7 Amazing Movie Special Effects You Won't Believe Aren't CGI
As we've already discussed twice before, some directors will go to insane lengths to avoid using CGI, seemingly just so they can point at the screen during the premiere and say, "Yeah, a real guy totally did that." And now, thanks to our investigative efforts, you too can annoy people at the movies by telling them that, actually, that famous scene isn't CGI, they did it by ...
(There's plenty of CGI in Cracked's new Star Wars: Adventures in Jedi School miniseries. But we promise, the jokes are all Human-Generated.)
The Dark Knight Rises -- They Actually Dropped a Plane
Some movie moments make you go "I bet that's CGI," while others are so insane that they leave you saying, "I hope it is." Case in point: The opening to The Dark Knight Rises, where Bane and his misfit gang of true believers hijack and crash a CIA plane by jumping from another C-130 plane, extracting their target, and then de-winging the CIA's ride in midair. That's the sort of crazy shit no one even thought about trying before CGI existed.
We're sorry to do this to your peace of mind, but we're afraid that a lot of what you just saw was real -- we guess Christopher Nolan could have used computer effects, but instead he got a real C-130 and tossed a bunch of real people out the back of it.
To set the mood, each stuntman had an earpiece where he could hear Nolan humming dramatic music.
For the interior shots where they absolutely needed to show the actors (the people they absolutely can't kill), Nolan simply put them in a moving fuselage set on the ground. The stuntmen, on the other hand, were a little more expendable, so Nolan shot their scenes on an actual piece of fuselage hung by a fucking helicopter over rural Scotland.
Or sometimes without the fuselage at all.
"Holy fuck, that's a little too much." -Stanley Kubrick's ghost
Hell, even when the time came to finally fake something, Nolan opted to show a little model plane losing its wings instead of resorting to CGI. And, obviously, they also used models for the part where the plane falls to the ground, because you can't do that kind of shit for rea-
"Models are for nerds."
No, wait -- they totally did that for real. Just fucking found an empty spot and dropped the better half of a plane from the sky.
The debris will remain there, a monument to Nolan's insanity.
The entire shoot was scheduled for nine days. Nolan did it in two, because fuck time, and fuck sanity, and most of all, fuck airplanes.
Skyfall -- Fighting on (and Under) Speeding Trains
James Bond will do almost anything (and anyone), but he won't do CGI -- the filmmakers try to limit the computer effects to things that don't exist in the real world, like the invisible car or Denise Richards. This means that some of the most insanely dangerous scenes you saw in the latest Bond movie, Skyfall, were created the old-fashioned way.
For instance, remember the part where a full-size train smashes through a wall?
They did that for real. This was accomplished by hanging the train from inverted rails and then proceeding to smash that fucker through a wall. Because realism. Also, although they added Bond escaping from the train in post-production, Daniel Craig was actually on the set when this happened.
That's the second messiest penetration scene ever seen in a Bond movie.
Earlier in the film, there's a scene in which Bond massages a bad guy's kidneys with his fists on top of a speeding train. This was also filmed using practical effects, by which we mean that they actually had Daniel Craig and another guy kick each other's ass on top of a real train, supported by wires no thicker than your finger.
Not pictured: Two agents shitting themselves.
You can see the wire on the last picture -- that's the only thing preventing the actor playing the bad guy from falling off. And yes, that's Daniel Craig himself going after him in the other pictures, not a stunt double. You can see his face more clearly in the trailerrific scene where he drops into the train from a giant hole in the wall, adjusts his cuff, and calmly walks off to pursue the bad guy -- that was all him, too.
For the sake of authenticity, he had to do this while completely shitfaced.
In fact, the only scenes where CGI was used heavily were the one where Bond has to fight a Komodo dragon and the one where MI6 blows up, since even James Bond can't blow up MI6 and get away with it. Yet.
Tron (the Original) -- The Film Was Shot in Black and White, Then Hand Painted
Tron and the two-hour Daft Punk video masquerading as its sequel are famous for containing all of the CGI. That's the entire reason those movies were made, right? To show off the state of computer animation every 30 or so years?
To the original's credit, it took a lot less time for CGI Jeff Bridges to look this silly.
However, although the original film did contain some computer-generated effects, most of it was done by hand -- yes, even those bitchin' glowing blue suits.
To get the desired effect, the filmmakers had to employ cutting-edge technology ... from the 1930s. All the scenes set inside the computer were filmed entirely in black and white, after which they were turned back into individual cells that were hand painted in post-production. One by one. The process was long and tedious: First they had to enlarge each frame to a 14-inch still using a rotoscoping machine.
"Great, now get me 40,000 more."
Then they'd put that image through another process to make it transparent.
The same complex effect you can now achieve by just highlighting the previous picture.
Using this technique, they could isolate different parts of the image, like the faces, the costumes, and the part they wanted to fill with funky neon veins. They then photographed each element on its own and finally put everything back together -- the simplest images had around six layers, but others had up to 30.
We got arthritis just looking at this.
So, that's 75 minutes of film at 24 frames per second. Using basic math, that means that they animated around 108,000 individual cells, each of which was composed of six to 30 different parts. This process was such a pain in the ass that animating a two-minute reel took the team two months, and they still had 73 more minutes to go ... so they just sent that shit to Taiwan and had some guys in a warehouse do it for them.
That's not Pac-Man, that's the Chinese symbol for "HELP US."
The Spider-Man Films -- Real Web Slinging and Spider Reflexes
The makers of last year's Amazing Spider-Man reboot wanted desperately to make the movie as different as possible from the previous Tobey Maguire Spidey films, other than, you know, when it came to the plot and the trailer and the everything. Or almost everything. One aspect where they took a vastly different approach was the web slinging -- whereas Sam Raimi used a whole bunch of CGI, the serendipitously named new director, Marc Webb, wanted to do it using stuntmen. Terrified stuntmen.
The cars below him were just covered in poop.
The effect was created by strapping a stuntman, or sometimes Spider-Man himself, actor Andrew Garfield, to a wire "no thicker than a bootlace" 60 feet in the air, which was connected to a winch on a rail. When they'd jump and reach the bottom of their swing, the winch would move down the rail, giving them a nice clean arc and unquestionably soiled underwear. Here's a clip of the system in action -- you can see the rails above at the beginning:
So in that scene where Peter Parker screams as he's learning to swing on a chain ... yeah, that probably didn't take a lot of acting.
In fact, he couldn't stop screaming for two days after that.
This isn't to say that the original movies had no practical effects whatsoever -- remember the part where Tobey Maguire catches Mary Jane's lunch like it ain't no thing?
The pudding's stuck on the ceiling.
Well, that's not CGI: They just put a sticky substance on the tray to make sure nothing slipped off and repeated the shot over and over until Maguire got it right ... which only took 156 tries. We're sure he wasn't intentionally blowing it to cop a Spider-feel or anything.
The Matrix Reloaded -- Crushing Cars on the Freeway
Hey, remember that part in The Matrix Reloaded when that one dude lands on top of a car so hard that it completely flips over and leaves a whole unholy mess in the middle of the freeway? Of course you do.
Man, this Frogger remake is badass.
Well, if you had to guess which part of that shot was added in CGI, the guy landing or the resulting pandemonium, which would you choose? Hint: It's the one that looks like he's leaving a turd on the windshield.
That's right: Other than the character, literally everything you see in that shot is real -- even the implosion of the car upon impact of the nonexistent landing. This was achieved thanks to a ridiculous car rig that worked while the vehicle was driven. In other words, someone finally invented a system to make it look like an invisible hippopotamus is sitting on your car.
"Finally." -Millions of really weird fetishists
The filmmakers then composited that image with footage of the actor playing kangaroo in front of a blue screen. But that was just the beginning: In the movie, the impact is so strong that even cars that are several feet away from the one that was rigged impossibly flip themselves over, too.
"Should we have warned any of the other drivers? Naaaah."
So how did they do that? Like all good things, this was the product of a series of hidden cannons and ramps, in a process that second unit director David R. Ellis described as "catapulting cars over the freeway." The result was not only the Hulk smash you see at the start, but also the cascade of carnage that comes afterward as car after car piles up.
So why didn't this movie win all the Oscars, again? Oh, right. It actually sucks.
Confessions of a Dangerous Mind -- Cut-Less Scene Changes
Usually, when movie directors need to change scenes, they use a concept called cutting, a complex process that entails shutting off the camera, physically moving it to a new location, and then turning it on again. And we said "usually" because others directors will have none of that shit.
For instance, check out this sequence from the Chuck Barris maybe-true-but-probably-not biopic Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, where Barris (played by Sam Rockwell) comes up with the idea for his show The Dating Game in his bathroom, while talking to his girlfriend (Drew Barrymore). The camera zooms in slowly on his eyes ...
... and when it pulls out, he is already in a boardroom pitching the idea to a bunch of white guys in suits. All without a single cut.
"That's very interesting. But where are your trousers?"
But there's got to be some digital trickery going on there, right? Not at all: The director, a first-timer called George Clooney or something, wanted to do any and all effects entirely in-camera ... meaning that instead of cutting and taking the actor to another set, he actually moved the entire set around the actor while the camera was zoomed in.
"Where should we leave naked bathing Drew Barrymore, sir?"
"I think there's a closet over there."
Mr. Clooney (pronounced "Clone-ay," probably) used the same "no cuts" philosophy at different points in the movie, like the part where Barris first walks into the studio lobby. For a second, the camera gets distracted by a tour group, and when it comes back to Barris, he's working at the studio himself.
Whoever he slept with to get the job didn't have much stamina.
That was an easy one -- they just had the actor change his clothes real quick while the camera moved away. Other effects were slightly more complex, like the "split screen" in the scene where Barris is speaking on the phone with a studio executive ...
... which wasn't a split screen at all: They built the apartment set in front of the office set, and physically opened the wall when the camera wasn't looking.
Now imagine this happening the next time you're on the phone with your boss.
Clever, right? Man, this Clooney guy is going places.
Jurassic Park & REC -- Monsters You Probably Assumed Were CGI
It's well-known that Jurassic Park was created through a combination of CGI and terrifying dinosaur-shaped robots, but there's one important special effect they used in the film that is often neglected -- namely, dudes in rubber suits.
They abandoned the idea of giving the dinosaurs bow ties pretty early on.
Yep, the movie that convinced everyone that CGI was cool used good old-fashioned monster costumes, too. Steven Spielberg commissioned the legendary Stan Winston to create some practical effects for some parts of the film, because it's one thing to tell your child actors to imagine they're being chased through a kitchen and quite another to put a real Raptor face in front of them.
Winston's team came up with a system that consisted of making the most realistic dinosaur puppets ever, then sticking a dude inside them. Here's an early model:
It's either that, or the ultimate fate of Mr. Muldoon.
Speaking of the famous kitchen scene, Stan Winston Studio supervisor John Rosengrant and concept designer Mark McCreery got the honor of donning actual Raptor costumes in that part of the movie -- that's Rosengrant in this shot:
He volunteered for this part because he always hated children.
But surely the next movies in the series were all CGI? Nope: Check out the fierce Velociraptor in track pants in this test footage from the second movie ...
Don't you hate it when you go jogging and leave the headphones home?
... and a dude with the head of a Pteranodon in the third one.
Of course, CGI monsters are inescapable by now -- take the inhuman stick figure zombie woman thingamabob that shows up at the end of REC.
Turning the film into an 80-minute YouTube screamer.
This thing doesn't even have the dimensions of a real person, so how could it possibly be anything but CGI? The answer is, thanks to Javier Botet -- a Spanish actor who has been using his affliction with Marfan syndrome to scare the bejesus out of anybody who pays him to do so.
He'd be a great choice for the XKCD movie.
For film-quality effects merged with Internet-quality shortness, watch the trailer for Cracked's new Star Wars mini-series.
Karl has a Twitter account where you can read his thoughts and a book where you can read his email exchanges with people who hate him. Follow David on Twitter or check out his work over at Film School Rejects, where he is a staff writer.
For more reasons to love movies more than you already do, check out 6 Iconic Movie Scenes That Happened by Accident and 5 Iconic Pop Culture Moments Improvised at the Last Second.
If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out 6 Ghastly Works of 'Art' Made from Dead Animals.
And stop by LinkSTORM to calm your anger about it being Monday.
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