This Ikea adnote one of MPC's commercials utilizes very seamless editing. There are also two similar, yet unique, versions in one minute and in 30 second long formats. The best part? all three were done in under a week.
Whenever a Digivolution sequence in Digimon features heavy use of CGI, the result is usually nothing short of awesome.
Blood: The Last Vampire is one of the most disturbingly realistic, ultra-fluent pieces of animation out there. At times you really don't know if it's CG, digitally animated or actually filmed material.
Afro Samurai. Both it, its compilation movie, and the video game adaptation. It has perhaps some of the most stunning, mind-bending visuals ever produced. Yes, even Gorn is beautiful here.
The Rebuild of Evangelion series certainly qualifies. While anime and animation in general has a reputation of having really cool special effects (helped by the fact that they don't have to worry about inserting live action actors into the shot) the first Rebuild movie stands out because if it weren't for the characters' heads and a slight color change a lot of scenes and character models would be indistinguishable from Real Life.
Bonus points to Ramiel, who went from just a giant floating octohedron to a shapeshifting, incomprehensible horror.
The thing that really sells the portrayal of Ramiel in Rebuild, though, is that while Ramiel's transformation effects are almost painfully easy to render in CGI, it's done in a way that looks photorealistic when you know for a fact that such a thing in real life would be physically impossible. Result: The scene would have been lessterrifying if it had fallen into the Uncanny Valley. That's right, the visual effects are actually more horrifying than the darkest depths of the Uncanny Valley. Bravo, Anno. Well played.
Additionally for the first Rebuild movie, its Blu-ray release was the first test of a new video codec designed to get rid of "color-banding" (example here◊. Severe color-banding on the left, with the best elimination of it shown on the right). According to the developers of the technology, it exceeded their expectations tenfold. Even if they had failed to meet those expectations, they would still have managed to achieve impressive results.
The original Neon Genesis Evangelion itself had some spectacular-looking battles, which can be further appreciated by the fact the series was made on a very tight budget.
Karas. Along with the above-mentioned Evangelion 1.11, it is one of the most beautiful anime ever created.
Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann certainly qualifies. Gainax is probably the only anime studio that can take a battle between two robots in space, a concept that's been used hundreds of times, and make it look so overwhelming. Freaking galaxies are being thrown and blown up, the special attacks become more devastating with each move and Gurren Lagann JUST. KEEPS. GROWING.
Cranked Up to Eleven with the two compilation movies. Especially the second one...
AKIRA is gorgeously animated throughout (complete with phonically-animated lips), but the best animation has to be Tetsuo's mutation. That scene definitely would not have been as effectively horrific if it had been handled by lesser animators. And the film wasn't animated by any computers whatsoever.
Similarly, the original Ghost in the Shell had great animation, most notably in the beginning when Kusanagi's body is being created during the opening credits.
Paprika. In terms of both technical quality and pure visual imagination.
The transformation sequences from 80% of Magical Girl anime.
When the Pokémon Contest battles and appeal rounds (special mention goes to the Grand Festival) in the Diamond and Pearl series are one thing, the upgraded effects and animation in Unova have skyrocketed to coolness levels off the freakin' charts.
Currently, Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn is the single greatest example of this trope throughout the Gundam franchise. While it is expected for an OVA series to have higher quality, the amazing detail of every fight in this is awe-inspiring.
Naruto Shippuden really started ramping up its appearance in the Pain Arc, specifically episode 166-167. The story of Naruto's birth was portrayed in movie-quality animation, and the beginning of the Fourth Great Ninja War mixed a little CG into the awesomeness.
Arcs which are really great for animation are the Immortal's Arc where we get movie quality animation for the final fight with the immortal duo, as well as the Hunt for Itachi arc where both Jiraiya and Itachi's final living arc with both their deaths and their final fights getting excellent animation. However, after that the people at Studio Pierrot had a change of leadership or something, since quality...dropped, even for crucial arcs like the Invasion of Pain (which was barely passable). It became joked by Naruto fans that Studio Pierrot only cares about Sasuke which gives his arcs the best animation...at least until Sasuke and Kakashi's skirmish which a flash animator did far better. The aforementioned Birth of Naruto mini-Arc did have movie quality animation, shame that Naruto vs Kurama (Kyubi) couldn't have the same treatment despite how crucial it was. However, the best animation in the War Arc was episode 322, when Madara Uchiha is reincarnated as an Edo Tensei. Movie quality animation, minus a few glitches, as well as movie quality art.
The 2011 Hunter × Hunter by Madhouse is astounding. All one needs to do is watch the fight between Gon and Hisoka in heaven's arena to realise that the animation is on par with most big budget anime films. Later on, Kurapika vs Uvogin gets movie level animation.
The Fall 2012 AnimeK was highly acclaimed overall, with much of the praise given to the extremely high quality of the art; the animation was done beautifully , the special effects are top-notch, and the combination of vibrant color effects and Scenery Porn are so fantastically done, it's almost surreal.
The 2013 anime adaptation of Attack on Titan. Special mention must go to the Three-Dimensional Maneuver Gear sequences, which turn the human characters into what can only be described as Spider-Man on steroids.
Captain Harlock 2013. Many fans have watched trailers for the film and thought it was live action.
Film - Animated
Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods take this up to 9000. The movie, visually, is flat out amazing from start to finish. The blend of CGI and top quality animation and art used throughout the movie makes everything look spectacular. Ironically, there's more detail placed in the background art and animation when fights occur. However, the standout scenes for where things get visually breathtaking is when Bills takes on Goku on Earth and then in space. EVERYTHING. LOOKS. BEAUTIFUL.
The Adventures of Tintin. The 2011 film. The absolutely gorgeous 2D opening sequence was incredible enough, but then you see the CGI, and it's so realistic that within a few minutes you forget you're watching a CGI, motion-captured film. Some of the effects used for different scenes were incredible, as well-in order to film a scene on a rocking boat, the actors were put on a swinging walkway. And Snowy the dog? No motion capture whatsoever. The animators thought that motion-capturing a dog wasn't realistic enough and just animated him by scratch. Special mention has to be given to the transitions between scenes, as well, especially the one between Tintin and Haddock being lost at sea to the Thom(p)sons walking down the sidewalk.
Two scenes that must be mentioned here: the insaneEpic Tracking ShotChase Scene through Bagghar, and the transition between flashback and present day while Captain Haddock is telling the story of the Unicorn while he and Tintin are in the desert. The way the Unicorn just crashes over the dunes and everything transforms into ocean has to be seen to be believed.
Beauty and the Beast was one of the first animated movies to use CGI, in the famous ballroom scene, and it has aged -very- well. The rest of the movie, especially when animating the Beast, or showing any shots of the Castle, are absolutely gorgeous and some of Disney's finest.
Brave is absolutely incredible, too. There are over 100,000 hairs rendered on Merida's head.
Coraline stretches the limits of what can be done with just stop-motion and a crapload of patience. Not counting mistakes, the average production speed is 3 seconds per day. The movie is 100 minutes long.
The garden scene is CGI, right? WROOONG!!! They made loads of flowers that lit up for the scene. A sequence that is impossibly beautiful, even by CGI standards, was made with A BOX OF SCRAPS!
The scenes where parts of the Other World disintegrated. Try telling yourself that they're from a stop-motion film.
As an example of Tropes Are Not Good, the sheer beauty of the animation made some people think that it's just a generic CGI animation.
The "Night on Bald Mountain" sequence from Fantasia. Especially when you think about the fact that it was originally made pre-computer, so it was all done by hand.
Fantasia 2000 is no slouch when it comes to amazing-looking sequences. The Firebird segment is the most prominent demonstration of this.
The Rhapsody in Blue segment may actually be an even better example the visual effects. The animation is ridiculously smooth and yet manages to remain in sync with the very fast paced "Rhapsody in Blue", thanks to an obscene amount of frames per second. It also pushed the limit of computers, by using nearly more colors than it could display.
Especially when Advent Children Complete was released. Taking advantage of Blu Ray's high definition to touch up the effects such as adding dirt stains on faces/clothes etc. It looks stunning, even moreso than the regular edition.
There are points in watching Finding Nemo when you can't tell what's computer graphics and what's real ocean.
Here's a hint: it's all computer graphics.
Also traits of the ocean characters in the movie were based off actual marine biology. Seriously if you research the fish, you'll find that almost all of it is accurate, minus the extra intelligence and Carnivore Confusion, of course.
According to the Making Of documentary, as part of the research for this movie Andrew Stanton got some real underwater footage and challenged the animators to duplicate it. When the results were screened a few days later, Stanton couldn't tell which clips were original and which were animated.
Pixar works with a rendering algorithm called REYES, an acronym for "Renders Everything You Ever Saw".
How to Train Your Dragon. Some of the most well-animated hair and fur Dreamworks has produced (checkout the Badass beard on Stoic the Vast), as well as eyes that obviously had irises BEHIND a transparent cornea, as opposed to painted on top of a ping-pong ball shape and stuck into the sockets. Not to mention Hiccup's WET hair. Each character also moved in a unique fashion, and ZOMFG The Green Death.
The flying scenes especially had enough details to qualify as more than just Rule of Cooldragonriding. When Toothless wasn't being cartoony, his behavior and movements were incredibly realistic, down to his pupils widening and shrinking slightly when he blinked.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame Ditto for this movie for being some of Disney's finest animation. Any scene featuring the titular Cathedral are painstakingly copied from the original building, considered a masterpiece of architecture. The way Medieval Paris is animated makes it look big and grand, and while perhaps not as polished as Beauty and the Beast, still counts for scenery porn when it's not being nothing short of epic during the climax's battle for the Cathedral.
Much was made of Hunchback's large crowd scenes, which feature hundreds of moving peoplenote Normally, crowds are "faked" as painted backdrops.. A computer program called CROWD, developed specially for "Hunchback," allowed the animators to give it that extra little bit of realism.
The Kung Fu Panda films not only have beautiful scenery, but stunning action scenes as well. Special mention goes to Tai Lung's escape from prison in the first film and the Zen Ball Master scene in the second.
From The Lion King, the wildebeest stampede. Even without the emotional torque that comes with the scene, the sight of hundreds of individual wildebeest thundering over the cliff is nothing short of spectacular.
The CGI animation in Megamind is generally solid, but when the top of the tower collapses, it's like a massive Art Bump.
Mulan had some amazing CG effects such as the Hun army barging down on the outmatched Imperial Army was a truly amazing piece of animation, and terrifying.
Laika topped their work on Coraline with ParaNorman. The storm clouds and wispy hands created by the witch's ghost utilized thin delicate fabrics. The flying dirt clods when the Zombies rise from their graves involved actually rigging the dirt clods to "fly" up. And the climax with Norman confronting the witch was achieved through Medium Blending all three animation mediums of stop motion for the body with sculpted smear frames to achieve a face warping effect, with 2D and CG elements for effects such as lightning.
The animation in Planes, despite being produced on a lower budget, is pretty much on-par with Pixar's.
The colors in Pocahontas! Oh god, THE COLORS! ..of the wind. No, but seriously. Check it out.
The Prince of Egypt, while mostly using 2-D animation, has segments that used a bit of CGI. Thankfully, all of them are still stunning to look at. They include the following scenes: the burning bush, the plagues, the angel of death, and the crossing of the Red Sea.
The Princess and the Frog is an amazing return to style for Disney Animation. There is an incredible amount of detail on buildings etc., lots of cool colors, and prepare to be blown away by "Friends on the Other Side", "AlmostThere" and "Dig A Little Deeper".. That last one takes the cake. It's jaw dropping in its use of lightning effects and it looks breathtaking.
Ratatouille should be on the list just because they actually managed to make food that did not fall in the uncanny valley using CGI. Fabric is actually really hard to animate well so it was actually very impressive that they were able to make it work well.
Rise of the Guardians. All of it. Special mention, however, must go to the Sandman's giant dinosaurs in the climax.
There's a good reason why it won the Annie Award for Best Effects in an Animated Production.
Holy fucking shitERISALONE. She is constantly shifting and morphing and moving and changing as if she's nothing but smoke. SOMETHING is always moving around chaotically on her body in her scenes- most often her hair with gorgeous fluidity. Sometimes she flat out changes shape complete with five million smoky effects. Major props to her animators because she looks gorgeous and fluid and just flat out amazing.
The hair in Tangled. They went out of their way to make it wet, blow, touched. Then the detail paid to the textures, water, everything but the skin. That's probably for the best.
There's also the unbelievably beautiful "I See The Light" scene. Anyone who didn't find their jaws dropping at the sheer gorgeousness of the lanterns slowly emerging and surrounding the two watchers so obviously falling in love with each other has a heart of stone.
The Thief and the Cobbler certainly counts as this. The film was completely drawn at 24 FPS as opposed to 12 FPS for even the best animated films today. The film also includes unbelievably accurate 3D polygonal effects that were entirely drawn by hand. In fact, despite the film's visual complexity, no computers were ever used to produce the film - every minute of it was drawn on traditional cels. There's a good reason the film took over 20 years to complete.
Pixar has quite a few but in the close up shot of Woody and Al in Toy Story 2 you could swear Al is a live actor because he just looks so real.
Toy Story 3. The incinerator scene has the best CGI fire ever. Well played, Pixar. Holy SHIT, but well played.
"Monsters University". The little girl towards the end. Specifically, her hair. The way the moonlight blooms through it, illuminating each strand to create an almost photorealistic effect. Goodness.
WALL•E. There are moments — fairly frequent moments — where you wonder how EVE actually works, because she and WALL•E are obviously real machines...
The spectral rabbits in the Watership Down film. Holy crap. They seriously look like they were pencil-shaded, and that alone is awesome - pencil shading would take a very long time to animate effectively!
Pinocchio. Just everything about it. The sparkle when the Blue Fairy brings Pinocchio to life, the multiplane pans through the village at morning, the ripples under the sea, all amazing, and not a single computer was used. There's a reason it's still called the most technically perfect animated film ever made.
Frozen has incredibly realistic renditions of ice and snow, especially the scene where Elsa creates her castle of ice.
FernGully: The Last Rainforest. Say what you will about the film itself, but the imagery and animation is a feast for the eyes. Special mention goes to all of the images of Hexxus, Batty's flight through the construction machine toward the climax and all those montages of forest magic. Too bad the sequel had to throw that out the window.
The Lego Movie. EVERYTHING is made of Lego. Yes, even the sea. And they animated so well, people thought it was stop motion when it was in fact, ALL CGI. Except that bit in the real world.
Live Action Television
The TV miniseries adaptation of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy mostly suffers from terrible special effects, except for the sequences where we see the guide itself. All these shots were actually hand drawn replicas of typical computer graphics of the time, and even today you'd swear they were actually done on a computer.
For all the mocking the classic series of Doctor Who receives for its shoddy effects, nobody can deny just how awesome that opening shot of the space station in "Trial of a Time Lord" was. Unfortunately later spaceship shots in the same serial don't even come close that quality - the BBC just couldn't afford it.
Also - the sailing ships in space in "Enlightenment".
And the guy's face melting in "Dragonfire".
The gorgeously realised alien planet in "Survival" is a definite contender as well.
The Ninth Doctor's (and by extension, the Tenth Doctor, Derek Jacobi's Master's, the Eleventh Doctor's, the War Doctor's and both of River Song's) regeneration sequence.
The shot of Mars at the end of "The Waters of Mars".
The special effects are pretty much the only good thing about "Time and the Rani". The planet and the bubble traps in particular look incredible for their time.
In the new series, we have the airborne shots of New New York in "Gridlock".
The ruins of Pompeii at the beginning of the fourth series are absolutely breathtaking.
The climax of "The Poison Sky". They set the sky on fire.
With a few exceptions, all of Series Five. The Atraxi. Starship UK. Blitz-era London. The Spitfire vs. Dalek saucer space battle. The crash of the Byzantium. All of them are rendered so gorgeously that it would be hard to convince someone that all of these are from a TV series, and one that used to be mocked for cheesy effects at that.
Almost any shot of a satellite or spaceship from the new series as early as "The End of the World"'s Platform One. Also, "Tooth and Claw"'s werewolf, which still held up stunningly against that of series 4 and 5.
March 26, 2005, teatime. The first new episode in just under a decade has begun to air, and after just a minute or so, there's two of these: the beautifully rendered title sequence of the TARDIS travelling through the fiery time vortex and then the shot of Earth in orbit, which picks up speed as it moves toward London.
Good god, the Toclafane. One of them's just a floating metal ball, but when you see an entire army of them in Earth orbit... brrr....
"The End of the World", "42", "Amy's Choice" and "The Big Bang" successfully render suns breathtakingly well.
"Vincent and the Doctor", the stargazing scene. The Doctor, Amy, and Vincent Van Gogh look up at the night sky, and it transforms into The Starry Night. Absolutely beautiful.
A man's face transforming into a gas mask in "The Empty Child". The fact that they actually managed to make something that sounds that absurd look so convincing and horrifying is incredible.
The shell-less TARDIS traveling through the Vortex in "The Doctor's Wife". Wow.
Say what you will about the Daleks, their original body and voice designs are superb, rubber plungers notwithstanding.
Especially when the guys inside the Dalek casings remember to move around a bit. You'd be amazed at the difference a few random twitches and slight back and forth movements make to bring those things to life.
"The Daemons" is a very early example. Though it was filmed in the days when both technology and budget were pathetic, the producers worked wonders with just a few clever camera tricks (filters, angles and some judicious shaking). The gargoyle costume was astonishingly realistic, and for once the revealed monster (Azal) exceeded expectations. The model church which was blown up at the end was so realistic a number of people complained to the BBC, thinking they had blown up an actual building.
Every single shot of Gallifrey we've gotten in the New Series has been absolutely stunning.
"Pyramids of Mars" had smoking footsteps and strangulations and Scarman's reverse-playback bullet-wound healing. (There was no reverse-playback on videotape in those days, so the producers had to borrow a video disc machine from the BBC's sports department.)
In the original series episode "The Sensorites", there's the major technical triumph of showing the TARDIS crew going through the TARDIS control room, leaving the doors and stepping out onto the spaceship they've landed on in one continuous, seamless movement. There is a cut to facilitate this, but it's very subtle and the mind refuses to register it. Nowadays, an effect like this would be trivial, but the series spent decades trying deliberately not to show this movement under the grounds that it would be unconvincing, despite it being executed seamlessly almost right at the very beginning.
The Gorn-tastic makeup on the human being transformed into a Dalek while begging for death in "Resurrection of the Daleks" is an interesting case - it's quite obviously done on the cheap (its cybernetic parts are represented by sequin-mesh), but its cheapness makes it a lot more organic and viscerally revolting to look at than the properly-made latex prosthetics used on later human Daleks were. It was almost certainly made at least partially out of real meat, and a small part of it throbbed pathetically to a heartbeat - again, had it been the whole mask throbbing, it would have come across as less sickly and fundamentally wrong. As it is, the scene is pure, childhood-destroyingSquick.
In the original "Terror of the Autons", the Autons are magnificent examples of Uncanny Valley that traumatised the nation in a way that most other monsters in Who never did save the Daleks. However, the BBC did not have the budget to show the glass on the windows breaking, so they cut away from it. This is why it's Awesome in "Rose" when they do have the budget to show the Autons breaking the glass, and the pornographic attention paid to the effect is joyous.
The first ever shots of the TARDIS travelling through the vortex in "The Chase". It's suitably dreamlike and gorgeous and all done with practical, 1960s effects, and the kaleidoscope look of the Vortex was actually brought back for the title sequence of Season 7B.
Also from The Chase - the Daleks fighting the Mechanoids. With flamethrowers.
All of the title sequences are just beautiful even after the technology has moved past whatever they were made with. From the ghostly streaming white lights morphing into letters of the 60s, to the swirling and brightly-coloured lights morphing into the face of the Doctor in the early 70s, to the gorgeous kaleidoscoping 2001: A Space Odyssey-inspired "time tunnel" in the mid-to-late 70s, the Doctor's face emerging from a howling starfield in the 80s, the early CGI for the late 80s showing the TARDIS trapped in a bubble, the modern CGI for the TV Movie and the new series... You'll have your favourites, but all of them are gorgeous.
The early CGI used for the eyes of the robots in "The Robots of Death", not to mention the beautiful death-mask-like masks they wear.
This is one of the main selling points of Madan Senki Ryukendo: the CG team just get better and better as the series progresses, and the final battle is a thing of jaw-dropping beauty.
Watch the battle of the Resurrection Ship from Season 2 of the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica. Watch Galacticaand Pegasus circle the Cylon ships, slowly pounding them to space dust, and avoid dropping your jaw in awe.
All of Babylon 5 was notable for being trailblazing in CGI space effects.
Another moment, from the season two finale, The Reveal of what everyone sees when they look at Kosh, was particularly notable as well. JMS said about it, "when you go for something this substantial: either you're going to do something truly amazing, or you're going to massively fall on your face". Watching the episode with someone who was seeing it for the first time, she blurted out "My God, he's beautiful." The effects were ten years old at this point. Yeah, they nailed it.
The Cool Gate doing its "kawoosh" in all incarnations of Stargate. (Okay, not the cartoon Stargate Infinity, in which it was just sort of a blob. And it has no excuse, what with being animated and all.) IIRC, it's done by filming underwater as a jet engine is fired from just above the surface - and filmed from a gazillion angles so they wouldn't have to go to the expense of doing it again. That is also awesome, because you wouldn't ever know that all the many gate scenes were from the same use of the trick - even when every Gate in the known universe was activated at once, leading to a great many kawoosh scenes being shown back to back. It should really have shown then, but it didn't.
The Wraith assault on Atlantis in "The Siege" looks incredible. Wraith darts against human missiles and railguns... it's amazing.
The shot of the Goa'uld bombarding Washington D.C. in Stargate Continuum is equal parts horrifying and stunning.
Stargate Universe has the scene in "Darkness" where Destiny skims the atmosphere of a gas giant. As Chloe put it, "it's beautiful".
Followed by Destiny emerging from the sun in "Light".
The final episode of Fawlty Towers, featuring Manuel's rat running around the hotel. There are a couple spots (espeically the ending) where the rat is clearly mechanical, but for the most part it looks for all the world exactly like a real rat.
IIRC they did use a real rat for a couple of insert shots, but mostly it's a puppet.
The first season finale of Life shows main character Charlie Crews driving down a street in LA, when he's suddenly rammed from the side, making his car flip over. The scene is shot in a "you are there" style which is amazingly visceral.
The episode of House involving a video game developer took a different direction than their usualtelevision depiction by showing a game that's at least ten years ahead of what's possible today.
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. With the Dominion War arc, we got the most impressive special effects from Star Trek until the new movie came out.
Watch the Deep Space Nine episode "Trials and Tribble-ations". Now carefully pick your jaw back up from the floor...
Similarly the Star Trek: Enterprise episode "In a Mirror, Darkly" (though the Deep Space Nine one did go one step beyond by seamlessly integrating original footage with new characters).
The Voyager episode "Scorpion." The First Contact movie had one Borg cube, this episode had 40 cubes nearly running over the insignificant Voyager on their way to face an even greater threat, and were all destroyed.
Voyager crashing into the ice planet in "Timeless" is some goddamn epic CGI, especially for a TV show in 1998. Watch it here, and check out some badass behind the scenes art for it here.
The Star Trek: Enterprise episode "Twilight". Nothing really daring by Trek standards, except... the complete destruction of the Earth. Notable for two reasons; 1) while blowing up worlds is fairly common in post-Star Wars sci-fi, the effects team showed the Xindi superweapon literally boiling the planet from the inside out, complete with fault lines cracking and tearing apart. 2) It wasn't even in the script! The effects team came in on their weekends off and did the sequence just for the hell of it. Just...damn!
The Andorians in general. The makeup team gave them animatronic antennae that reflected their emotional state during dialogue and put blue dye in the actors' mouths to avert the old problem when you've got gray/green/blue-skinned aliens that still have pink mouths even if they're supposed to not have iron-based blood.
The Next Generation's opening sequence too, with all the planets. The "Space: The Final Frontier" bit only enhances it more.
The opening shot of the Voyager episode "Dragon's Teeth," featuring an alien city under bombardment. An amazing amount of work for a shot that only lasts a few seconds.
And it was good enough to be put into the altered credit sequence of "In a Mirror, Darkly."
The final shot of "Author, Author," with a whole cave full of Robert Picardos.
Into The Universe With Stephen Hawking's 2-hour episode has some pretty cool special effects: The super nova "storm clouds", crunching of the earth into a black hole, making a star in Wembly Field, and a super-massive black hole with a ship going around it. Even a bunch of ball-bearings on the floor (they're in a perfect grid, but if you take a few of them out they start swirling together) is facinating.
Primeval may not be about to keep up with its big-budget theatrical peers, but for a TV series to feature a new time-displaced creature every episode, and actually set things up to make it look like it interacts with the enviroment, is nothing short of amazing for a TV series.
Dinosaurs! from 1985 featured various sequences of stop-motion dinosaurs created by Tippett Studios. Sure, they don't look so good compared to the CG dinosaurs of Jurassic Park (which Tippett went on to do), but for the time is was the greatest thing. Also helps that the documentary was hosted by Christopher Reeve.
The BBC Walking With... documentary series (consisting of Walking With Dinosaurs, Walking With Beasts, and others) were all about prehistoric animals. The shows used both CGI and animatronics to represent the animals. The CGI was good, but the animatronics were amazing. You'd swear that the filmmakers brought an andrewsarchus back to life!
In that vein, the BBC's Walking with Dinosaurs, which for the most part featured jaw-droppingly realistic prehistoric beasts on a TV-budget, and was made in 1999. While never quite consistent, the quality kept improving throughout its sequels, and by the '05 Walking with Monsters, the CGI stood the test of closeups.
Close your eyes and point, and you'll likely hit something gorgeous in Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger. Henshins, roll calls, the Gokai Change into previous teams, everything.
For those who prefer the dialogue to be in a language they understand, search YouTube for the 10th-anniversary episode "Forever Red." Excellent choreographed and wire work, a Bullet Time shot, speed-up-slow-down cinematography years before 300 made it popular... It was a Very Special Episode and presumably had a larger-than-normal budget, but being able to produce that on a TV show's budget at all is still jaw-dropping.
The scene in Heroes in which Claire has just taken enough radiation to kill a platoon of Marines. She steps outside and horrifies her family and neighbors as she looks like burnt meat. And then, as she walks towards her family....her skin, eyes, and hair all restore themselves to their pristine condition. This TV show went toe-to-toe with the Visual Effects of the movies, and WON.
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles features some very good effects, particularly the effects makeup used on the Terminators themselves. The big shootouts, explosions and fight sequences do look like they came right out of a feature film. Not forgetting the title sequence which shows Terminator components coming together in mid-air, and then the eyes light up.
John Adams, the HBO miniseries, isn't exactly the first thing that comes to mind when you think of truly incredible special effects. Then you watch this.
Early on, Sanctuary didn't have much of a budget. What they did have was a pretty good CGI team that made almost every set used in the first season. After a few seasons, they got the budget to build some real sets, and it's still pretty awesome that finding where they built stuff and where they used computers can be pretty hard.
Ernie Kovacs was most likely the first who took the medium of television and really experimented with it as much as he could. Not just comically, but also visually. Just look at parts one and two of this sketch known as Eugene.
For a show suffering from a critical lack of budget in its final seasons, it managed to pull off some very impressive visual effects in its Grand Finale with the planet Apokolips moving through space towards Earth and almost crushing Metropolis.
Outcasts had some amazing special effects for a mostly un-remembered TV series. Shots of Carpathia from space, with the colony ship hanging over it, looked stunning, as did the white-out and the disease's visible effects.
The Goodies has some pretty damn good FX for a 70s BBC show (in fact, Doctor Who might have learned a thing or two from them). Just watch the climax of the episode "The Movies" for some truly awesome examples. People run in and out of movie screens, a back-projected truck turns into a real one, and there's so much creative use of doubles that even the cast got confused.
A documentary about BBC effects revealed that most of The Goodies' fx were achieved using silent-era techniques, which was all they could afford. But the execution is just superb.
The penultimate episode of the second season of Game of Thrones shows where the extra budget they'd received after the success of the first season went to. The pinnacle of an awesome episode? When a massive wildfire explosion (kind of like Greek fire, only emerald green) literally disintegrates the middle of an invading fleet!
Space1999 may have had terrible scripts and lousy acting, but there's no denying that its spaceship effects were pretty damn good for the mid-70s. Effects Director Brian Johnson achieved most of them in-camera by shooting each element against a black background and rewinding the film inbetween. The only drawback is that spaceships are usually only seen moving in front of black space.
Farscape relied more on puppets than CGI, but those puppets are so impressive that it's very, very easy to forget that charcters like Pilot and Rygel weren't real, living creatures. The CGI they did use, mostly for external shots of Moya and the other spacecraft, still holds up very well too.
It's not part of a movie or a TV show or anything of the sort, but the fifty-foot Giant SpiderLa Princesse is amazing. Even when she's walking and you can clearly see her operators... The man who made her has made other giant marionettes, some of them in the Uncanny Valley, all of them very impressive.
He creates machines, machines which are both beautiful and crazy, giant animals, strange contraptions which play music, boats which sail across the land, birds from where you can have a drink in a daydream, a world which is both real and dreamlike and which invades cities for beautiful, moving and crazy celebrations.
Demoscene deals with those visual effects very often.
Homestar Runner, mainly starting with 'A jorb well done', pretty much teaches us how well you can animate with Flash (minus the Power by the cheat shorts, but's that's intentional)
Keep in mind that most of it is done at less than 20fps. Now tell me it isn't impressive.
Compiz deserves a mention here - not only did it start a compositing craze that resulted in both GNOME and KDE adding compositing capability to their respective window managers, it's also responsible for causing a massive clean-up of the FOSS graphics stack.
The Muse music video Sing for Absolution. Just... all of it. Every second, every frame. Particularly special mention must go to the shot as the spaceship is taking off... Damn, that's one hell of a cityscape.
Ever wonder what it'd be like if there were candy in space? Industrial Light And Magic has that covered.
Universal Studios' Halloween Horror Nights has quite a few scenes and effects that seem far beyond the capabilities of a theme park trying to fit everything into a single, small building. Some examples from 2011:
Saws n' Steam: Into the Machine includes a full waterfall inside the queue of the Jaws ride.
The In-Between uses special paint and 3D glasses to give the impression of having walked into another dimension that violates all laws of physics and perspective, including a near-invisible floor (giving the impression of walking on fog) and a room full of lasers reflecting and refracting off of glass walls.
Winter's Night and The Thing both have falling snow indoors, and Winter's Night manages to create actual frost on props in Florida.
Acid Assault using 3D projections to make it look like the buildings on New York street are collapsing.
Universal Studios Tour's new King Kong 3D experience, where Kong saves the tram from a bunch of hungry T. rexes... after they drool all over the passengers!
The entirety of Transformers: The Ride, due to being animated by Industrial Light and Magic, but special mention goes to a mixture of great 3D, heat, and pyrotechnics to make it genuinely feel like there's a heat-seeking missile heading right for your car.
The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man starts with making it feel like Spider-Man is jumping onto the hood of your car (complete with the car actually dipping down at the front) and just keeps getting better from there.
At Disneyland and Disney World, the mist screen projections in Fantasmic! were definitely this when it first premiered, although don't have quite the impact these days due to Technology Marches On. However the new version of the show in Tokyo, along with World of Color, use an updated, high definition version of the same system that is flat-out breathtaking.
And now Disney Dreams at the Paris resort, which has combined the mist screens with projections on the castlenote which itself came from the nightly guest montage Magic, Memories, and You in Florida and California and Disney's trademark fireworks of awesome.
ILM's contributions in Star Tours and Captain EO should all warrant mentions. C-3PO is possibly one of the best animatronics at Disneyland — and not just because he was already a robot.
The Slender Man Mythos tends to have nice visual effects, especially in terms of the wicked distortion that goes on when Slendy's about, but in particular Tribe Twelve's greatest strength is its spectacular Slenderman-tentacle effects. They may not be shown for long periods of time, but seeing them is awesome.
Ryan Vs. Dorkman. Two visual effects animators stage a lightsaber duel in an abandoned warehouse. End result: millions of views, worldwide adulation, and its own page on The Other Wiki.
FedConIX (2009) opening video, features a CGI short film featuring the USS Kelvin from the 2009 Star Trek exploring a ringed planet when they are attacked by what looks like a squadron of Klingons. In swoops the Enterprise to save the day. Honestly, of all the computer-generated models, this video was the most seamless ever. Every phaser and torgedo blast, every asteroid, they even showed the subtle difference in the metal plating of the older Kelvin and the newer Enterprise. Awesome? Ya think??!
There she is!!. As if the whole damn thing wasn't gorgeous enough from the beginning, the scene where the screen expoldes at the airport in Step 5 is something else.
Jon Lajoie's video for "Pop Song", which parodies the music videos of young male pop singers such as Justin Bieber.
The latest season of Red vs. Blue is this with Rooster Teeth's addition of Monty Oum (the maker of Haloid) into their ranks. Not only is the CG very cool in it self but even better is that it is put into several Halo 3 levels perfectly. And then the fights (especially ep. 10 and 19) is just jawdropping, especially for a online-show. Episode 19 takes the cake however, as the characters fight amongst cliff in the process of collapsing around them, and an entire ice shelf breaking off. (ep 10 can be found here)
The Backwater Gospel, an animated short about a small town who is terrified by the appearance of the Undertaker, whose arrival always means death. The animation is 3D, but looks very sketchy and gritty, and the whole thing has a dark, eerie and extremely atmospheric feel to it. Points for when (spoilered because it's best if taken by surprise) the Undertaker's wings first flicker into view and the scene where all the villages turn on each other and rip each other to shreds, which is almost entirely in silohette. Even just the detail put into the props, such as the Tramp's guitar, and the little details like only animating the details of the eyes during strong moments of anger and fear, is absolutely fantastic. And all from a small group of college students.
Mirror City takes timelapse into a strange and artistic turn. The results are just incredible.
The scene in Star Wars: Clone Wars where Saesee Tiin flies up to the space battle above Coruscant. You wonder what the fuss is about at first; it's just an ordinary sky filled with stars. Then you notice they aren't all white, and tiny points of light move between them. A few of the stars flare and fade. And then it hits you; they're no stars, they're battle ships, and the sky is absolutely full of them blasting the hell out of each other.
The same could be said for Star Wars: The Clone Wars (the CGI series). The quality of the first season was debatable (especially with the early production episodes), but was still decent for an all-CGI cartoon. As the series progressed, the animation quality improved and the characters moved more naturally. Even in the early episodes, the action scenes were impressive and the environments very detailed (including some extras most wouldn't notice on the first watchthrough of an episode), and by the later seasons, the animation quality and level of detail was near-cinematic.
Avatar: The Last Airbender ...just, all of it. Particularly stunning examples include 'The Siege of the North' and the series finale 'Avatar Aang'. Here we see the pure might of the Avatar and his elemental powers, and it is awesome.
The Legend of Korra uses very dynamic "camera" angles and effects. A great example (but still really just a drop in an ocean) is the scene in episode three when Korra uses fluid, circular dancing motions to get through a spinning maze used for airbending practice.
The scene in Episode 1 where Korra is riding on Naga through the snow is almost heartbreakingly beautiful. Excuse me... *sniffle*
Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends had absolutely spectacular model work. The people and animal miniatures were the only tells that those weren't real trains. Sadly, from the fifth season onward, things became less and less realistic. With the models having been retired in favour of cut-rate CGI. The quality of writing has deteriorated as well. But this is not the side for that. The model sets were stunning, absolute masterpieces. The engines carried onboard smoke machines that puffed like a real locomotive, the couplings and buffers worked, the buildings and scenery looked like they were plucked from real life. "Nil Unquam Simile" indeed.
In 1994, one year before PIXAR brought Toy Story to the big screen, a little Canadian company by the name of Mainframe Entertainment brought CG to the TV screen with the fully CG animated ReBoot. Cartoons haven't been the same since.
Futurama. Watch the episode "The Late Phillip J. Fry", especially the segment in which Fry, the Professor, and Bender watch the universe destroy and recreate itself.
Transformers Prime. The faces may (and do) feel goofy at first, but after a few episodes you will quickly forget that fact. They have to keep the cast low due to the CGI and budget. But despite this have managed to impress and terrify a new generation of fans.
My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic is one of the most beautiful Flash-animated products ever, because most of the time, it doesn't really seem like Flash animation. Very few if any shortcuts are used and some things that some consider to be impossible to pull off in Flash are pulled off beautifully. The second season episodes look particularly dazzling.
Not even a brony, but I concur. The animation is very well done.
Scenes that deserve special mention are Rainbow Dash's Sonic Rainboom, Princess Cadence and Shining Armor's love spell, the underground cave Queen Chrysalis traps Twilight in, the pegasus-powered water tornado in "Hurricane Fluttershy", Twilight's transformation sequence in "Magical Mystery Cure", Luna's transformation into Nightmare Moon in "Princess Twilight Sparkle" and the shot of the Cutie Mark Crusaders running against a sunset backdrop in "Flight to the Finish".
There are also many instances where the possibilities of Flash are used very cleverly. For instance, populating backgrounds with more or less randomly-generated ponies rather than using Faceless Masses.
Not to mention that these background ponies aren't just standing motionless in the background either. Looking closely in the background one can see them blinking, shifting and moving slightly, and talking to eachother.
And if what we have seen of season 4 so far is any indication, the animation quality is set to just keep improving. A particularly noticable change between seasons is that now, when there are close shots of characters, the backgrounds actually have depth of field!. We had seen depth of field tricks occasionally beforehand (Usually shifting depth of field from foreground to background), but now it seems to have become the norm for closeup shots.
If one had to single out the sole favorable aspect of the so-soHero Factory animated show, then it would probably be the CGI. Sure the backgrounds can seem a bit empty, and early crowd scenes offered some interesting sights (like Von Ness, a character that canonically didn't exist anymore appearing suddenly), but they're ironing these out with every new episode. And they have plenty of time for improving, seeing as there are only a couple of episodes released every year.
Anything by Aardman, particularly when Nick Park is involved.
The Disney short Get a Horse. Both the 2D and CG animation is some of Disney's best in recent years and the seamless transitions between both mediums is just mind-blowing and the move and act just like a late-1920s character would. The best way to see it is in a theater with 3D glasses on; you'd swear that Mickey Mouse was really right in front of you.
Both Western Animation/Wakfu and its prequel spinoff Dofus have absolutely GORGEOUS animation. With a fantastic combination of well animated Adobe Flash, traditional animation, and fantastic CG for a television show, this is one of Ankama's greatest feats.
Season 2 of Wakfu took it to the next level, especially with [spoiler]Yugo and the rest of the Eliatrope kids (that's right, ALL of them) attacked Qilby[/spoiler]
Amon Tobin'sISAM Tour features a massive abstract Cube structure that is used as a 3D projection-mapped surface. It is quite possibly the most breathtaking visual setup ever created for a musical concert.
Sarah Brightman embarked on her "Symphony" tour in 2008, which junked all the theatrical staging she usually utilizes for holographic technology. The result was a stripped down stage with a hollowed out stage that included a b-stage and 3 gigantic screens for the holograms hovering above it. The holograms are HOLY FUCK awesome. At times it'll appear like she's standing on a hovering platform. During Dust in the Wind, she appears in a fairytale-like forest with fireflies floating around. During certain songs, her and her dancers will be on the hollowed out portion of the stage, while their image is projected on the screens, making it appear as if she's laying on the screens. Thats just the beginning. You could look at this photo◊, but that wouldn't do it justice.
Go to any of the old Gothic Cathedrals. Once you tear your eyes away from the actual statues, stained glass and other noticeable art, look at the lighting. The windows cast light in exactly the right places, almost subconsciously pointing you where to look. Now that's a cool visual effect.
Europe is amazing for this, especially to an American as our evangelical protestant tradition generally leaves something lacking in houses of worship.
Some of the larger astronomical events like total solar eclipses, meteor storms, auroras and gazing at the Milky Way away from the city. It's during those moments that you realise how vast the universe is, and how much there is out there that is waiting for us to explore and learn. Real Life already has a lot of good visual effects like sunsets and thunderstorms, but there are times when reality decides to treat us to something really special.
VOCALOID. CONCERT. It happened. It was holograms. There's many moments where you forget that the Vocaloids are holograms of anime characters and start believing that they're real singers. The hair in particular moves beautifully.
Gorillaz did similar concerts too. Especially in their 2005 MTV performance.
It was a rear projection onto a mostly-transparent screen. It was 2D. Holograms are 3D.
While a good number of effects go into a typical attraction at the Disney Theme Parks, special mention has to go the Haunted Mansion's including a disappearing ceiling in the Stretching Room and the Ghost Ball Room sequences, which are some 60 year old effects that still look real today.
Mount Rainier in Seattle in the middle of the night as a full moon shone down on it. It looked like someone had wrapped the top of the mountain in shining silver.
The opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics. Holy crap.
Some parts were actually digitally added in real time. They were practically indistinguishable from the live segments unless you had a trained eye or read about it.
Many huge spectacle musicals of the 80s and early 90s feature magnificent live theatrical effects. From The Phantom of the Opera's falling chandelier to the helicopter from Miss Saigon, it's all very very cool.
The mother of all stage effects spectaculars has to be Walking With Dinosaurs: The Arena Spectacular. Fifteen life-sized animatronic and puppeteered dinosaurs, including a Tyrannosaurus and her baby, a Stegosaurus, a very large Brachiosaurus and a flying Ornithocheirus invade a stadium or arena, move around, roar and interact with a time-travelling narrator. Have a look for yourself.
Trompe l'oeil painting, an ultra-realistic form of painting whose very name means "trick the eye." In one particular case, a monastery was famed for its beautifully decorated dome. For four hundred years, people went to the monastery just to see it. Then someone decided it needed to be cleaned and restored, so they raised ladders into the ceiling. The dome was a trompe l'oeil painting. Best part? The monastery has a flat roof.
Rainbows and prisms are light showing off its F/X talents.
Looking down at any major city from an airplane's window after dark can be visually spectacular, especially around the holidays.
Most stage magicians who specialise in optical illusions are rather good at this trope ... almost by definition, since it's their job to make you think something happened that didn't. David Copperfield is one of those artists who takes this trope up to eleven: google up his flying sequence, or disappearing the Statue of Liberty, for examples of how he makes this work in real life.
Newgrange passage tomb in Ireland. Once a year, at sunrise on the winter solstice, the first light of the day shines all the way down the entrance passage to light up the main chamber, to stunningly beautiful effect. It's believed that when it was built, this happened at the exact moment of sunrise (now it happens four minutes after). And it was built, with all the precise engineering required to achieve that, five thousand years ago.
The North Korean Arirang Festival has over 30,000 children holding up colored cards (called "card stunt" in the West) that make very pretty pictures which are usually the symbols of North Korea. In a nutshell, pixel art in Real Life