even meet in person.

  • King Kong

    2005

    Universal/Photofest

    Fresh from his Lord of the Rings marathon, director Peter Jackson gave cinema’s most famous ape-meets-girl love story an Oscar-winning digital makeover. Andy Serkis acted out a meticulous simian simulation, which Jackson’s effects house Weta Digital mapped onto Kong’s body, adding a rich CGI background of dinosaurs and 1930s Manhattan cityscapes.

  • Avatar

    2009

    20th Century Fox/Photofest

    James Cameron waited a decade for digital technology to evolve before making his record-breaking sci-fi blockbuster. Peter Jackson’s Weta Digital and George Lucas’ Industrial Light & Magic led the Oscar-winning visual effects team, developing new systems of “performance capture” software to map live actors onto animated characters.

  • Life of Pi

    2012

    20th Century Fox/Photofest

    A computer-generated 3D tiger and a digitally enhanced ocean are lead characters in director Ang Lee’s dazzling shipwreck survival fable. The international visual effects team, led by LA-based animal specialists Rhythm and Hues, shared one of the film’s four Academy Awards.

  • Gravity

    2013

    Warner Bros./Photofest

    Alfonso Cuaron’s 3D tearjerker about spacewalking astronauts cut adrift in orbit set a new high bar for digital filmmaking. Featuring around 80 percent computer-generated footage, as compared to Avatar’s 60 percent, it won seven Oscars, including best visual effects.

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