Special effects are crucial to telling the most imaginative and captivating stories. It involves a team of hardworking artists collaborating to bring a director’s vision to life. The effects have evolved and become more photorealistic over the past few decades. However, the 2010s saw an explosion of both practical and computer-generated effects that completely changed the game. After the critical success of James Cameron Avatar in 2009, the world of special effects is expanding. The following decade capitalized on technology and audiences got to see whole new worlds.
From storyboard to screen, characters and environments can be fully realized. There are eight films in particular that have created something very unique and memorable in the history of cinema. Each depicts something special about the human experience using imaginative visual effects. They suspend all disbelief and draw audiences into the power of movies. Some have drawn inspiration from the classic age of practical effects, and some have created something inventive and completely original.
8 Thanos – Avengers: Infinity War
The Infinity Saga has made Thanos the big bad since the first avengers in 2012. The effects of this movie alone were jaw-dropping. However, Avengers: Infinity War had a very difficult task at hand: to create a fully realized villain through believable and intimidating motion-capture technology. Computer-generated effects risk entering the weird valley, where something is wrong with the character and the audience doesn’t connect with the character on an emotional level.
Thanos is both believable and terrifying. His strength is fully realized in the first sequence of the film. However, the film focuses on this villain as the true protagonist, and his tough choices are what drive the film forward. Josh Brolin’s incredible performance laid the foundation for the incredible work of the VFX artists to bring this character to life.
7 Animation Comes To Life – The Jungle Book and The Lion King
Jon Favreau has made two of the most photorealistic computer-generated animal films in recent history. In 2016, The jungle Book had only one human character in a world created entirely in CGI. Realistic animals were believable and sometimes too real. Every detail has been fleshed out, from facial expressions to fine hair.
In 2019, Favreau had the even more difficult task of having no human characters in a full CGI world. His adaptation of the classic film The Lion King was breathtaking. He capitalized on the success of The jungle Book in a shot-for-shot remake of the original. The animals in this film were all too realistic, and that deserves applause for that hard work alone. The scenery was utterly believable, and it almost looked like something out of a National Geographic documentary.
6 A dream comes true – Inception
Creation is Christopher Nolan’s most original and unique film to date. He created worlds within worlds, all in the minds of the characters. When Ariadne (Elliot Page) and Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) wander the city streets while inside a dream, Ariadne asks what would happen if the physics of the dreams themselves were disrupted- same. This is when things get trippy. The reality of the dream bends in a way that audiences have to experience on the biggest screen possible. The psychedelic and hallucinatory effects of this sequence are something we have never seen before. Very rarely are there any sequences in a film that amaze the audience, but this scene inspires the most awe in a film that is filled with it.
5 Apes – War for the Planet of the Apes
Each of the recent monkeys movies have grown in their presentation of visual effects. However, there is a special interaction between the physical world and the world of special effects in the final film of the trilogy. War for the Planet of the Apes is perhaps the most advanced in its presentation of the sophistication of apes. They are civilized and completely independent.
Caesar is the heart of the film and has some truly human emotions that drive the film forward. that’s thanks to Andy Serkis’ incredible motion capture technology and performance, which work perfectly in tandem. He and his entire army of monkeys look like they were brought from the wild and trained to be movie professionals. There’s no doubt in the audience’s mind that these monkeys are real, and it’s slightly terrifying to watch them interact with the human characters. Their strength and power are unmatched, and director Matt Reeves (before making The Batman) created a beautifully chaotic world.
4 A New Generation – The Star Wars Sequels
the star wars the sequels created many new and exciting characters for audiences to enjoy. It all stems from JJ Abrams’ love of the franchise, which combines practical elements with computer generation. the force awakens took a page straight from George Lucas’ book and had eye candy all over the screen. The biggest achievement of this film was the creation of the last droid of the family, BB-8. This droid is adorable because it completely exists in the real world and its unique design is technologically sound. He fits right in with the droid crew and can hold his own when the going gets tough against the First Order, and his special effects physics are beautiful to look at.
3 Ava – Ex Machina
Ex-Machina is Alex Garland’s unique sci-fi film about humanity’s search for machines. Ava (played by Alicia Vikander) is a machine driven by some of the best computer-generated effects of decades. In 2014, this movie shocked the audience with the beautiful combination of human facial features with a completely mechanical body.
Garland’s decision not to touch Vikander’s face was brilliant because it allows audiences to immediately latch onto this character and create an emotional connection. There are so many impacts that the face has on the audience, and hiding that under the metal creates a challenge for relatability, so the effects in Ex-Machina creates an emotional resonance (and stretching Vikander’s emotional face over the head of a machine is both unsettling and beautiful).
2 Legends of Aging – The Irishman
In 2019, Martin Scorsese released one of Netflix’s most ambitious films to date, The Irishman, which is now considered a modern epic. The film used de-aging technology to brilliantly tell the decades-long stories of three men. Robert de Niro, Joe Pesci, and Al Pacino were all involved in this morphing process, so they could play into all aspects of their characters’ lives.
This technology was very expensive, not to mention the payment of the actor’s salary. Netflix spent quite a bit of money creating this modern classic. The aging process was efficient and convincing. It was the only way this story could have been truly told.
1 The Realistic Void – Gravity
Gravity fully encapsulates the true vacuum of space, from the movements of the astronauts to the light shining on their helmets. It’s all so real that it’s truly terrifying when things go wrong… very quickly. Sound is also an important factor that director Alfonso Cuarón used. Besides vast emptiness and infinity, sound does not exist in space. So when the debris hits the Explorer cruiser, we hear nothing. However, with the brilliant score and the camera movements, you can feel the tension.
This opening sequence is designed to look like one continuous shot, which is no small feat, even on the ground. The movements of the camera reflect the calm and frantic moments of tension. This opening sequence is technologically advanced and sets the tone for the rest of the film; Gravity mastered the 3D effects that dominated cinemas at the time, making all other 3D films weak in comparison.
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