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Practical Effects

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Who says you can't build giant walking tanks? That's a matter of perspective.
Practical effects are those which are done using Props or special gear to produce an effect for the camera to film. Wind- and rain-machines, squibs, radio-controlled vehicles, Muppets, and pyrotechnics are all practical effects. So are breakaway furniture, walls or windows, and tilting or shaking platforms under the set.

They are probably the most common type of effect and often seen as giving the most realism. The truth of the matter is that they give rise to a lot of Hollywood Science but we are so used to seeing them that The Coconut Effect plays across nearly everything we see and we get used to them. Really all those car explosions, spurting veins and gun shots would behave very differently in reality. It's a shame reality is so unrealistic.

Rightly or wrongly, though, practical effects are seen by many as being in some way superior to Computer-Generated Images or CGI. Certainly, early CGI was much more prone to Special Effects Failure, the lower resolution, texturing and lighting flaws would push the images into the Unintentional Uncanny Valley while even a bad practical effect could be seen to be physically real. The more modern CGI can still be very conspicuous compared to a well-integrated practical effect. And an argument can be made that it's easier for actors to turn in a good performance when interacting with something physical.

A number of those who are Doing It for the Art will therefore stick to practical effects and the audience will often thank them for it. They will make proud announcements during promotions that everything in their movies is real and will take extra costs and risks to ensure their "realism." Still, some of these claims are often a matter of marketing mandates; while certain stunts, explosions and large-scale props may be real that doesn't mean there isn't a massive backlog of visual effects designers stitching everything together for the final product.

Compare/Contrast Off-the-Shelf FX.


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    Films — Animation 
  • An American Tail has the mice build a giant mouse puppet based on a fairy tale Fievel knows about to scare off the evil cat gang. The animators built the puppet in real life as a white-outlined black miniature filmed on high contrast footage against a black backdrop. They then printed the negatives onto acetate to create animation cels to create the final effect on screen.
  • Beauty and the Beast has an interesting example. Near the end, as The Beast transforms back into a human, his body is engulfed by a large puff of smoke as it levitates into the air. The film's directors confirmed this wasn't a computer effect but was actually a real smoke cloud they filmed using a store-bought smoke machine which was later inserted into the movie.
  • Fantastic Mr. Fox was produced with the intention of being a tribute to the style and tediousness of stop motion animation. So to stay true to this direction, sequences that would normally be animated with computers (fire, water, smoke, etc) were instead animated almost entirely by hand on camera.
  • The rotoscope-animated Fire & Ice has a scene where a group of sub-humans encounter a giant lizard that chases and tosses them around. Ralph Bakshi actually filmed a group of actors being chased and tossed around by a crane and rotoscoped them in the movie, with the lizard being animated in the vehicle's place.
  • Kubo and the Two Strings had a few notable practical effect shots.
    • When Kubo, Monkey, and Beetle find the "Sword Unbreakable" they discover that it's stuck on the head of a giant skeleton they have to fight. It's revealed in the post credits scene that the animators really did make a giant skeleton that not only towered over them, but was so large that they had to animate it using wires rigged to the ceiling.
    • Much like the skeleton, the Garden of Eyes that Kubo and Beetle encounter while searching underwater for the "Breastplate Unbreakable" was also a giant animatronic that the animators manipulated using control mechanisms.
    • In Kubo's dream, an elderly man named Raiden reveals that the "Helmet Invulnerable" is in an abandoned fortress which proceeds to unfold from the ground like origami paper. While a shot like this would normally be done with CG, it was instead animated completely on camera by hand.
  • The Secret Adventures Of Tom Thumb was originally going to create its Roger Rabbit Effect by splicing together footage of the human actors and stop motion animated characters in post. But due to the film's No Budget, the effects crew had to pull this off on camera by having the actors pose frame by frame with the animated characters, resulting in the humans moving in an odd, jiddery fashion that only adds to the film's already uneasy atmosphere.
  • In The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, the scene where David Hasselhoff jets through the ocean with SpongeBob and Patrick on his back was achieved by pulling Hasselhoff across the sea on a sled tied behind a boat while close-ups of the main characters on his back were shot using an 11-foot tall replica of the actor in the water. The Cyclops' boot was shot in a similar fashion.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Alien the titular alien (being a man in a suit), the face-hugger, and chest-burster are all practical effects. The film would likely not have aged as well had they used stop motion.
  • Aliens not only delivers better-looking aliens and a better array of practical effects but also introduces the Alien Queen. Courtesy of Stan Winston and his crew, she was a huge animatronic that required a full team to operate. They had apparently considered stop motion given her size before Winston was able to deliver something much better. Other items viewers might take for granted, like the dropship, the nuclear explosion, Bishop's severed torso, everything was made without the use of modern CGI, instead opting for models and puppetry. The iconic power loader was a full-scale puppet with a stuntman behind it moving in tandem with Sigourney Weaver.
  • An American Werewolf in London is well known for its slow, painful transformation sequence done via an animatronic prop courtesy of Rick Baker.
  • Attack on Titan (2015): The Titans were created through a mixture of puppetry and prosthetics and filmed against a green screen. Sometimes miniatures would also be used for the city whenever the Titans were shown destroying buildings.
  • Attack the Block only used CG when necessary to enhance the appearance of the aliens, which were created using a mixture of animatronics and creature suits. This proved to be a benefit for the actors, as they all admitted to being genuinely frightened by the look and movements of the creatures actually present; especially during chase sequences when the aliens would pursue them at full speed.
  • being Hands: In an attempt to maintain continuity and maintain a random factor for a chance encounter, Lilith finds a sleeve of coins. She pours a single coin into her hand, flips it, and it goes off camera. The film is unscripted, so Lilith keeps filming despite having no way to generate truly random events.
  • While the original film predated modern CGI, Blade Runner 2049 used in-camera effects as much as possible to an extent that most audiences didn't even notice, building the vast majority of its futuristic cityscapes as Miniature Effects and creating the scenes of Ryan Gosling walking through the ruins of an irradiated future Las Vegas via Forced Perspective statues and a massive matte painting background.
  • Many scenes that would normally be done with special effects in the movie Crank are in-camera, including the dramatic finale where Chev Chelios and Verona are falling thousands of feet out of a helicopter.
  • In Deep Blue Sea they mixed in puppet and CGI sharks and in this case the puppets certainly moved and felt more realistic.
  • Christopher Nolan is a massive proponent for practical effects and uses them as much as possible for all of his movies.
    • The Dark Knight Trilogy: Batman Begins, The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises were all very conservative on the post-production special effects. Only the most extravagant or dangerous stunts were performed in post-production. But certain scenes like Bruce saving Ducard from sliding off the edge of a cliff was done on location, with the actual actors wearing the necessary safety lines. The Dark Knight managed to film the flipping of an 18-wheeler by...actually flipping an 18-wheeler on the streets of Chicago. They got it in one try. The plane hijacking scene in Rises makes rather spectacular use of practical sets and stuntwork.
    • The practical effects in Inception border on the ridiculous. Most notably, the famous spinning/zero G fight scene was filmed using a full rotating set rather than any CGI or camera trickery. This is film is pretty much Christopher Nolan making a point about how good practical effects can be.
    • Nolan did it again in Interstellar, which heavily utilized practical effects for all but the footage of the planets, stars, black holes, and other space phenomena. The spaceships were done entirely with Miniature Effects and the shapeshifting robots were actually large puppets operated by Bill Irwin, who also voiced TARS. Even the dust clouds were done with giant fans blowing cellulose-based synthetic dust at the actors, and the brain-twisting "tesseract space" that Cooper finds himself in at the climax was actually a giant set that they dangled Matthew McConaughey in from a crane. Unlike most films featuring space travel, the cockpit scenes in the spaceships were shot "live" in front of projection screens rather than green screens, so the actors are reacting in real-time to pre-rendered footage on the cockpit screens rather than a blank green wall to be filled in later.
    • Dunkirk used cardboard cutouts for soldiers and military vehicles to create the illusion of a large army and real and scale model aircraft were used. All the ships and boats that were on water were real, which means they actually sunk and blew up a ship just for the film.
    • Oppenheimer features the extreme feat of convincingly simulating a nuclear explosion (complete with the signature blinding flash and mushroom cloud effect) without any CGI. Mercifully, no actual nukes were used, but the film did require an unholy amount of gasoline, petroleum, aluminum powder and magnesium flares (as well as some mundane forced-perspective cinematography) to get the look and size of the explosion correct, and actors were placed in a bunker watching a very real and gigantic bomb go off before them.
  • Carnival of Souls had a minuscule budget that didn't leave much in the way for any special effects during post-production. So to achieve the effect of the ghoul's face appearing on Mary's passenger window as she drives, director Herc Harvey (who plays the ghoul) had to sit in the back seat with a flashlight in hand that he would turn on when cued. The light would then bounce his reflection off of a mirror rigged on the car's side and project it onto the window up front.
  • The Dark Crystal is widely considered a cinematic landmark for practical effects, as every single creature in the film was a highly complex puppet brought to life using difficult but innovative techniques. To put that in perspective, the main character Jen was one of the more simpler creatures in the film, and even he required 3 to 4 puppeteers to operate him from off screen.
  • The crew for Edge of Tomorrow built dozens of sets of physical prop "jackets" for the actors to wear. In an amusing and ironic twist, the actual props were most definitely not "powered" armor, meaning the actors actually had to walk, run, and fight in these things under their own power, and they were heavy as shit, too, which is especially hilarious for a movie starring infamously shrimpy Tom Cruise.
  • Elf: In the flashback of Buddy is attending elf school, Will Ferrell had his desk on top of a platform and positioned closer to the front of the class, which gave the illusion that the kid elves were significantly smaller compared to him.
  • Fantastic Four (2005) and it's sequel used prosthetics to make The Thing appear as though he was really made of solid stone.
  • The Fast and the Furious
    • Discussed in a featurette for Fast & Furious 6, where the producer feels that doing a certain scene for real, while more difficult, lent it a weight that couldn't be replicated with CG. The scene in question is a tank crushing oncoming traffic on a freeway at 60 mph.
    • Similarly, in Fast Five, the climax, involving Dom and Brian towing a massive bank vault through Rio de Janeiro, was done with a specially-made vault and over two hundred squished cars.
  • Surprisingly, a majority of the deaths in Final Destination used a large number of practical effects. For instance, when Rory is trisected in Final Destination 2, the abdomen and legs are dummy mockups, while Rory's actor donned a green-screen suit from the chest down. The main use of CGI is to enhance some of the Gorn in the deaths.
  • For Fitzcarraldo, director Werner Herzog made the insane decision to pull an actual 320-ton ship over a 40 degree inclining hill rather than pulling it up in pieces as the real Carlos Fitzcarrald did. Unsurprisingly the movie was a bit of a nightmare to work on.
  • Flywheel director Alex Kendrick confirmed that the rotating flywheel seen in the opening credits wasn't CG, but a real one that he suspended on fishing lines and filmed in his garage.
  • F/X: Murder by Illusion and its sequel are about a Hollywood practical effects wizard getting swept up in a thriller and using his skills to get an advantage over his enemies.
  • Remember the "Star Trek Shake", with actors leaning to the left and the right while the camera shakes? Well, in Galaxy Quest, the whole set did the shaking after being mounted on a gimbal. A nice bit of Enforced Method Acting updating an old trick.
  • Ghostbusters (1984) used heavy amounts of practical effects throughout. Many of the Library Ghost effects were practicals: books on wires, library cards being blown through copper pipes, etc. Also, when Stay-Puft kicks over a fire hydrant, the miniature actually sprays blue sand rather than have a gusher added in post-production.
  • Good Night, and Good Luck., which was about the days of live TV, uses one effect for an elevator arriving at different floors. In most films this might be achieved by putting a Blue Screen behind the doors and overlaying a different background scene each time the doors open on a 'different floor'. In Good Night and Good Luck they used the old live TV trick of rotating the entire elevator set (with the camera fixed to the rotating floor) while the actors performed their scene in it, so that each time the doors opened you were looking at a different part of the exterior set.
  • Godzilla is one of the most prominent examples of practical effects in cinema history, with its title character and monster foes being brought to life on screen using rubber suits and puppetry against a miniature Japanese landscape. While Toho has been incorporating CG into the series over the years, they don't intend to abandon the use of puppetry anytime soon.
  • Godzilla (1998) mostly used CG to create the title monster, but the scene where Godzilla tries to eat the taxi the main characters are driving used a giant rig for the inside of his mouth while an animatronic Godzilla head was used to show him spitting it out. Other practical effect shots included an animatronic of Godzilla's upper body for close-ups, the monster's newborns which were portrayed by people in bodysuits, and a miniature of the Brooklyn Bridge for the scene where the military finally shoots the title monster down.
  • The Goonies has aged very well indeed due to its use of simply massive and quite simply awe-inspiring sets. The final act features a fully constructed pirate ship sitting in a gigantic water-filled cavern. And it was all real. Even the water slides used to reach it in the film were 100% practical (the crew spent weekends using them). Its only major special effect failure is an obvious greenscreen shot when Mikey is lining up rocks to his medallion piece. The Special Edition commentary even has joking cries of "worst greenscreen ever" but throughout director Richard Donner is notably very proud of the way movies used to have epic sets like this built, not to mention how well it's held up because of it.
  • In John Woo's Hard Boiled, the elevator trick similar to Good Night and Good Luck above was applied. During the final act hospital shoot out, a long take is made of Tequila and Alan shooting their way through that lasts for 2 minutes and 43 seconds and doesn't break when they get into an elevator.
  • The earlier Harry Potter films mixed animatronics and CGI. Fawkes, generally speaking, is an animatronic when he's perched and CGI when he's flying. The animatronic Fawkes could even cry "real" tears for the scene when he heals Harry's arm. Supposedly, it was so convincing that Richard Harris thought it was a real bird, commenting "they sure do train those things well." In the spider grove scene from the second film, Aragog is animatronic and his children are CGI. Lupin's Werewolf form even had a practical suit with stilts made for certain shots though it was pretty much impossible to get realistic movement out of it so most of it is CGI. (CGI took over more as the series went along). Though it is likely due to the rising complexity of the film. Word of God states that if they could do it practically they did. Many of the creatures in later films such as the inferi would have been impossible to do practically. Ginny shattering the prophecies in the fifth film was another one that would have been impossible to do practical, at least not within any reasonable amount of time or budget.
  • In Hellboy (2004), the writhing hair of the Sammael monsters was a practical effect — the hair was motorized! (Reportedly, when the producer saw the dailies, he was startled that they'd had time to put in CGI hair, when it wasn't CGI at all.)
  • Independence Day won an Academy Award thanks to its extensive usage of practical effectsnote . When it was determined that CGI fire would not do for the city destruction scenes, the team constructed models of city blocks and tilted them upward so that real fire utilized the model like a chimney. The alien destroyers were also portrayed by a number of scale models, including one complete model and one that was a detailed section of the ship's outer hull.
  • Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer was done entirely with practical effects, which admittedly makes the film a little dated in appearance.
  • The snowman in Jack Frost (1998) was an animatronic for most of the movie, the only CG used was for far shots and effects sequences.
  • Likewise, the killer snowman in Jack Frost (1997) was also a large puppet, albeit one that was much less convincing. Although giving the film's Black Comedy writing, it isn't too distracting.
  • For the 1994 adaptation of The Jungle Book, puppetry and animatronics were only used for Kaa since it would have been difficult to train a real snake for the movie; although CG was sometimes used for more difficult scenes with him.
  • Jurassic Park (1993) is constantly lauded for its great use of combining practical and digital effects. It stands among Stan Winston's greatest ever work, which is saying something. While the effects, both practical and computer generated, have aged very well (the CGI probably even has better musculature), scenes like the kitchen chase with the Velociraptors would have been much less taut without the ability for close ups of the "raptors" faces or pots and pans being knocked and clashed and jangled by the dinosaurs.
  • King Kong (1933) is notable amongst stop motion enthusiasts for bringing the dinosaurs and title character to life through this method; while forgetting the other methods used to make them interact with the human characters. Sometimes the animation would be projected on a screen behind the actors, while other times the actors themselves are projected onto a miniature set frame by frame as the monsters were being animated. Not to mention that for close up scenes of Kong's face and body, a life-sized Kong puppet was used instead.
  • Lady in the Water had the wolf-like Scruffs created on-screen using sophisticated animatronics that not only moved with realism, but were also capable of running through the tall grass near the apartment complex using a track which the grass obscured.
  • Mad Max: Fury Road dealt with the problem of building a billion custom cars and blowing them all to smithereens by building a billion custom cars and blowing them all to smithereens. CGI was used for backgrounds, but most of the action was done for real. Yes, even the Flamethrower Guitar, which not only shot flames but also played music, after George Miller expressed disappointment that the original prop/set did not.
  • During the red lady scene in The Matrix, while Morphius is explaining the dangers of agents to Neo you can see that everyone in crowd has a duplicate. The Wachowskis confirmed in a behind the scenes video that no CG was used for this scene, but rather they cast real twins instead note .
  • The Matrix Reloaded had the iconic fight scene with the army of Agent Smiths end with Neo flying away, leaving the agents to look at each other before walking away. This shot was achieved by simply getting an actual group of people to stand behind Hugo Weaving with the only CG being used to replace their heads with his; even then this was only done for those upfront, as the actors in the back simply had makeup work done on them to vaguely resemble Hugo instead.
  • While A Monster Calls used motion capture to create the giant tree monster, these two behind the scenes pictures showed that animatronics were occasionally used to create the monster's head and arms.
  • Oblivion had some great special effects but its most impressive visuals were the practical techniques used for the Sky Tower. Unable to actually build a set at such a height, the effects crew did the next best thing and filmed countless hours of the 360 degree view from the top of a volcano in Maui. They then projected this on a silver screen around the set. Take a look. Why does the skyline and lighting in the tower look so beautiful and ridiculously accurate? It's all being provided by the real thing. The actors gushed about how beautiful this made the set look and Tom Cruise even declared it the most beautiful set he'd ever seen.
  • Orca: The Killer Whale would frequently have animal rights activists show up at filming locations to protest the use of a killer whale for the movie, Leading the producers to constantly halt shooting so they could show protestors that the title whale in the movie was just a sophisticated animatronic.
  • The 2017 film Overdrive uses this technique for driving sequences.
  • Pacific Rim: The Jaeger cockpits are dominantly this, as shown in the "Oversized Giant Robots" featurette.
  • Davy Jones and most of his crew in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest and At World's End are Serkis Folk, but Bootstrap Bill is five hours' worth of makeup and prosthetics applied to Stellan Skarsgard. Occasionally in closeup something CGI moves on his face, but for the most part he's practical effects.
  • In the 2001 version of Planet of the Apes only the space scenes and some backgrounds were done with CGI (as well as some harness wires removed in post), but otherwise it was all practical effects (including, among other things, the apes outrunning galloping horses).
  • The effects in Prometheus were a mixture of practical and CGI. Most of the landscapes are sets or were shot on location, for instance in Iceland. The creatures such as the Hammerpede were either puppets or animatronics with some CGI used on them. Prometheus is praised even amongst detractors for being a very visually striking film as a result.
  • The majority of the driving sequences in 2007's Redline are practical effects, and this is noticable with the cars being used, a blend of replicas and real cars.
  • The special effects crew of Red Dawn (2012) actually blew up a building in Mount Clemens, Michigan for one particular scene.
  • Repo Man has an example that quite encapsulates the "practical effects are better" mentality. The otherworldy glow on the car at the end is glow-in-the-dark paint (bordering on Special Effects Failure if you let it), originally used because they didn't have the funds for CGI. Fast-forward to the present, however, and this ends up being far more convincing than the computer effects from the time it was made.
  • Ronin (1998) deliberately used old-fashioned stuntwork for the car chase scenes, in defiance of a trend towards CGI chases.
  • The Santa Clause: In all three movies, Comet and most of the other reindeer are played by animatronics whenever they aren't shown flying. This is especially noticeable in the first movie.
  • Scanners has one notable example in its famous exploding head scene: after creating a replica of the head of the actor whose character's head explodes and filling the replica with fake blood and old meat, special effects adviser Gary Zeller got behind the replica head and blasted it into chunky bits with a shotgun.
  • SHAZAM! (2019) had a few scenes using practical effects.
    • Much of the property damage in the film was done on camera using pyrotechnics and specifically designed set pieces. This is most noticable in the film's climax at the fair, where the effects crew purchased a real ferris wheel and had it rigged to fall over in the movie.
    • While the Seven Deadly Sins were done in CG, the Crocodile men playing poker behind one of the doors in the Rock of Eternity were real people wearing rubber suits.
  • Short Circuit: Almost all of the film's special effects budget was eaten up by the Number 5 animatronic, so most of the effects were practical by necessity. For example, Number 5 flipping pages while Super-Speed Reading was done by blowing air across the book to rapidly turn the pages, and Number 5 repeatedly flipping a coin was achieved through some clever editing of a single shot of footage.
  • Spider-Man 2: Doctor Octopus' tentacles were often portrayed through puppetry instead of, or in conjunction with, CGI, with the end result influencing the character's portrayals to this day.
  • Stalingrad: Most of the film is set in one ruined square in the war-torn city. The square is one open-air set.
  • In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan when Kirk and Saavik ride the turbolift, you'll notice that when it stops, a wall has been moved in to make it look like a different floor. The trick was used first in the second pilot of Star Trek: The Original Series. When Kirk, Spock, and Gary Mitchell ride the turbolift, a corridor wall is visible outside the doors when they close and the bridge is revealed when the doors open. They simply placed a wall outside the turbolift on the bridge set and wheeled it away while the doors were closed.
  • Star Wars:
    • While the prequel films received endless amount of complaints over their use of CGI and actors on green screen, each individual movie actually used more practical effects than the entire Original Trilogy combined via animatronics, make-up and miniatures. The films had extensive use of CG characters like Jar Jar Binksnote , but what they really spearheaded was the use of digital compositing methods to ramp up the number of items that could be seen at once. The Naboo city of Theed was a miniature but could precisely include waterfalls that wouldn't scale right (actually done with sugar). Mustafar had to be lit from top and bottom to capture the lava flow. In The Phantom Menace no computer could render the Trade Federation capital ship at the detail needed, and it wasn't until Revenge of the Sith that they could work on a large-scale battle.
    • Episode VII: The Force Awakens goes out of its way to use practical effects to almost the same level as the original trilogy. When the first trailers appeared and BB-8 was shown, the Internet went into an uproar about a CGI droid in Star Wars. A few weeks later, during a panel about the upcoming movie, lots of crow was eaten after they brought out the actual working BB-8 robot. Some scenes were obviously CGI, but the working robot was used in-camera as often as possible.
    • Following the example set by The Force Awakens, the subsequent new Star Wars movies have gone out of their way to use practical effects as much as possible.
      • As just one example, Solo was the first film in the franchise to shoot its space sequences and chase scene "live", much like the Interstellar example above: for the in-cockpit scenes aboard the Millennium Falcon (as well as the opening speeder chase on Corellia), instead of filming the actors in front of a blue screen and adding in the FX later, they built a massive, ultra-high definition projection screen around the cockpit set, rendered what the characters would be seeing through the "window" first, and projected it onto the screen as they were filming. Consequently, what you're seeing onscreen in the cockpit shots is the actual footage as it was shot "live" on set, and the actors genuinely freaking out to what they're seeing.
      • Unlike K-2SO, L3-37 from Solo was not entirely motion capture. Actress Phoebe Waller-Bridge wore costume pieces for L3's arms, outside leg plates, torso plate and head, with the only parts of her costume that were filled in with CGI later being the motors and wires of her legs and torso. Lady Proxima from the same film was done the same way as Jabba the Hutt: as a truly massive animatronic puppet controlled by a small army of puppeteers, some of whom had to wear scuba gear so they could manipulate her parts while submerged in her resting pool.
  • Killer Croc's appearance in Suicide Squad is done entirely in make-up and prosthetics. The movie most likely won its Best Makeup Oscar for this.
  • Superman: The Movie was able to achieve the effect of the title character flying by suspending Christopher Reeve in front of a screen that the aerial footage would be projected on while a wind fan would blow air in front of him. The effects crew also timed the camera to zoom in on Reeve as the aerial footage would zoom out to create the illusion that Superman was moving forward in the air.
  • Terminator 2: Judgment Day came with groundbreaking CGI effects but still relied heavily on animatronics FX as showcased in this featurette.
    • Of particular note was casting an actor's twin in key scenes, particularly where the T-1000 mimics one of its victims. Don Stanton's twin brother, Dan, played the T-1000 disguising itself as the security guard Lewis, while Linda Hamilton's twin sister, Leslie, played the T-1000 disguised as Sarah Connor during the film's climax, in addition to the dream version of Sarah in a nightmare sequence. A deleted scene also featured Leslie helping to portray a functioning mirror: Linda and Arnold Schwarzenegger portrayed Sarah and the T-800 as reflections in a mirror while Leslie and a prosthesis of Arnie's head portrayed the "real" Sarah and T-800, with Linda and Leslie perfectly mirroring each other's motions through the "mirror".
  • Tetsuo: The Iron Man is heavily praised for it's intricate special effects despite its small, out of pocket budget. In the movie, the main character is transformed into a living heap of scrap metal after accidentally killing a metal fetishist and having sex over his dead body, which is achieved using a mixture of prostetics, puppetry, and stop motion animation.
  • The Thing (1982): Animatronics and puppetry are used to bring the shapeshifting alien creature to life, and the scene of a man having his arms bitten off was achieved with an actual double amputee as a stand-in.
  • The 13th Warrior was one of the last big budget movies to be done entirely with practical effects. It helps make the film age very well for its day.
  • Titanic might have used some CGI but most of its effects were still models, miniatures, and enormous sets. It was mentioned on the "making of" that 90% of the effects were practical. The combination of computer graphics and practical effects might be why its visuals are awesome. One sequence involved over 100 stuntmen rolling down the deck of the ship as it sank. Entire portions of the set had to be built to flood with water during those key moments. Here's a time lapse video of them constructing several full scale sets, one of which is the Titanic itself.
  • The 2007 Transformers film only had a handful of actors in front of green screens. While the robots were mostly CGI of course, most of the stunts were entirely real, involving the actual actors shitting bricks while running from timed explosions. A common story from the production of the film is that director Michael Bay wanted to use exclusively CGI for the stunts, action sequences, and visual effects but executive producer Steven Spielberg stepped in and persuaded him to restrict the use of computer graphics and effects to the robots and background elements of the action sequences and to use animatronics and practical effects wherever possible. And even still there were a handful of images of the robots that were actually puppets: Frenzy in a few shots, Megatron's legs and even Bumblebee when strapped to a flatbed trailer.
  • Underworld and its two follow-up films made a point of using practical effects for the werewolves, with CGI only really used in their transformation sequence. They were costumes that had built-in stilts with animatronics used to move their faces. True to the perception of this trope, in Underworld: Awakening the effects for Lycans take a rather blatant hit in quality due to relying strongly on CGI.
  • War Horse used very little, if any, CGI. In fact, some of the scenes in which Joey gets tangled up in barbed wire were done via an animatronic horse and rubber prop wire.
  • For the monsters in the film adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are, CG was only used to animate their faces in post production, as the rest of their bodies were elaborate life-sized body suits made by Jim Henson's Creature Shop which allowed the actor playing Max to interact with them for real on camera.
  • Who Framed Roger Rabbit: The animated characters were done separately and composited later, but any prop they used, like Baby Herman's cigar, the weasels' guns, or Eddie's trenchcoat while Roger is hiding inside, was manipulated on camera with strings or hydraulic devices (which were often covered up by the animation). Conversely, any "toon" prop used by the live actors (the mallets, Eddie's toon gun) was a live prop that was rotoscoped to look animated.
  • In The Woman in the Window by Fritz Lang, Edward G. Robinson is shown waking up from a dream. This is done without any cut or dissolve. Instead the camera zooms in for a closeup of his face, while stagehands removed the tear-away clothes that Robinson was wearing and put in a new set behind him, all in a matter of seconds.
  • Zathura. All the explosions and destruction felt very solid because they actually built the house interior on top of a tilt-able platform, filmed anything that required it to be intact, then proceeded to demolish the set as they filmed. Good luck doing a retake! The Zorgons and the robot were both done practically too, the Zorgons were just (very well-made and convincing) People in Rubber Suits, while the robot's torso, head, and feet were worn by a guy in a motion capture costume, with the arms and legs added in later (since the robot's proportions would make it impossible for a human's arms or legs to fit into the robot's.)

    Live-Action TV 
  • Doctor Who, naturally (due to being a Long Runner from long before Computer-Generated Images were at all possible). Between tight shooting schedules and limited budget this led to the Special Effect Failure that the series is remembered for, although there was enough creativity and skill involved that Visual Effects of Awesome still happened occasionally, particularly in Seasons 13-14 and some of the gorgeous puppetry in the McCoy era. The new series uses a lot of CGI, but Series 8 had a stated goal to use more practical effects for various reasons (reduced budget due to the expense of the 50th Anniversary Special "The Day of the Doctor", a less experienced CGI team than before and the desire to establish a unique visual identity for the show rather than aping effects seen in various golden-age-of-television fantasy shows that the BBC could never begin to achieve). This led to quite a lot of robot enemies and more detailed, claustrophobic sets.
  • While it obviously used quite a fair amount of CGI, Falling Skies had quite a lot of beautiful prosthetic makeup designs and puppetry to depict its various alien races, including the hexapedal Skitters and all of the Volm. Even the towering Espheni Overlords were portrayed by a man in a costume.
  • Good Omens (2019): Infamously, the show created the effect of Crowley driving a burning Bentley by setting a Bentley on fire and having David Tennant drive it.
    Neil Gaiman: And if we lose David Tennant driving a burning Bentley... what a way to go.
  • Our Miss Brooks: Seen in several episodes, including:
    • "Life Can Be Bones": A prop-cat subs for Minerva when she jumps over the fence after tasting Mrs. Davis's spicy soup.
    • "Public Property on Parade" Similar to the preceding example, prop-birds flee Mrs. Davis' Limburger omelet.
    • "Here is Your Past": The effects from Mr. Conklin's big sneezes.
    • "Brooks' New Car": Mr. Conklin going through the wall when he drives his car atop a wagon left in the driveway.
    • "Do It Yourself": The garage Miss Brooks, Mr. Boynton and Walter Denton built falls apart.
    • "Pet Shop": The rainstorm.
  • While Walking with Dinosaurs (as well as its sequels, Walking with Beasts and Walking with Monsters) use a lot of CG, they almost always use mechanical puppets for close-ups. Most likely they took a note from Jurassic Park's book in this regard.
  • Farscape used a significant amount of practical effects, particularly for its alien creature designs for characters like Rigel and Pilot. Jim Henson Studios was responsible and made some truly gorgeous-looking puppets for the show.
  • The Japanese Ultra Series and the thematically related Kamen Rider are members of an entire genre that is well known for showstopping practical FX; from the model cities that Ultraman, his comrades and his monster and alien friends frequently fight their way through, to the associated explosions big and small, it's all created by hand. It's still largely done this way today despite it being over 50 and 40 years since these series premiered, respectively.

    Puppet Shows 
  • The Muppets are probably one of the few major franchises (outside of post-2015 Star Wars projects) to still use puppets in The New '10s. This started, of course, with Jim Henson, who was notorious for coming up with wild, unprecedented visuals first and worrying how to actually do them later, resulting in him and his crew coming up with innovative, revolutionary practical effects out of necessity, pretty much on the fly.
    • Possibly most famous of all Henson's outrageous practical effects, in the opening scene of The Muppet Movie, Kermit sits on a log in the middle of a swamp, singing and strumming his banjo. The effect was created by having Henson crouch in a makeshift diving bell beneath the water with one arm sticking through a rubber tube to manipulate the puppet. The water was only about four feet deep, and Henson was 6'3", requiring him to fold himself nearly fetal to fit.
    • The other famous image of The Muppet Movie is a full-length Kermit, legs and all, riding a bicycle. The bicycle was radio-operated, and Kermit is an articulated marionette. In close-up shots where Kermit speaks, they simply swapped to a puppet. Henson and his co-Muppeteer Frank Oz were so exasperated by people asking them questions about the bicycle shot (which was relatively simple compared to the diving-bell trick explained above) that in the next Muppet film, they made the entire Muppet cast ride bicycles in a complicated, choreographed musical number. Let them figure that out!
  • Fraggle Rock was one of the first TV shows to use chroma key to have specific characters, such as the small Fraggles and giant Gorgs, share screentime together. But Jim Henson still made sure to use practical effects when he felt they were needed.
    • For the Doozers, rather than using blue screens to insert them into scenes with the Fraggles like the rest of the show, the crew instead used miniature puppets and groundbreaking remote-controlled animatronics in order for the two races to share screentime together.
    • One episode had a Traveling Matt segment where we see him riding on a real roller coaster. Matt's puppeteer, who posed as a bystander seated next to him, wore a fake arm draped over Matt's seat which hid his real arm as he operated the character.
  • The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance does incorporate CG into the show's world, but overall stays true to the original film's special effects, as many of the characters and creatures in the show were still created using elaborate puppetry and animatronics.
  • The original Thunderbirds series (or really anything made by Gerry Anderson) was famous for these; anything that wasn't a screen projection was 100% practical, and even the 2015 remake makes use of miniature sets regularly.

    Western Animation 
  • Thomas & Friends, TUGS and Theodore Tugboat. While the former eventually switched to full CGI, it was far more famous for the extensive model work and set design, most prominently the steam locomotives; in addition to a good number of them having a respectable amount of moving parts (particularly the coupling rods and valve gear), the models had special smoke mechanisms that let real smoke emit from the stack whenever they moved, and almost all vehicle characters had remote-control eye mechanisms that made the eyes move however the crew members wanted them to. Special mentions go to the construction vehicles and cranes, which were considerably more elaborate in terms of movement and functionality. Diesel 10 is also a landmark in terms of the show's model work, as in addition to the eye mechanisms his claw was essentially an animatronic, which could move even while the model was in motion. The two tugboat series were very much the same, but unlike Thomas, no CGI was ever used throughout their runs.