Our computers have become so great at spitting out realistic-looking images that entire movie scenes can be 100 percent digital without the audience even realizing it. Heck, you and your family could be CGI right now and have no idea.
But, as we've previously pointed out, it's super-easy to lose heart when relying solely on computers -- and the filmmakers know this. That's why, from time to time, they'll say "screw it" and trade the CGI for insane physical, real-world effects, like ...
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Had Giant LED Screens And Flying Sets
One of the biggest chunks of trivia to waft through the internet recently was Rogue One's use of full-on CGI necromancy. And while you might have all kinds of loud opinions about that, the most unfortunate detail is how much that news distracted people from the amazing not-computer effects work whizzing by the screen:
Nope, that's not some ridiculous test of the next desperate movie theater gimmick; it's how director Gareth Edwards insisted on shooting the interior X-wing scenes for Rogue One. Instead of a traditional green screen, the effects people set up a giant LED display to show the futuristic dogfights in sync with the set -- allowing the cinematographer to film in the handheld, balls-out guerilla style that Edwards is known for.
And that's pretty much the story of Rogue One's production, which built 360 degree sets and traded green screens for real visuals that actors could react and improvise to. This was accomplished either through gigantic, 52-foot-high LED panels ...
"Yes, this will do. Now buy some dip and put $30 on the Eagles."
... or better yet, filming moments like this one ...
While we're at it: That's an animatronic costume, not some Jar Jar-esque mo-cap abortion.
... by literally just zip-lining the set mid-air.
For extra realism, they had "Charlie Don't Surf" blasting in the background.
Because when you have enough Disney money to seek out and teabag Odin himself, there's no reason to save all the fun for some overseas effects house. That said, Edwards' devotion to indie-style shooting got so out of hand during Rogue One's production that one scene was actually shot in London's hastily re-dressed Canary Wharf station instead of a traditional set. And in retrospect, it's painfully obvious which scene that is.
Wait, so the dude puking and passing out wasn't being remotely choked by Vader?
Captain America's "Super-Running" Was Filmed Like A Jackass Stunt
Films about swole rage goblins fighting with jewel-born mystics and Norse gods are inherently CGI heavy -- something that sadly diverts from all the incredible costume, stunt, and set work that comes from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Captain America: Civil War is no different, if not even more reckless and ridiculous with its in-camera stunt work. After all, why simulate a superpower when you can just demonstrate one on set?
In this case, that "power" is to not shit your pants while standing in front of a barreling terror truck.
Yes -- that's the scene where Crossbones bones a garbage truck across a facility barrier, an effect they accomplished by taking a page from The Dark Knight and just goddamn doing that thing we just described.
Being green, the real-life Hulk is pretty easy to digitally erase from shots.
Notice all the stuntmen running at the last minute? This was a regular theme during the film's production -- which also hurled an SUV at Captain America's double while filming the tunnel chase.
They won't even let you step on the set of a Marvel movie without a deep-seated hatred of cars.
Only somehow, all this vehicular trebuchet wasn't the most death-beckoning stunt from the action scenes, which also featured our heroes running at alien speeds through an underground highway ...
"Meep meep, motherfucker."
Remember that? In what has to be the most inconsequential and easily-CGI-able moment of the film, we got a brief reminder of just how super these government-pumped pajama-ed monsters are ... a feat accomplished by literally dragging the actors down a highway.
Pretty irresponsible of them to shoot this in the middle of a Xavier School street crossing.
Not sure what you're looking at? It's a makeshift rig known to the production as a "magic carpet," which involved hooking a platform up to the back of a car and then just fucking dragging it like a hillbilly conveyor. Combined with the speed of the car, anyone running on it would appear to go super-fast ... all at the cost of literally risking your skin if you accidentally fell off. And yes, as Sebastian Stan confirmed to Entertainment Weekly, they did put actors on the rig -- which he described as shaky and inescapable (not unlike his nine-picture contract with Marvel).
Honestly, it's almost comforting to know that for all their micromanagement and cutting-edge CGI, Marvel still has the old-school Hollywood moxie to seriously endanger their actors' lives.
Deepwater Horizon Built Most Of An Oil Rig (And Then Lit It On Fire)
As the director of Lone Survivor and Patriots Day, Peter Berg is nothing if not devoted to the harsh realism of a world where every white guy looks just like Mark Wahlberg. Deepwater Horizon was no different in both the grounded portrayal of the disaster, and the dedicated work it took to make a $110M film about a big expensive heap going down in flames.
Both figuratively and literally.
For starters -- did you know that they built an actual goddamn oil rig?
If this one caused a disaster too, would they get Mark Wahlberg to play Mark Wahlberg in the movie?
That's not some abandoned factory they repurposed for the film, but rather an 85 percent scale replica of the real Deepwater Horizon's lower decks built by 300 people over the course of eight months. Erected in the abandoned Six Flags park in Louisiana, the 75-foot-tall structure was based off of loose schematics of the rig found online (BP wasn't down with providing that kind of info), weighed an estimated 2.9 million pounds, and featured a working helipad ... all placed over a two-million gallon tank. When all was said and done, the "set" was so monstrous that they were legally obligated to treat and inspect it like a piece of actual construction instead of some flimsy facade.
Then, they lit it on fire.
They fucking lit everything on fire. They lit the interior sets on fire.
They lit the fucking water on fire.
They even lit Mark Wahlberg on fire.
According to Google, this marks the second time anyone has ever typed "Mark Wahlberg is on fire."
EVERYTHING MUST GO. And when they weren't torching surly Bostonians, they were simulating fire with giant LED screens used to light each scene.
This predicted how all our TVs would look during the election.
Because CGI is great and all (and was often used to extend the sets and explosions), but what's point in building a giant metal playhouse if you're not going to carelessly hurl stuntmen into a flaming abyss?
A common reaction to working with Mark Wahlberg.
Some Of The Most Amazing Modern Stunts Were In The Freaking Point Break Remake
The Point Break remake had all the zest of watching Dumbo self-immolate. Like the gentle cries of a Celtic moor spirit, the film was tragic and forgotten. It's the equivalent of Tibetan sand art -- elaborately constructed and ultimately whisked into the cruel void. And hey, speaking of cruel voids ...
Point Break is already a better Power Rangers reboot than the Power Rangers reboot.
One of many stunts the X-TREME CRIME TEAM perform to "honor the forces of nature" (seriously) involves donning wingsuits and hauling-ass down a mountain in what is a fairly brief and ultimately forgettable sequence ...
... that took a year to prepare, two weeks to film, and nearly killed one of the stuntmen. Because every stunt in this film was 100 percent real.
No shit. Notice how the guy up there gets so close to the ground that he moves the grass? That's not CGI -- nor was it intentional. Instead, what you're seeing is the closest anyone got to the sweet release of death when one of the wingsuit jumpers got a little too friendly with the ground while going 140 miles per goddamned hour.
They're off to tear Dorothy a brand new ass.
According to the technical advisor, the feat was shot in a real goddamn canyon in Switzerland and required a total of 60 goddamn jumps sending five goddamn people rocketing in formation down the narrow path -- something that had never been accomplished before with such a large group of people. Or, at least, no one had survived to tell the tale.
And this sums up the entire production. To shoot a rock-climbing sequence, the filmmakers were forced to lug equipment via canoe over the Amazon River and set up a camp at 3,000 feet -- all for that sweet, sweet 9 percent Tomatometer score.
Meanwhile, most of the budget of the original went to making Patrick Swayze blonde.
For the snowboarding stunt, they accidentally triggered a Class 4 avalanche. When it finally came time for a surf sequence, a crew was sent to Tahiti months before principal photography in order to wait for the right swells. Once successfully in the water, stunt surfer Laurie Towner almost immediately ate watery shit when he broke his goddamn face on the ocean floor.
For when it comes to honoring the fabled tales of Bodhi and Utah, no risk is too great.
Hardcore Henry: They Just Strapped A Camera To A Dude's Face And Had Him Risk His Life
Russian-American flick Hardcore Henry is one of those amazingly brazen cinematic premises that only works once, like a lucrative shark film or anything with Orlando Bloom in the lead role. For those unaware: Think of every first-person Call Of Duty cutscene combined into a charming mescaline fever dream that somehow manages to contain a coherent storyline. That's this goddamn film.
But wait, how the hell did they achieve that first-person perspective in such an intense action film? Easy -- by devising a way for an actor to carry a camera and be a spectacular badass at the same time. The result looks like this:
There's an "In Mother Russia ..." joke somewhere in here.
Compiled from two GoPro cameras, the "Adventure Mask" was designed with a magnetic stabilization system and vigorously tested using theater-sized screens to ensure a bare-minimum amount of moviegoer spew. And even with its relatively lightweight design, the entire setup was so bizarre and unwieldy that they still managed to burn through three directors of photography ... which shouldn't be a surprise when you see the kind of "camera work" this movie required.
There was your run-of-the-mill Spider-Manning ...
... your flaming bus grapples ...
... and your generally taunting God like a drunk cherub.
We feel like we should be paying $12 for watching each of these GIFs.
If you're thinking that the last stunt looks super-dangerous, according to the filmmakers you are absolutely correct. In order to accomplish a high-speed and elaborate chase scene involving motorcycle stunts and explosions, they essentially pieced together near-death stunts to look like an uncut sequence of horrific events -- most notably being the abovementioned van flip that forced their cameraman to hang off a moving rig like some kind of Red Bull-sponsored marionette.
If we hadn't already mentioned this was made in Russia you probably could have guessed it from that guy's non-reaction.
The Crooked Man In The Conjuring 2 Was A Real (And Super Tall) Dude
Director James Wan knows how to cobble a good scream show. His films might not aim for the psychological scarring of other classics, but he's probably the only game in town that manages to keep jump-scares fresh and artistic. Case in point, that anus-clenching moment in The Conjuring 2 when the dog de-animorphs into a netherworld Jack Skellington.
Or a drunken Jamiroquai stumbling home at night.
Between his lanky figure and stop-motion body movement, audiences were quick to write off this bowler-capped monstrosity as yet another horror movie phoning in the fright with CGI. And while that's normally the safe bet, these sorry sacks of "nay" clearly underestimated the Wan's determination for in-camera ghost effects -- which The Conjuring 2's production was freaking crawling with.
Building your sets on native burial ground is much cheaper than using CGI.
Along with treating his two-story set like a carnival spook house, Wan sought the help of professional horror movie monster Javier Botet for his impossibly-tall figure -- thus birthing the "Crooked Man" character.
He says he was born with Marfan syndrome, but can't prove he isn't two kids standing on top of each other.
That's right, the twitchy-ass "Crooked Man" was just one guy who is super good at moving terrifyingly ... but not without the help of some insanely neat practical stunts that most of us completely brushed off as being fake. Like when our villain supernaturally teleports from one side of the set to the other like a meth-fueled Cat In The Hat
But, in retrospect, way less creepy.
The Revenant Created A Real Goddamn Damn Avalanche
Despite being two hours of DiCaprio self-flagellating for a gold statue, The Revenant was super good. And while it features some of the best uses of CGI animals (including that infamous Baloo shadow punch), the big news of Oscar season was Lenny D's willingness to put just about anything in his scruffy actor maw. For example, the sequence where his character eats a bison liver was accomplished by eating a goddamn bison liver. Similar was the scene where he gullets a real live fish like a sexy lumberjack Gollum.
"As long as it's under 25, I have no problem putting my mouth on it."
The star was so insistent on authenticity that the studio had to clear it with a team of lawyers and agents first. And while the act alone seems like a big stupid accomplishment for Mr. Vegetarian Pants, it's actually more impressive when accounting for how these scenes were filmed. Specifically, that director Alejandro G. Inarritu tasked his cinematographer with using only natural light to shoot the entire movie ... meaning that the production had very little time each day to accomplish their goals. Did we mention that this was all while shooting elaborate stunts sometimes involving hundreds of people in the Canadian wilderness?
And yes, they used real, non-CGI Canadians as extras.
Many sequences involve our hero flopping helplessly in various rivers of scrotum-demolishing temps -- which (as you can guess) was obtained by Leo doing exactly that.
"I lost all sensation down there in the '90s anyway."
According to cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, Leo pretty much insisted on pushing the limit of what he was allowed to do -- and so when it came time for his character to jump in freezing cold rapids, he gladly obliged to the horror of every on-set safety diver. Other occasions, however, required a stuntman's touch -- like when they strapped a camera on a raft and literally sent it and a dude off the end of a waterfall.
Yes, that's real, and somehow not the craziest, most reaper-taunting rustic debacle the filmmakers accomplished for the sake of this movie. Why? Because they purposely started a fucking avalanche like some terrorist yeti.
A missed opportunity for the Revenant Meets Point Break crossover.
Again, that's not CGI (like some critics had assumed), but rather the result of the freezing crew lugging a crane up an 8,000-foot Alberta mountain, getting in a helicopter, and then dropping a fuckton of dynamite onto the top of a ridge whilst coordinating the ensuing topple with Leo's reaction in order to get the shot ... which they only had one take to get right.
Because if you're going to tell the story of Mother Nature's beautiful wrath, you might as well blow up a mountain while doing it.
David is an editor for Cracked. Tweet to him, you beautiful fool.
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