Cookies notification

This website uses cookies to provide you with a better experience

You can adjust your cookie settings through your browser. If you do not adjust your settings, you are consenting to us issuing all cookies to you.

From Simba to Caesar: the landmark CGI creations that pushed big screen boundaries


Whether the upcoming remake of Disney's The Lion King is 'live action' is up for debate, considering the entirety of the film is computer generated. What is undeniable, however, is the magnificence that has been achieved with the photorealistic imagery on display.

The realism that has been achieved is seemingly flawless, with Simba and his pals looking like something from the nature channel - only with celebrity voices emanating from their mouths. Said A-listers include the likes of Donald Glover as the adult Simba, Beyonce as Nala, Chiwetel Ejiofor as Scar and a returning James Earl Jones as Mufasa.

It's directed by Jon Favreau who in 2016 turned fellow Disney remake The Jungle Book in a visually stunning marvel of CGI magic. The Lion King's cast of characters are set to establish a new benchmark in visual effects, but before Simba and his pride arrive this July, here are a few more CGI works of art that pushed the boundaries…

1. The T-1000 - Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

Perhaps not the first computer generated character to appear on screen, the T-1000 was certainly the first example of its potential. The unstoppable antagonist of James Cameron's sci-fi/action follow-up, the T-1000 (Robert Patrick) does not show its shiny true colours until part-way through the film. But once we have seen the ludicrously advanced machine emerge from engulfing flames in all its liquid metallic glory and transform before our eyes into the guise of Patrick, there is a not a jaw in the audience that hasn't hit the floor.

Winning the Academy Award for best visual effects, T2's CGI may seem somewhat primitive compared to what can be achieved today, although it does still hold up magnificently well. But the seamless CGI used to create such iconic moments as the T-1000's limbs morphing into knives, or its face melting through prison bars so that it can continue its unstoppable pursuit of our heroes, opened the world's eyes to such effects.

2. Tyrannosaurus Rex - Jurassic Park (1993)

Legendary director Steven Spielberg has tackled monsters before with Jaws, using the less-is-more approach, but with Jurassic Park, and spectacular use of CGI, he allows the monsters to stand proudly in the spotlight. And none stood taller than the Tyrannosaurus Rex.

The exceptional use of lighting, as well as the sparing, very specific use of the computer generated images alongside Stan Winston's breathtaking animatronics, allows the T-Rex look and move to an astonishingly realistic standard. It still remains one of the most frightening creatures to ever grace the silver screen.

3. Gollum - The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)

Gollum is the most tragic and complex character in Peter Jackson's seminal Lord of the Rings trilogy. Created by New Zealand's WETA Digital team, and brought to life via a pioneering motion capture performance by Andy Serkis, Gollum interacts seamlessly with both the physical environment and the film's live-action cast members.

The animators created Gollum from what are very vague descriptions in the source material, and with his big, expressive blue eyes there is no sense of uncanny valley here.

4. Davy Jones - Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (2006)

It wouldn't be a Pirates of the Caribbean film without a cursed man in search of revenge, and none are more cursed than the tentacle-faced Davy Jones. Looking like a cross between an octopus and the world's most unwashed pirate, with Bill Nighy's sad, pale blue eyes peering from beneath the slimy CGI flesh, Jones manages to look grotesquely alien and tragically human all at the same time.

He may be the villain of the piece, but thanks to the wonderfully realised CGI and enjoyable performance by Nighy, Jones is easily the most engaging character in the franchise (outside of Johnny Depp's Jack Sparrow, that is).

5. Pandora - Avatar (2009)

The world of James Cameron's Avatar was so brilliantly realised that many afterwards described having post-Avatar depression, brought on by the mere fact that they could not ever visit the alien world he had created. From the glowing plant life to the blue, cat-like natives, the Na'vi, and their spiritual and physical connection to their world, Pandora was such a computer generated spectacle it made people question their very existence.

A number of innovative techniques were used, so much so that the film had been put off by over a decade in order for the technology to catch up to Cameron's vision. These included large motion-capture stages, up to six times larger than usual, as well as improved methods of performance capture including skull caps that included a camera positioned in front of the actors' faces. Whatever you may think of the film overall, the use of CGI and its implementation is undeniably staggering.

6. Caesar - Planet of the Apes Series (2011, 2014, 2017)

The original Planet of the Apes from the late 1960s was ahead of its time where rubber monkey make-up was concerned. And the rebooted trilogy stepped up with its CGI visuals, particularly where main character and ape leader Caesar was concerned.

Mo-cap master Andy Serkis delivers another mesmerizing performance, disappering underneath a layer of photo-realistic fur and leathery skin as he takes us on a journey through the post-apocalyptic world of apes vs humans. Advances in technology allowed WETA Digital to film performance-capture among real world environments, rather than on a soundstage, and thus allowing us to see what the world would really look like if it were taken over by hyper-intelligent apes.

The Lion King is released on 19th July so tweet us your favourite CGI movie creations @Cineworld.

John Fuge is a writer who blogs for Cineworld as part of our news team.