Before we’d seen what Michael Bay had hidden up his big-budget sleeve, we’d probably have settled for a movie version of those dancing Citroen ads. Next to Optimus Prime and Bonecrusher going mano-a-mano on a busy motorway, however, the C4 looks in serious need of extra va-va-voom. Once you’ve watched two lorries transforming into giant automatons at high speed and doing a close approximation of speed skating, all subsequent chase sequences look a bit tame. Robot titans grappling like a pair of oversized WWE superstars dangling from a flyover provide an intoxicating mix of near-balletic elegance and pure, unadulterated high-octane power. And because it’s all shot with a jerky, handheld style, it looks like Bay strapped his cameraman to a fast car and drove it between his robot stars’ legs. You know he would have if he could have.
4 THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERS (2002)
Let’s hear it for the greatest CG character yet created, making Jar Jar Binks seem as a realistic as Morph. A lot of the credit has to go to Andy Serkis, the actor whose performance was filmed and captured digitally as a basis for the animators to work from (it was he who decided that Gollum should never walk on two legs until his final scene at the Crack of Doom). But the design and CG teams must be equally applauded for so flawlessly integrating the mutated Hobbit into the film; the audience totally accepts Gollum as just another character after mere minutes of screen time. His design did develop subtly over the course of the making of the trilogy and director Peter Jackson has said that one day he’ll go back to The Fellowship of the Ring and make the Gollum in that film look more like the one in the next two. Jackson’s personal favourite Gollum scene – in terms of his animated expressions – is the one that takes place just before Frodo enters Shelob’s lair. He’s right; the animated “acting” is astoundingly good.
3 TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY (1991)
It’s difficult to remember now, but Terminator 2 was one of the very first movies to fully exploit the possibilities of CGI to create something that wasn't supposed to look "computery" and, looking back on it now, there’s virtually nothing that looks dated or in need of a rejig. It was Dennis Muren’s Oscar-winning work on The Abyss’s water creature that paved the way for the liquid metal creation that is the T-1000. The film uses its £100 million budget well – there are so many sequences that are just so damned enjoyable to watch. What about the bit where the T-1000 jumps into the helicopter and morphs into the pilot? Or the sequence at the end where he’s split in two by Arnie’s gunshot? Or the bit where he’s frozen by the liquid nitrogen and Arnie blasts him into a million pieces? Terminator 2 was a movie that knew how to use digital effects economically and creatively. It’s the concept of the T-1000 that we have to applaud as much as the digital work. And Terminator 3, made all those years later, doesn’t look half as good.
2 TRON (1982)
Director Steve Lisberger’s groundbreaking Tron boasted 15 minutes of pure CG wizardly, a huge amount for its day. The film may not have aged well, but its CG sequences have stood the test of time, mainly because they were imitating the computer games of the time, rather than trying to create photorealism. That doesn't, however, diminish the power of scenes such as the light cycles, which retain an energy and elegance that is impressive even today.
1 JURASSIC PARK (1993)
First shot of the brachiosaurus
It seems impossible now to believe that Spielberg would have considered filming Jurassic Park without CG, so perfect does the marriage of dinosaurs and CG appear today. But when Spielberg originally signed up to do the movie, he was intending to predominantly render the thunder lizards using a method called go-motion, which was how the AT-ATs were created in The Empire Strikes Back. The director was worried that CG would produce a computer game look. ILM, however, showed him some test footage of a CG T-Rex and Spielberg was instantly sold. For the audience, the results of this new technology tackling skin and bone for the first time coincided with Sam Neill’s first glimpse of a dinosaur in the film itself. Our expressions of awe and wonder were similar to his as the camera panned up to show a brachiosaurus majestically munching on the leaves of tree. It was the dawn of a new age in special FX and the first light was beautiful.
Click here for Total Film’s list of the worst ever CG effects in movie history.
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