The computer generated image has become something of an art form in modern cinema, allowing filmmakers to transport their audiences into fantastical situations and worlds never before possible. With constant improvements to both the technology and skill, CGI can now either be seamlessly integrated, or used to create moments of pure cinematic spectacle.
These breathtaking moments are what we’re really interested in, these moments that amaze, destined to remain in your memory forever. The upcoming man vs ape encounter, War of the Planet of the Apes, is set to be awash with CGI, with ape leader Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his battalion taking motion capture technology to extraordinary new levels.
From what we’ve seen so far, War of the Planet of the Apes is set to give audiences some truly breathtaking moments, moments not possible without CGI. Before we see these, let’s take a look at a few other CGI moments that left us catching our breath.
5. Dr Manhattan's new digs (Watchmen, 2009)
Say what you will about director Zack Snyder, the man knows how to create a beautiful image. With his adaptation of Alan Moore’s seminal graphic, Snyder and his VFX team gave us not only one of modern cinemas most gorgeous movies, but one that perfectly demonstrates how to use CGI.
The only super-powered being in a world full of costumed crime fighters, Dr Manhattan is played by actor Billy Crudup. His signature glowing, blue look was created using motion capture, which alone looks incredible. Frankly, all of Dr Manhattan’s scenes are something to behold, but it is when he exiles himself to Mars that the visuals truly fascinate.
Our blue friend takes the lotus position, and using his matter-altering abilities crafts a stunning glass palace from the martian sand. The palace emerges from the very ground as the soundtrack builds in the background, concluding with a shot of the palace from space.
Watchmen is a visual treat, and it is with the brilliant use of CGI in scenes such as these that the movie really shines.
4. A mimetic polyalloy... apparently (Terminator 2: Judgment Day, 1991)
T2 is widely regarded as one of the greatest action movies of all time. Some may even say it is the best, and you would be wise not to argue with them. Pitting Arnie the Austrian Oak against another Terminator far more advanced was the perfect way to up the ante, and casting the creepy but somewhat unthreatening Robert Patrick as that Terminator - a stroke of genius.
Throughout the film’s first act we are offered hints and clues as to just how advanced Patrick’s T-1000 is, but we don’t actually get to see it. That is until Arnie does what he does best and blows him up. Driving off into the distance, we alone get to see the T-1000 emerge from the flames, his liquid metal form re-moulding his visage back into Robert Patrick.
He shows no scratches nor signs of damage, and suddenly we realise just how much trouble our heroes are in. Despite being made in 1991, the CGI still maintains the desired terror. No wonder the effects team won an Oscar.
3. Dodge this (The Matrix, 1999)
The Matrix undoubtedly changed the face of modern science fiction, with a multitude of copycats and imitators attempting to follow the film’s style. No doubt black trench coat sales went through the roof.
In the final act, our hero Neo comes face-to-face with an Agent’s gun, which is rarely an enjoyable experience. With nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, Neo has no choice but to perform an impossible feat - dodge the bullets.
As each gunshot is fired, we brace ourselves as everything slows down, the camera magnificently spinning around our hero in a 360 degree shot that has never been bested. Neo leans back into a position that would make limbo champs jealous, as the bullets slowly fly past his head.
The technique used to create the bullet dodge opened up a new world in terms of CGI, and the scene itself still causes gasps.
2. Talk amongst yourself (Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, 2002)
Andy Serkis has mastered the art of the motion capture performance, and with his performance as Caesar lifting the new Planet of the Apes series it would be remiss not to look back at some of his previous work.
Serkis’ portrayal of tormented creature Gollum in the Lord of the Rings trilogy not only put the actor on everyone’s radar, it showed audiences everywhere what could be achieved with CGI. Gollum arguing aloud with Sméagol, his other personality, is easily the most affecting moment in the entire series.
The anger, fear, pain and sadness is all there in those large, computer generated eyes as Gollum bullies Sméagol into partaking in his wicked ways. It’s hard to believe you aren’t looking at a real creature. The brilliance of Gollum is in the seamless merging of performance and tech, and it is this brilliance that has led to engaging characters such as Caesar.
1. Spared no expense (Jurassic Park, 1993)
The brachiosaurus scene from Jurassic Park is why a lot of people fell in love with cinema. The build-up, the performances, along with the iconic score are all pitch perfect, leading into the most breathtaking use of CGI ever committed to film.
Sam Neill’s heroic palaeontologist Dr Alan Grant wears the audience’s reaction as his own, as he stares up at the massive beast in complete awe. Removing his sunglasses, hands shaking, Spielberg does not allow us to see what has him so rattled until the timing is just right.
Such a superbly crafted scene would ultimately fall flat if the eventual CGI reveal failed. Thankfully, the CGI is so good, so complex, that it probably would’ve been easier to just breed real dinosaurs. The CGI is so breathtaking, that if any scene in the future manages to top it you’ll need a paramedic.
Click here to book your tickets for War for the Planet of the Apes and let us know where you think it'll rank @Cineworld.
Jon Fuge is a writer who blogs for Cineworld as part of our news team.