7 Amazing Movie Effects (That Were Done For Real)
We've never been shy about covering the perils of terrible movie CGI. Hell, Jurassic World -- the latest installment in a series known for revolutionizing CGI and animatronics -- goes out of its way to literally murder one of its few practical effects in favor of a cartoon theropod orgy.
"Hey, remember all those dinosaurs you loved as a kid? Now they're dead as shit!"
But there's good news: A lot of recent movies have done a bang-up job balancing real-world trickery with dazzling digital effects. And so to celebrate, we've once again gathered some of the most out-of-this-world movie moments that you'd never fathom were done without CGI.
The Force Awakens Built A Ton Of Its Stuff
Coming off of the prequels, The Force Awakens was guaranteed to tread more cautiously than Bruce Banner's trembling proctologist. Luckily for them, the bar was already so ridiculously low that all they had to do was feature real locations, props, and creatures instead of some green-tarped dungeon under Skywalker Ranch. That's seriously all it took.
"More pig noses; the Internet likes bacon. Maybe a cat droid. We can't fuck up on this one."
Sure beats wrestling a Bantha costume onto a pissed-off elephant.
But shit got really real with the introduction of the droid BB-8 -- a combination of robotics, puppetry, and digital effects.
Insurance wouldn't cover the original idea of toddlers shoved in there, hamster-ball-style.
Depending on what the scene demanded, there was a BB-8 that would emote while held by actors, a BB-8 that could be thrown around and stay upright at all times, a BB-8 controlled by rod puppeteers, or hell, a totally functioning droid that could roll around like a haunted bowling ball. And for some goofball reason, they didn't stop at the obvious effects, and instead built stuff like Rey's insta-dinner:
And now half of you are going to Panera for lunch.
You might recognize that as Rey's instant "polystarch" bread, which materializes when she mixes a powder ration with water. Instead of understandably phoning it in with CGI, the effects team rigged up an inflatable prop that would rise as the concealing liquid was vacuum-pumped away. It's a 10-second shot that took three months to design, making it only the second-most meticulous gag in the film ...
Remember that brief moment when Finn turned on the Dejarik table? That gratuitous callback was brought to you by old-school stop motion animation created by photographing the original models ...
... 3D-printing new versions of them ...
... and then hiring the original animator Phil Tippett to do the effect. Because nothing says "Fuck you, George Lucas" better than hiring all his old friends to play with his toys.
"Uh, we add the 'RAAAR' sounds in post."
"Oh, I know."
Spectre Breaks A World Record With Its Crazy Stunts
One of the many reasons the Bond series still makes golden boobs money is that it's one of the few modern action franchises that still remembers to do the goddamn action for real. And so when the opening scene of Spectre called for a Day of the Dead celebration devolving into a dangerous helicopter grapple over Mexico City, their solution was to get 1,500 extras, dress them like monster mash characters, and then buzz them with a freaking helicopter filled with grappling stuntmen.
"You're supposed to be celebrating the dead, not making new ones."
That would be regular God-puncher and stunt pilot Chuck Aaron behind the sticks. He was also the man responsible for flipping the buzzer around like an Micro Machine in a tornado ...
"I really should have gotten rid of my spare change."
Because fuck gravity. Especially when it came time to shoot Bond walking on a rooftop over the festivities, which they did by sticking Daniel Craig on a ledge and telling him to look badass.
So, like normal Daniel Craig.
Then they piledrived a replica of the building. Because fuck architecture.
From what we can tell, this insatiable thirst for reckless abandon is what fueled the production like cursed cocaine. So when they needed a scene in which Bond flies through and smashes into the alps with a plane, they went ahead and did that for real as well.
The only thing colder than the mountain snow is whatever is running in their veins.
To get the crash, the stunt team built a giant crane and zip-lined the fucker down the hill, mere feet from trees on either side. After they kept mysteriously missing the mark, it became evident that the plane was going so fast that it was gaining lift during each take.
Then, presumably between blinding guzzles of white lightning, they mounted a fake fuselage on a skidoo before launching it the fuck through a barn ...
The entire set not being covered in yellow snow is a testament to their bravery and insanity.
This was achieved by attaching it to a nitrogen cannon and firing that piece of shit like a stomp rocket. Because, once again, the theme here is a "fuck God" mastering of man's whimsy ... which is why the film featured a Guinness-World-Record-breaking explosion ...
"The name is Bond, Jake Bon-- ah, dammit! Let's do it again."
Under The Skin Built A Special Room To Digest People
Under The Skin, aka Weird Boner: The Movie, is a solid hour and a half of Scarlett Johansson ominously stalking men before sex-trapping them in a slow-digesting vat of goo, like a blue-balling pitcher plant. It's pretty fucking something.
"Still worth it."
While this would seem like a good time for a green screen and T-1000 effects, the production (which no doubt spent all its money on getting Black Widow to hang out in her underwear) opted to build a real vat of nothingness instead.
What you're looking at is a sound stage built with a glass floor, one section of which featured liquid and a slowly descending platform that an actor could both walk across and sink into. As his body displaced the liquid, they would gradually drain it so as to prevent overflow and thus making the effect out-of-this-world.
"So this is just regular water?"
"Some of it."
The gut-clenching digestion was carried out with a combination of digital and practical effects -- such as a skin prosthetic they would flow water through to give the appearance of a body breaking apart.
But the authenticity didn't stop there. Later in the film, Johannson's character has a change of heart following an interaction with a heavily disfigured dude ...
... which they accomplished by hiring a real man with neurofibromatosis, a condition which causes tumors to grow on nerve tissue. Go realism! Even if that also means breaking the heart of a recently-divorced man getting fake-propositioned by one of the world's most beautiful actresses, which is what happened when the director decided to shoot Johansson randomly driving around and pretending to hit on actual people and not actors.
It's like if Werner Hertzog directed Brazzers intros.
The Impossible Dragged Its Actors Through A Simulated Tsunami
Back in 2012, Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor starred in the second of two early-2010's films about super realistic tsunami scenarios that no one gave a shit about. Unlike its counterpart Hereafter (which created their wall of water almost exclusively on a computer), The Impossible decided to see how close to the watery void they could dunk their stars ...
Yeah, those are kids.
This is from a water tank specifically built to recreate Aquaman's wrath by releasing a floodgate on one side. The effect was an awesome wall of water you could then scale up to look like a much bigger wave.
A real example of "size doesn't matter; it's the motion in the ocean."
This was but step one of the film's three-part quest to drown Naomi Watts -- the second being a second tank open to the ocean and made up of 33 submersible pumps designed to each move 80 gallons of water per second. This came in handy to simulate the moment her character is carried away with the debris ...
... And by "simulation," we mean they totally stuck her King-Kong-killing ass in the mess ...
If you're wondering why you never read about the inevitable arrest and reckless endangerment lawsuit, it's because they also built an underwater bucket and track system designed to theoretically make sure the actors weren't killed ...
"Wait, 'not'? Uh, gimme 10 minutes ..."
It's a genius idea that frankly still looks shady as fuck. The actors would stand in an underwater basket running on two rails pulled at the same rate as the current. After surviving that, the filmmakers were forced to go with stage three of their murder plot and simply fling around Naomi Watts like a ogre's bath toy.
We officially forgive you for Movie 43.
Quentin Tarantino Avoids CGI At All Costs
Between the over-the-top violence and racist characters, Tarantino is basically the Michael Bay of arthouse films ... down to how neither director will use CGI if they don't have to.
But that's merely the tip of the scarlet iceberg. While The Expendables was CGI-ing their action blood, Django Unchained was breaking records for gratuitous squib use.
To match its gratuitous everything.
For those unfamiliar, a squib is a controlled explosion next to the actor's body that causes a bag of blood to erupt like a gunshot hit. And so the bigger the hit, the bigger the explosion resonating on their bodies.
And on that subject, when the script called for Dr. Schultz's carriage to explode around a gang of KKK members -- Tarantino decided to do that for realsies as well ...
Like we said: Michael Bay
Because filmmaking should be lighthearted and torturous. Especially when The Hateful Eight takes place in a cold-as-balls cabin where everyone huddles around a fire watching their own breath in the air. While other directors would have used recycled CG Titanic breath, Tarantino went for the classic solution of refrigerating the whole goddamn set like they did for The Exorcist.
"Eh, still better than my last cold set." -- Channing Tatum.
The Quints loves classic movie making, from shooting on 70mm film to utilizing old-school stunt driving and deadly crashes in Death Proof:
How brutal was that shit? Surely, to tear apart four actresses they had to use at least a little CGI, right? It's not like Tarantino would go so far as to build anatomically exact versions of them to pulverize on camer-- That's totally what he did, isn't it?
If you follow them in order, it looks like a constipation meds ad.
Yep! He had the SFX team build ultra-realistic dummies with layers of fake bone and flesh inside ...
... then he stuck them in a car and fucked them harder than a foot-shaped sex toy. The idea being that as pieces of them were torn apart, we could see their insides fly out like Lovecraftian confetti ...
"Save that leg ... for re-shoots ..."
"Sure thing, Quentin."
Chloe Grace Moretz Has Been Doing Her Own Stunts Since She Was Eight
At 18 years old, Chloe Grace Moretz has so far played a superhero, a werewolf, a vampire, Carrie, a Martin Scorsese character, and the Little Mermaid. She has been in a Muppet film, a Denzel Washington action movie, and the recurring nightmare you have every night about your professional inadequacies. And this is just the work she's most known for. You also saw her in The Amityville Horror remake as the eight-year-old daughter who finds herself standing on the roof of the forsaken household.
Of the forsaken movie.
For her first feature film role, this mediocre remake set a far-from-mediocre career precedent when the director and producer pulled off the shot by strapping the young actress to a crane and putting her on the roof of a house.
"I'm bored; can someone throw a jump rope or hula hoop I can play with between takes?"
To put this moment in perspective, the behind-the-scenes video of this stunt prominently features producer Michael "I Can't Achieve Erection Without A Pneumatic Catapult" Bay wincing at the sight of what he's done:
"I may have gone too far" -- the man who gave a transformer testicles
And this was only the beginning for this fightin' young'un. At 11, she would go on to make Kick-Ass, a film that absolutely featured her doing her own stunts.
When Nicolas Cage shows Hit Girl how to get shot wearing a bulletproof vest, that was Moretz totally getting yanked to the ground with wires. The part where Hit Girl gets behind the wheel of a car? They taught her how to drive ... which happened to be only the second-coolest thing she learned while making the film ...
She negotiated a much better contract for the sequel.
Jesus smokes crack, the girl legitimately knows how to handle a butterfly knife. She's basically the teen version of Keanu Reeves, and can probably kill a person with a kick. Her last film had her in crutches after doing God-knows-what stunt ... and she's only freaking 18. At this rate of accomplishment, in another 10 years, she'll probably have figured out how to clone dinosaurs in order to find a worthy opponent.
Fucking Mad Max: Fury Road
You all knew this was coming. Ever since Fury Road feverishly somersaulted from the cinema screen, we've heard nothing but how tit-shakingly real the film's stunts were against equally beautiful CGI environments. So let's make this journey together, and inventory all the ways the new Mad Max was a white-knuckle fiasco of awesomeness ... starting with the part where Tom Hardy totally could have died ...
Boy. That sure looks like they dangled the actor inches from the speeding desert floor, so it's probably safe to assume that's exactly what happened.
"If you don't wanna do it, we can replace you with Moretz."
Not only did they stick Tom Hardy's head dicks-length from a waiting road burn using a thin cable, but they also did this in front of his seven-year-old son. When asked what would happen if the wire snapped, director George Miller nonchalantly informed Hardy Jr. that his dad would probably "go under the wheels," and let his inevitable nightmares fill in the blanks.
And that was probably the simplest stunt of the whole film, which hired trained Cirque du Soleil performers to rock around on Chinese acrobat poles while a camera rig weaved through them at up to 100 mph.
Each "pole cat" rider wore earpieces so as to coordinate it all through audio cues -- the result being a sequence of real-life stunts which Miller originally assumed could only be done with computers. And the movie begins with the invention of a new way to flip the fuck out of a car like a giant's Hot Wheels toy ...
That's from the moment in which Max's car eats a big juicy shit. It was achieved with a nitrogen-powered metallic blade designed to pop down under the car.
So a death boner, basically.
You can thank Guy Norris for that glorious crash. He was one of the original stuntmen on Road Warrior, and the supervising coordinator for Fury Road. Because sheer insanity ages like fine wine, and this film called for nothing but the upper crust. This is why when they needed apocalyptic motorcyclists to attack the War Rig, they found Australia's finest trick riders and trained them for months.
While on fire.
And when it came time to fly motherfuckers from one vehicle into a steel mobile brier patch, you better believe they got the best stunt riggers they knew and just threw a dude at that spiky business ...
"I live, I dive, I live again."
Holy socks, that looks dangerous. But not quite as dangerous as this ...
That's 1,000 liters of fuel igniting on a truck that was thankfully remote-controlled ... a luxury they couldn't manage for when the War Rig plows into Valhalla ...
... before getting smashed to shit by the Doof Wagon ...
"We had to fill the gas tank entirely with Kool-Aid."
Yeah, that was done by real stunt drivers -- including the aforementioned Guy Norris (who retired after performing the final crash). If you feel cheated that the projectile steering wheel that flies at the audience wasn't included, you'll be happy to know that it wasn't digital, but a real prop shot as a stop-motion element and then composited in.
Jesus Chrome Christ, guys. While we're all for practical effects, you probably could have CGI'd that one.
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