6The Lord Of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring -- Little Hobbit, Big Gandalf
Here's an effect so seamless that you probably never gave it a second thought during the 27-hour runtime of the Lord of the Rings trilogy: the fact that Elijah Wood and the other actors playing hobbits are not in fact three feet tall.
The camera takes off ... a few feet.
Ah, but who cares, right? With CGI, you can probably just click on an actor and tell the computer to shrink him by 50 percent and you're done. Right?
"Bam. Hobbits. Give me 20 minutes and a chimp and I'll give you King Kong."
Not if you don't want it to look like shit. It's one thing if the actor is just standing next to the normal-size characters in a field, but at various points in the trilogy, you see Gandalf grab the tiny Frodo, hug him, ride on the same carriage with him and sit down at the same table. To pull that off Peter Jackson, needed a buffet of effects techniques ranging from simple to insane.
Sometimes it was as easy as using a child in a Frodo wig shot from behind ...
... or just compositing the actors together from different shots, or digitally sticking Frodo's face onto a tiny double. But the coolest effects didn't involve any computers or green-screen trickery at all. It's called "forced perspective."
The idea is that you put one actor really far from the camera and the other one really close to the camera, then shoot at such an angle that it appears they are next to each other and that one of them is really big and the other really small. Which sounds simple, until you realize that you need to build everything on the set so that the actors can interact with it at the same time while hiding the fact that they're far away from each other.
The simplest example is with Gandalf's cart. In the movie, you see them sitting side by side ...
... but the real cart is built so that if the camera is stuck in that spot, it hides the fact that Frodo is actually sitting about four feet behind Gandalf, with Ian McKellen's body hiding where the bench is split:
But the complication comes when you realize that this works only if the camera remains perfectly still. So any shot where the camera moves around has to involve a computer, right? Nope. In scenes like this one, where they share a table ...
... they are actually sitting at two different tables, one human-sized and one hobbit-sized ...
... that are made in such a way that each piece slowly turns with the camera, so that the whole time, they appear to be one simple table, shifting with the perspective of the viewer. This required that the camera be put on a motion-control rig and half of the set be put on another rig that completely counteracted the movement of the camera. So when the shot moved, the set, props and even the actors moved accordingly (yes, while McKellen was trying to stay in character as Gandalf, he was on a stool that was slowly scooting him around the room).
"It's a little bit trippy when you've had too much pipe weed."
Take a moment to think about the crew that put that together, knowing the final goal was for you to never notice it.
5Terminator 2: Judgment Day -- Digging Into the Terminator's Brain
We have previously pointed out how few of the effects in Terminator 2 were CGI, even though the computer-generated morphing of the T-1000 from liquid metal to Robert Patrick is all anyone talked about at the time. The vast majority of what you saw on the screen involved good old-fashioned makeup, models and trickery by FX wizard Stan Winston.
Linda Hamilton's biceps also played a substantial role in the magic.
Maybe the best example of the mind-boggling ingenuity that goes into any "I can't believe it's not CGI" scene is one that was cut from this film (a scene which, as we explained in the past, fills in a pretty big plot hole). The scene shows Sarah and John Connor opening up the Terminator's head to extract and reboot his CPU, giving him the ability to learn and adapt easier.
In a single take, we see the back of the Terminator's head in the foreground and his face reflected in the mirror in the background, clearly showing Arnold's un-animatronic likeness talking and emoting.
As much as one expects Arnold Schwarzenegger to emote ...
As they unscrew his dome, the camera moves around until the shot finally ends on the top of the non-reflected Terminator head, which is opened up like a damn pickle jar.
Now those of you who are experts in Arnold Schwarzenegger trivia already know that the man does not have a giant hole in his brain. So, what, they just had a fake head in the foreground and used CGI to put a fake reflection in the mirror? Easy!
Uh, no. There is no mirror. It's a window. On opposite sides are two John and Sarah Connors, and two Terminators miming each other's movements exactly so that they would appear to be reflected in a mirror.
But wait -- something doesn't quite add up. That's clearly Sarah Connor in both the foreground and the reflection ... what gives? It's not like there are two Linda Hamiltons out there.
Meet Leslie Hamilton, Linda's identical twin sister. She came in quite handy during the making of this film, especially when the T-1000 took on Sarah Connor's form.
Yep, for all that you heard about the groundbreaking CGI, it all came down to identical-twin shenanigans. Basically, a special effects version of The Parent Trap.