There had been lots of motion-capture characters in film, but the Na'vi are probably the first ones anyone would want to have sex with.
The holographic maps Parker uses and all the other screens in the base.
And the forest, particularly at night in a world full of bioluminescence, and the flying machines and creatures, and Sam Worthington's convincingly atrophied legs.
One of the most impressive things about the effects was the way the CG characters interacted with the live action ones. In particular the sequence between Jake and Neytiri when she sees Jake's human body for the first time. Jake touches Neytiri's Face and Neytiri holds Jake's hand, and it looks perfectly seamless.
The 3D was simply revolutionary. This was the first 3D movie with a truly progressive depth of field to fully exploit the effect as opposed to a succession of fairly flat layers with a few gimmicky objects being waved in the audience's face. Easily the biggest leap forward in Visual Effects (and, arguably, film-making in general) since 1977, if not 1939.
The Muppet Movie is wall-to-wall special effects derring-do, used in the name of making the Muppets seem like real people that can move around freely. By far, the most famous example is a brief shot of Kermit the Frog riding a bicycle, but the movie tops it with scenes of Fozzie Bear driving cars, Gonzo floating away on balloons, and a giant animatronic Animal scaring away Doc Hopper and his posse. It goes without saying that Jim Henson, Frank Oz and the other Muppet performers went through hell to make these scenes work.
The Fall - How did the director pull this movie off with NO CGI WHATSOEVER? Just about any scene in the film could be framed and put in an art museum. It's THAT beautiful. Then you take into account that shooting took 4 years, and over 20 countries, and the fact that the film is great is a miracle. The level of dedication to shooting live is astounding. There's a brief montage sequence in the movie that features the Great Wall of China and the Great Pyramids of Egypt for maybe two seconds each, and both of those clips were shot on location. And the film's use of match-cuts, holy shit. There's one beautiful shot of a pinned-butterfly dissolving into an identically-shaped island and coral reef, and another of a priest's face and collar melting into a desert landscape so perfectly that it provides the page image for Match Cut.
Ditto for Bram Stoker's Dracula, released in 1992, when computer effects were beginning to make their big boom in the film industry.
Some Buster Keaton films contain astonishing sequences created by the simplest means.
In one of his films with Fatty Arbuckle, "Moonshine," 50 policemen emerge from a single car. This was accomplished by masking out part of the frame to hide the fact that the cops were entering the car on one side and exiting from the other. Once they had footage of the police leaving the car, they rewound the reel, masked the exposed section and filmed the empty vehicle with the unexposed film. Result: clowns exiting a car taken Up to Eleven. Here's the really clever part: Buster used jacks to lift the entire car off the ground so it wouldn't bounce on its shocks as the actors climbed through.
At the start of his short "The Playhouse," masking and multiple exposures are used so Buster can play everyone in a theater: the performers, the orchestra, and the entire audience. At one point, nine Busters are onstage simultaneously performing a minstrel routine. This required the camera operator to crank the film through the camera at exactly the same speed for every take.
Jacob's Ladder. None of the visual effects are optical. None. It's entirely "real" and done in-camera.
People still have to remind themselves that the Xenomorph in Alien isn't a real creature. The dripping saliva makes it difficult.
Hell, most of Aliens still looks incredible today, with virtually no special effect failure at all. Even the fact that it's now 80s Zeerust hasn't dampened how awesome it is. It's absolutely no surprise that it won Stan Winston his first Visual Effects Oscar.
It should be noted that in the climactic fight, half of it consists of miniature models of the powerloader and Alien Queen parrying back and forth. The editing is so good that it's nigh-impossible to tell which are miniature shots and which are the full-size props.
The loader-units were so well done that the film-makers were contacted by companies hoping to procure some for heavy cargo lifting. Alas.
And in the red corner, the Alien Queen puppet remains, to this day, the most amazing animatronic ever created. That thing is mind-blowing and scary as shit!
For all the stunning visual effects in Titanic (1997), the best has to be the engine room. Anyone who saw those churning, thumping steam turbines would've sworn they filmed a real steam engine room. Which they did. That was the SS Jeremiah O'Brien, fitted with undersized railing and walkways to make the machinery look bigger.
It's been said that the special effects in Apollo 13 were so awesome, NASA asked the producers if they could use it. These guys really showed their work. The production crew brought in old mission controllers to see the reproduction of mission control, and there are various quotes to the effect of "someone would ask where I lived and I would point in the direction of my house — if I were in mission control in Houston" and "I would leave the set at the end of the day and look for the elevator, because the real mission control was on the third floor."
The titular robots in Transformers (2007) are Technology Porn incarnate. The sheer jaw-dropping complexity of the robots and their millions of moving parts makes it hard to believe that a human being actually designed that thing. And then you realize the visual effects designers had to invent entirely new technology to get it done, a leap that hadn't been made since Jurassic Park.
Ironhide's cannons alone contain more parts than some of the other robots.
Revenge of the Fallen is apparently to take this Up to Eleven. Devastator's CG model is apparently so bloody complicated that it melted an animator's computer.
From IMDB: "A single IMAX shot in the movie would have taken almost 3 years to render on a top of the line home PC running nonstop. If you rendered the entire movie on a modern home PC, you would have had to start the renders 16,000 years ago (when cave paintings like the Hall of Bulls were being made) to finish for this year's premiere."
Dark of The Moon takes it one step further with an all out alien invasion and the appearance of Driller, a machine that is not only bigger than Devastator (in both size and piece count), but the scene in which it destroys a building towards the end took ILM's top performance computers close to an hour to load. (Also, it took up the entire ILM render farm to be finished!)
Max Schreck's Nosferatu makeup. Best thing? His name literally translates from German into "Max Scare".
The various effects of The Last Mimzy, except for the rather cheap-CG "space bridge" in one scene, must set some kind of record for integration into the scene—they seem so tangible that one has to regret not having the wonderful toys that cause them in-story...
Say what you will about Star Trek: The Motion Picture, but the glorious shots of the various starships (especially the Enterprise) definitely belong here.
Very true, but they pale in comparison to the shootouts in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Especially the Mutara Nebula battle. Hell, the Mutara Nebula itself, which has been re-used in dozens of shows and movies since.
Star Trek: First Contact is considered the best of The Next Generation films, if only because of the insanity of the Borg battle above Earth near the beginning. The Borg ship alone is about the size of the entire Starfleet armada sent to destroy it. And then there's Borg Queen. Both her entrance-in-two-parts and her death.
The whales in Star Trek IV. They were realistic enough to fool U.S. fishing officials, who upon seeing the film actually criticized the producers for letting people get too close to the whales.
For such a lacking movie, the destruction of the Enterprise-D from Star Trek: Generations was a thing of beauty. You know you're doing something right when your ship crashing is so cool it becomes a Moment of Awesome. It's particularly awesome because it was done with practical effects, not CGI or animation. And it looks absolutely AMAZING.
The flying on fire/stretching/invisible/clobbrin' scenes in Fantastic Four. Say what you want about various members of the cast, but the crew definitely knew what they were doing.
The Hobbit has special effects on par with LotR. One specific example comes to mind in Desolation of Smaug with the titular dragon. You'd be seriously hard pressed to find a better computer generated dragon than the all powerful Smaug. The tales are true.
Peter Jackson's King Kong (2005) was a box office disappointment considering the success of The Lord of the Rings, but had if anything even more sophisticated FX. Re-creating midtown Manhattan from a tiny blue-screened backlot in New Zealand works unbelievably well, and the dinosaur is stunning.
The scene where the crew gets trapped in a pit filled with giant centipedes and flesh-eating "barnacles", apparently a recreation of a scene that either wasn't filmed or cut for the original because it was too complicated. The cut scene from 1933 was also re-created for a sepecial edition DVD by Peter Jackson's team using the original FX techniques. You'd swear it was actually lost footage from the original.
The three T-Rexs versus Kong with our little damsel in distress tossed in the middle was simply flawless.
The stop-motion FX of the original 1933 version still holds up amazingly well and can even stump modern FX arists due to their complexity and detail, made all the more over-the-top because each one was done in a single take.
An example of awesome by accident: the original was praised for the detail of actually having Kong's fur move in the wind. This was unintended, merely the effect of the stop motion animators moving him.
In the early scenes of Who Framed Roger Rabbit, a typical viewer stares and tries to figure out how they made the Toons look so real. By the end, they're not doing so any more — simply because they've forgotten they're looking at special effects.
Made all the more awesome when you actually sit and consider that computer graphics were not an option when the film was made and everything is hand-drawn. The computer only corrected the lighting of the cartoons so they mixed up well.
Not only is the animation stunning, but the physical effects behind it as well. They never once skimped on showing a toon holding a real object or grabbing a real person. Roger can even jump on a bed, and the bed compresses and expels dust in a totally convincing manner. The DVD shows that if you remove the animation, you are left with probably the most elaborate "Invisible Man" movie ever made.
Paul Verhoeven's Hollow Man is a badly written, badly plotted piece of dreck with mediocre performances and a lot of bad taste. Some people have seen it repeatedly, if only just to look at those amazing, gorgeous special effects.
Kevin Bacon's body was so detailed that medical schools used it as instructional material.
Bacon also requested, only somewhat jokingly, that if any of the high resolution scans of his naked body are ever released into the wild that people do him the courtesy of *ahem* "enhancing" certain body parts.
Remember that part in the first film where Jack Sparrow entered Port Royal with his ship sinking just enough to get him to step onto the dock? Know how they did that? They had a huge tank of water, put a green screen behind it, stuck a movable dock in it and kept the ship in one place. They then slowly let the water out and moved the dock away while filming, then they reversed the film. End result? Complex shot achieved by use of one of the easiest effects to do, ever.
Not to mention the awesome skeleton pirates.
Those skeleton pirates debuted as WETA was working on the equally spooky Army of the Dead, which prompted a collective "Oh Goddammit!" and grudging admiration.
Davy Jones. The head was so well animated that even critics thought it was a headpiece of sorts.
Davy Jones, amazingly enough, is played by a real guy, Bill Nighy, who did all of his work in a blue suit with motion trackers on it. He is more famously one of the big bad vampires in the Underworld films.
It doesn't hurt that Davy Jones is computer generated genius and had some good lines.
"Bootstrap" Bill Turner is the only one of Jones' crew who is not motion capture; he's five hours' worth of makeup with a little CGI in closeups. The makeup is so good he's often mistaken for an entirely CGI character.
They immediately had Davy and his crew walking around in bright sunlight and they still looked good. WETA found to be Gollum to be insanely difficult and that's just one character, who's naked and dry most of the time!
Based on the trailers, the villain from the fifth movie, Captain Salazar, seems to be upping the ante even further: his hair averts No Flow in CGIhard, and is constantly flowing as if he were perpetually underwater.
While the latter two Back to the Future films aren't as beloved as the original, they do exhibit Talking to Himself scenes of incredible complexity for their time, such as Michael J. Fox playing most of the members of the McFly family circa 2015, and the elderly Biff Tannen giving his teenaged self Gray's Sports Almanac.
In that above scene, the arm Old Biff uses to pass the Almanac to Young Biff after they hear the football game? A mechanical one. You'd never freaking tell.
And of course, when you talk about Back to the Future and awesome visual effects, you have to mention the DeLorean and the time train.
Johnny 5. Just... Johnny 5. Of course, considering how it's been said the robot itself was the most expensive piece in the entire movie...
...which meant the directors had to use some simple gimmicks to create some awesome effects. Ever wondered how they perfectly created Johnny flipping through the books he read? Compressed air blowing the book pages while a rotor whipped a robotic hand back and fourth. That's it. Doesn't quite look that simple, does it?
Not to mention a team of talented puppeteers who managed to get so much life out of a few moving parts and head positioning, along with the model makers who gave them that freedom.
Batman (1989) has several incredible visual effects for its time (that still look pretty damn good today), made all the more amazing when you realize that there's no CGI involved whatsoever. In particular, every sequence with the Batmobile, the Batwing sequence, and the shootout in the Axis Chemicals Plant just look incredible and feel like they were ripped out of a comic book.
The climatic train sequence was done mostly with miniatures, and also the fear toxin hallucination sequences were genuine Nightmare Fuel. The League Of Assassins' dojo being blown up was nice miniature model work too, and a lot of the Tumbler chase is pretty good game for this trope.
There's so much high-grade win that some things go unmentioned. Like Two-Face. How the hell DID they do that??
It wasn't extremely realistic, though - that badly burned face would largely fall apart in a very short time. They apparently did initially experiment with a far more realistic face with more skin and realistic burns, but it looked so horrifying they feared they would get R-rating for it.
They couldn't do the jump off the Two-ifc in Hong Kong for real, so that's really a green screen effect. The helicopter crash is some realistic CGI too. Then there's the Batpod's emergence from the Tumbler. And some of the big car chase is made using miniature models. Same with blowing up said Tumbler, using three different shots in three different locations. One really subtle instance is that the windows on the top floor of the hospital that blows up? Those were CGI because the real windows were stolen. And then the hospital explodes. Really spectacularly. Also, Batman's sonar vision is some trippy and very beautiful stuff.
Some of the most impressive visual effects might be described in this context as "cheating", since there is no effect — they actually did what they showed on screen. Examples: flipping (not rolling) a full-sized semi, blowing up & collapsing a building.
It opens with the destruction of a plane in midair. They actually destroyed a real plane for that scene and it looks stunning.
The Bat isn't CGI. It's an actual sized purpose-built vehicle suspended in midair by wires from helicopters and cranes with hydraulic controls to make it look like its maneuvering.
The Fifth Element. The car chase scene between Korbin Dallas and the police. It's hard not to jerk and sway with the awesome camera and great special effects.
Watchmen has a bajillion of these, include the one of Dr. Manhattan on Mars when the crystalline castle rises out of the ground. It is jaw-dropping if seen in IMAX theaters.
Several more are subtle improvements to inconsistencies from the book: instead of blasting the tank with some sort of never-used-again hand beam, Jon, well, takes it to pieces.
Sin City. Outside of the beautiful spot coloring, worth noting is the fact that Mickey Rourke never met Elijah Wood, who he had a fucking fight scene with. That is just brilliant. And the fact that out of the whole movie there were only three sets? Very deceptive. The movie boasts both flashy and subtle CG to great effect.
The scene in Master and Commander where the Surprise is tossed and turned in the typhoon off of Cape Horn.
Anything that Stan Winston has ever worked on. The dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, Terminator, the Alien, the Predator, Edward Scissorhands, Iron Man. The man was a special effects god! Proof, if it's needed, watch Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, then The Terminator. The original's effects have held up better. For added awesome, combine Winston with Industrial Light and Magic. The "go-motion" blurred effects aren't particularly good, but that's not Winston's work (the huge Terminator puppet is). But then look at the 2nd one. First the skeletons at the beginning, that is 100% Stan Winston. See the scene where they made an animatronic Arnold? As in a torso of him? You do, but you don't see it. Where he walks down the hallway with a grenade launcher firing tear-gas, it's not Arnold. That's one of Winston's effects. May he rest in peace.
TRON. Sure, the effects might be hokey for some now, but this was from 1982. TRON: Legacy does not disappoint in this department either. It is the shiniest, shiniest movie ever, including Star Trek (2009).
Say what you want about the plot, but the flying sequences are some of the best Scenery Porn in a superhero movie.
The aircraft rescue at the start, beginning when he dives down after the spinning airliner, is simply one of the most awe-inspiring and downright beautiful super-power sequences ever put on film.
2001: A Space Odyssey. Despite being made in 1968 (!!!) its space scenes are still amongst the best (and most beautiful) ever made. It's almost hard to believe that it wasn't made using CGI. Heck, it's hard to believe the footage isn't entirely authentic!
If you're still in any doubt, consider that at the time the Earth had not yet been photographed from anything higher than a low orbit - that is, we had no photos of it that took in the whole Earth in one go. The famous Blue Marble photo was still four years away when the film was released! Remember that next time you see the shot of the Earth rotating in the window of the space station as it spins to simulate gravity. Similarly, nobody had ever seen Jupiter except as a blurry image through ground-based telescopes. The high-resolution images of the solar system we now have and take for granted simply didn't exist back then.
Also, though Douglas Trumbull's film Brainstorm faced major problems during production, the ending has probably one of the most spectacular depictions of a Near-Death Experience put on film.
Labyrinth has high production values throughout, but it's telling that the Signature Scene is the climax in the "Escher room", which impressively brings together practical effects, camera tricks, compositing work, and excellent editing.
The original The Terminator was a fairly cheap movie for its day, with a budget of only 6.5 million dollars; which is why the producers of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles managed to convince studio heads that they could make a good Terminator show on a TV show budget. This does, however, really highlight Stan Winston's genius, since the T:SCC people are following his creation of the damaged Terminator makeup. Oh, and let's not forget his amazing puppet T-1000. Thought the T-1000 was completely CGI? Only six of the fifteen minutes of screen time the T-1000 takes up for its transformations are CGI. That's not even counting his Predator and Alien Queen designs. Stan Winston was amazing; he created the most iconic monsters and machines outside Star Wars, firing up an entire generation's imagination - and terror. And awe.
The T-1000 in Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Nearly twenty years later, and that liquid metal literal killing machine remains as impressive as ever, from the moment it heals its first wounds all the way to its Shapeshifter Swan Song. Also noted for being the first time a completely CGI character spoke on film.
The T-800 in Terminator Salvation. They used a mold of Arnold's face from 1984 to digitally recreate him over the face of a body double.
The younger T-800 in Terminator Genisys. They didn't just replace the face this time — that's a complete digital double.
The incredibly kick-ass climactic fight scene at the end.
Lack of screen time aside, the Symbiote was particularly well done. They turn the symbiote into a creepy, tentacle like thing. It doesn't just bond with Spider-Man, it latches onto him. The best moment is during the bonding scene. You see the Symbiote's shadow first looking a little like Venom's head, complete with jaw and tongue. Then it morphs into a monstrous hand that grabs onto Spidey's arm.
It really says something that all the fancy-schmancy CGI effects in Superman Returns don't even equal, let alone surpass, the effects from the 1978 Superman of 30 years earlier. Perhaps not the literal truth, but the sentiment is sound. The 777 rescue in Superman Returns is impressive, though.
Moonraker may be one of the sketchier James Bond movies, but the Ken Adam-designed space station is legitimately incredible.
Give some credit also to model maker Derek Meddings, who previously built a supertanker model for The Spy Who Loved Me that was so convincing that Exxon executives asked the producers where they got a real one for the film!
Moon, by Duncan Jones, consistently maintains a feel of a moon base, complete with exterior shots, and a robot assistant. The kicker? It did it for five million, utter pocket change by any movie making standards.
There's the single enormous shot in Children of Men, with the camera seemingly fixed to Clive Owen's shoulder as he runs around a war zone. The movie is full of awesome scenes like these, like the scene that leads up to and includes the assassination of Julian.
Blade Runner. The movie's legendary vision of a near-future LA dystopia is breathtakingly incredible, even to this day. In many cases, its miniature effect cityscapes look better than what can be done with modern CGI. It cannot be overstated how influential this movie was on basically any semi-realistic science fiction movie to date. Edgar Wright hit it right on the money when he said that half of all sci-fi movies made since its release were just trying to do better than Blade Runner. So far, none have quite succeeded.
Its eventual sequel may have been massively belated but definitely worth the wait. The visual effects team and legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins both won extremely well-deserved Oscars for their work.
Crucially, the FX Team was smart enough not to fix what ain't broke, building on 30 years of technological advancement without ever forgetting how much the original team had done with Practical Effects - as shown in the backstagevideos. To the delight of many fans, they even resurrected the almost-extinct art of Miniature Effects to build its cities, just like the original team. The LAPD building, Wallace Corp headquarters, the deserted hellhole of San Diego, and the epic, Spinner-POV passthroughs of the cityscape? 80% handcrafted miniatures.
The "hologram love scene" with Joi, Mariette, and K. It's very hard to remember that Ana de Armas is not actually a hologram while watching this movie.
The CGI on Wallace's version of Rachel is one of the best examples of a photorealistic human face recreated through CGI ever, and it completely blows the already-impressive effects from Rogue One completely out of the water. They even spliced in stock footage of Sean Young from the first movie, and it's still hard to tell the difference. Any of the small imperfections you might see arguably work to the scene's advantage.
When viewing District 9, there are parts where you'll swear you notice the switch between CGI and puppets/make-up. There are no switches—the aliens are entirely CGI. You'll also believe that there is an honest-to-God spaceship hovering above Johannesburg.
Star Wreck: In the Pirkinning: Would you believe this movie's special effects shots were done in people's homes and their rendering farm was in a kitchen?
The sequence in Bride of Frankenstein with miniature humans (created by Dr. Praetorius) in glass bottles is pretty astonishing for 1935! Watch it here.
The entire "battle in the sky" sequence in Gamera 3: Awakening of Irys. It's just beautifully stunning to look at and you really start to believe that a giant turtle as well as a giant tentacled....thing are duking it out above the clouds near Kyoto, Japan.
Heck, the whole film qualifies. The effects used to bring the title Kaiju to life (Via a mixture of CGI, puppetry, and good old-fashioned "suitimation") are nothing short of incredible.
Kaneko's Gamera series generally feature fantastic visuals, and keep improving through the series. One standout is Legion (although her Toho 'counterpart', Biollante, is even more stunning).
The miniature sets in The Return of Godzilla are pretty spectacular, especially during the faceoff between the Super-X and Godzilla.
Heisei Godzilla films are considered the pinnacle of the Toho monster films. With each film, Godzilla's suit improved more and more, becoming more lifelike and the sets become more elaborate. Minus the asteroid scene in Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla, the final battle and Space Godzilla's arrival on Earth rivals even the best CGI of today in terms of scope, with practical effects galore. And M.O.U.G.E.R.A is a highly impressive animatronic instead of a suit.
King Ghidorah's introduction is still an amazing piece of artistry.
And also Biollante. Just Biollante. Holy Crap. Suitmation at its finest. In fact, the whole final battle is a thing of beauty (and horror).
As is the shot of Rose Biollante in the lake.
The original Godzilla still looks great despite age and budget due to the amazing shadowy cinematography, especially in the scenes of city destruction.
The flooding of the Osaka subway in Godzilla Raids Again is still jaw-droppingly convincing...and horrifying.
Although there is debate, a lot of people would agree that the King of the Monsters himself looks fantastic.
The shot of the soldiers HALO jumping from a plane down to the burning city below is something to behold. The part where it cuts to Ford Brody's POV perfectly captures the feel of jumping off of a plane.
All this is made more impressive by the fact that the film had a $160,000,000 budget, which is four-fifths of what most American Summer blockbusters cost to produce at the least, and what's even better is that the effects look better than titles with bigger budgets behind them.
The effects of Godzilla himself and the MUTO's are awe inspiring. You truly see the scale of how big these creatures are, and Godzilla himself is highly detailed and has very convincing facial features.
Have to give a shout out to Escape from New York, with the "computer graphics" used in the navigation system in Snake's plane. The production crew created them by painting a physical model built for the landing scene entirely black, covering it with lines of reflective tape, and filming the result; it still looks good today.
The Magarathean factory floor was also very impressive.
Humma Kavula's thousands of tiny little robotic legs were extremely impressive, as was the Earth being blown up. But it all pales in comparison to the awesomeness of seeing the Earth being rebuilt, bit by bit, with massive hoses to fill the oceans and paints and chisels for the mountains.
RENT's special effects were done by Industrial Lights And Magic, so it goes without saying that it's got a lot of these, but the "Without You" sequence takes the cake. It's a montage of the character's lives, from roughly late January to right around Halloween. There's a little support group for people with AIDS called Life Support. The camera pans around the room at a few points, and people fade away... how they made that look so smooth is just amazing. The camera doesn't jump at all, and everyone who didn't fade is still right where they were and it's just amazing. Even with the Tear Jerker of that scene... wow.
The title characters of Where the Wild Things Are react to the world very realistically; not surprising considering that most of the time when you see them, they're actually right on camera. Most of the time CGI was only used for the facial animation, and even that is incredibly lifelike.
This Is My Song from the Tom Thumb movie. Especially when he dances with a paper cutout of himself.
Say what you will of 2012, but this sure looks like its entire purpose. And on this point at least, it delivered in spades; Monumental Damage has never looked so good. The sequence of driving and flying through Los Angeles as it crumbles into the sea, with our heroes driving under collapsing overpasses, though falling offices and flying under subway trains is astounding.
Hellboy II: The Golden Army's graphics were utterly superb, from the nature elemental to the vicious swarm of tooth pixies to the titular Golden Army. Hellboy and Abe sure looked real, and Kraus's spirit-steam effects were fun to watch.
It helps they have Ron Perlman in the red suit. As someone once put it, "Ron Perlman is Hellboy. You don't need makeup, just paint him red."
Its prequels, Rise of the Planet of the Apes and especially Dawn of the Planet of the Apes show off arguably some of the finest use of CGI ever, making the motion-captured apes near seamless. Dawn in particular has been praised as having some of the best use of CGI to enhance storytelling, working with excellent motion-capture performances to infuse real humanity into the apes.
The new Apes films are widely considered to be the best Serkis Folk characters since Avatar. There are people who didn't know that the apes, monkeys, orangutans, and gorillas are all CGI - they were legitimately good enough to be mistaken for practical effects. Then there's the fact that they avert the infamous Uncanny Valleycompletely, to the point where some people claimed that the apes are more emotive and convincing than the (very talented) human actors.
The special effects in Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes (2001) are considered to be the best aspect of the film. The suits are incredibly well-detailed and resemble real apes better than ever before. Even more then a decade later, the suits can offer serious competition to the digital apes in the reboot series.
Sunshine: The ending scene where Capa is looking at the sun is particularly beautiful, but there's a whole bunch of stunning visuals in this movie.
The original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990). The suits and puppets used in the film were as complex and top-of-the-line as animatronics got back then. Jim Henson did the creatures of the film not not for money (it was an independent film), or fame, but simply because he knew it would change how his company would have to do these things. Even today the Turtles and Splinter look totally real even to eyes that have been spoiled by CG effects. As soon as you see the Turtles turn that corner in the opening titles you completely buy into that these things are alive, they show any and every emotion conceivable throughout the action of the movie, and all four of them have a wholly unique face and body structure (not many people notice this, but Raphael has a small scar under his left eye, that's dedication). The system that governed the facial movements went on to become the Henson Control System, widely regarded as the best in animatronics, and is still in use today. This is to say nothing of the darkly beautiful underground sets that comprise the fictional New York sewers and the Turtles' home.
Speaking of the Turtles, say what you will of TMNT, but that contains some of the most beautiful CGI in a Weinstein Brothers movie yet. The buildings, lighting, the way the clothes move in the wind, and even how the rain trickles off the turtles' shells is PHENOMENAL.
Jurassic Park. Tell yourself those dinosaurs are fake. It's been said that an effects supervisor broke down crying when watching the dailies of the scene where the first Bracchiosaurus is revealed to us. Even today, watching that scene almost 30 years later, it's damn near impossible not to get a lump in the throat watching that scene - today's CGI creatures may be better in terms of detail and realism, but they will never match the sheer beauty and majesty of that very first scene.
"They've got some pretty well trained dinosaurs..." - a friend's comment on the film.
In the third movie, Velociraptors were depicted by both CGI and full-sized animatronic puppets. Visually it's virtually impossible to distinguish between the two, and both look outright hyper-realistic. This is an awesome achievement in both CGI and animatronics.
Speaking of the third film, we also get to see an excellent and convincing image of a Pteranodon snatching up a human, as well as a really well shot scene of said Pteranodon carrying the boy on a reluctant flight around the territory. Accurate or not, that scene was really well done.
The dinosaur models in The Lost World: Jurassic Park are so good, they even look real in the "making of" featurette when they're shown in the workshop with plain fluorescent overhead lighting and no camera tricks.
Jurassic World: Par for the course of a good Jurassic Park movie. Special mention goes to the Gyrospheres, the Mosasaurus Feeding Show, the pterosaur attack, the dying Apatosaurus, and the Innovation Center holograms.
The climactic skeleton fight in Jason and the Argonauts is stop-motion animator Ray Harryhausen's CMoA. Although every monster in that film was cool; Talos was voted the second greatest movie monster by Empire readers for a reason, guys.
The Audrey II. At first it looks like an obvious puppet, but once that thing starts talking, you forget that pretty quickly.
A very old example: one of the actors in Seven Samurai had never handled a sword in his life. With some clever camera tricks, he looked like the best swordsman in the film. Considering that this is long before digital editing, that's pretty impressive.
Likewise, the sequel Alice Through the Looking Glass features a lot of stunning CGI environments. Particular standouts include Time's clockwork palace, Alice piloting the Chronosphere over the Ocean of Time, and the climax where all of Underland is rusting over.
Mary Poppins is another classic example whose effects still hold up very well today.
While the original is mentioned in the Harryhausen section above, the remake of Clash of the Titans deserves to be mentioned too. Specifically, the Kraken itself was jaw-droppingly awesome in every way, from its alien design, to all of its limbs twisting and moving around, to the sheer volume of water pouring off the thing as it moves, the effects guys did an incredible job making that thing look huge. Also worthy of mention, Pegasus.
The Mummy! From the opening shot of Thebes, to Imhotep's walking, talking corpse, the plagues, the sand wall, and the soldier mummies were just pure epic.
In Dr. Strangelove, the filmmakers asked the army if they could take pictures of the then state of the art B-52 cockpit for the on plane scenes. The Air Force denied their request citing national security reasons. What do the filmmakers do? Go look at old B-29 cockpit and base the design off that and exterior shots of the B-52 nose section. When they invited the military to view the result, they were told that "it was absolutely correct, even to the little black box which was the CRM." Director Stanley Kubrick was afraid of an FBI investigation after that.
Speed, Fucking, Racer. Yes, within the first, like, 5 minutes of the film you will be very much able to tell this is all CGI. But keep in mind that it is trying to be essentially a live action Anime, on crack, and damnit, it looks pretty.
The exploding head, and its subsequent regeneration, in Species II.
When Frank escapes The Labyrinth in Hellraiser, and slowly grows from a puddle to a vaguely humanoid form.
Serenity The entire movie is full of brilliant effects , but that one scene near the end, when the Reavers come out of that nebula and just engage the Alliance fleet waiting there head-on! That scene was also quite definitely a Moment of Awesome.
Everything in zero-g, particularly the first fight scene where they run around all three dimensions of that hallway to beat the crap out of each other.
What's particularly cool is that the hallway scene was actually filmed in real life—they actually built a rotating hallway to film the scene in! Not that that makes it any less of an amazing effect!
The streets of Paris exploding around (a very calm) Cobb and Ariadne.
The streets of Paris folding in half.
The decrepit city in the fourth dream layer.
V for Vendetta. Made on a considerably lower budget than many successful comic book film adaptations, the film boasts various cool action setpieces. The domino scene was done for real by Weijers Domino Productions from the Netherlands. And they had to do the elaborate setup twice because of problems with the camera angles the first time around. And when the houses of parliament get blown up at the end? Minuature effects. Boo yeah!
The "London Walk" in 28 Days Later, where Jim roams the city looking for anyone else, passing by several landmarks and giving the completely convincing impression that one of the world's major capitals is devoid of human life. All achieved by filming early in the morning, stopping traffic for a few minutes, and blanking out anything else in post-production.
Voldemort's face in the Harry Potter movies. The really impressive part, of course, is the nose. Many viewers have wondered what they could have done to make Ralph Fiennes' nose look like that short of facial surgery. The answer is that they erased his nose with CGI. And it's worth noting they had to not effect Ralph Fiennes' performance while they were digitally altering his face in every shot in which he appears, whether it's a close-up of his face or a wide shot in which he can only be seen from a distance.
The scene where Luna and Harry watch the Thestrals.
Anything Dumbledore does with his wand is gauranteed 100% unadulterated awesome, though special mention should go to his fight with Voldemort at the end of the fifth and his EPIC ring of fire in the sixth.
The Harry Potter film series managed to utilize and IMPROVE UPON this trope since Philosopher's Stone. Just try to say you didn't gasp in awe at the Wizard Chess, the Anaconda escaping from the London Zoo scenes, the brick wall of Diagon Alley opening, as well as the final duel between Harry and Quirrel/ Voldemort in the first film.
Particularly impressive is the scene where Magneto confronts the cops, takes control of their firearms and floats them in midair, aiming at each of them. Also, the various closeup shots of Wolverine's claws emerging, Senator Kelly's Nightmare Fuel mutation, Mystique's transformations (that got progressively better as the films went on) and so on. Also in the first film is an extreme Talking to Himself scene where Wolverine fights Mystique (the latter disguised as Wolverine) and one seriously cannot tell which is the real Logan.
Some highlights include Angel's wings, Quill's spikes and of course the Golden Gate bridge uprooted and plonked on Alcatraz Island. One moment that is slight more subtle is the "digital skin grafting" that made Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen look two decades younger.
Not forgetting the practical makeup effects, such as the muscle suit Vinnie Jones wore as the Juggernaut, Angel's wings in their folded position and of course the full-body makeup applied to Beast, Mystique and Nightcrawler.
Colossus looks absolutely incredible, his metal skin appearing almost photorealistic.
In a more subtle manner, the animated eyes of Deadpool's mask. Just cartooney enough to make his mask-covered face more expressive and humorous like the comics, but not attention-grabbing enough to be distracting.
Also, the special effects used to simulate Deadpool's tissue regeneration.
The 2006 remake of Poseidon. Beautifully shot capsizing scene or the wonderful opening sequence just goes to show you what computers and animators are capable of.The Capsizing scene and the opening scene
The makeup effects in Beetlejuice. Especially near the end of the movie.
The Fountain. Now consider it's not CG, they used actual deep-sea microorganisms to get their effects because they felt CG would look outdated in a decade or two.
Thomas and the Magic Railroad. Watch the scenes on the Magic Railroad itself. And then there's the scene of Lady steaming up for the first time in decades. They did it perfectly, you'd never be able to tell that engine was only a prop. The model work is good too.
Dragon Slayer, made in 1981, had Vermithrax, who is the most realistic stop-motion animated creature ever, thanks to Industrial Light and Magic's new "Go Motion", which added subtle blur to the movement, removing the jerkiness most stop-motion animated visual effects had.
Galaxy Quest is interesting in that it is a comedy with a big budget, but the money spent actually helps instead of hurting the film. The film uses Stylistic Suck when showing how cheaply-made the in-universe "Galaxy Quest" television show was, but pulls out the big guns with CGI and scale models that were fairly realistic for the time (I daresay the wormhole was as good as the one in Star Trek), building the starship bridge set on an actual gimbal that would shake and tilt, and especially the animatronic and prosthetic effects provided by Stan Winston and his studio.
In the Eragon film, Saphira was a scene-stealer and the lone bright point it had. The magnificent blue-scaled dragoness invoked Just Here for Godzilla in just about everyone who bothered to watch that tripe.
The climax of Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief.Percy using his I'm-the-son-of-the-sea-god powers to control the water in the nearby water tanks like a Waterbender to kick Luke's ass with. Then he forms a trident out of water. That is all.
Here's one that's a bit different: The Social Network. Armie Hammer provides the face of both of the Winklevoss twins. They edited his face onto the other guy's body. Why is this Visual Effects of Awesome? Because they did it so perfectly that there is absolutely no trace of it in the film. It is utterly seamless.
The Thing's transformation in the kennel. While there are some brief moments of slightly dodgy special effects, that first transformation is golden and still terrifying today.
Mega Monster Battle: Ultra Galaxy Legends, is absolutely gorgeous, from the Land of Light to the Monster Graveyard. The standouts are Belial vs the Land of Light and the stunning Zaragas vs Gomora battle. Bonus points for the fact that this movie was one of the very few Toku works at the time done largely in greenscreen instead of the traditional miniatures, and one of Tsuburaya Productions first forays into it.
Any Guillermo del Toro movie involving prosthetics will end up like this. The man has designed some of the most fantastical (and bizarre) creatures in movie history, and since one of his first ever jobs in film was as a makeup artist, he knows exactly how to get the look he wants. Screw CGI: look at Abe Sapien's smooth, damp skin, or the Faun's ridged, curling goat-horns. Don't you just want to reach out and touch them? Well, if you'd been on set that day, you could have. That's a magic that no computer can ever give you.
The chariot race for the most part was real and not effects. There were matte paintings for the long shots showing the area surrounding the track of but those were real extras, real sets and real horses. It's movr "Stuntwork of Awesome".
While the later Tremors movies used obvious CG, the original used EXTREMELY GOOD animatronics for the Graboids. Watch the original Tremors and tell me those worms are fake.
The entirety of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, the fight scenes in particular, seriously looked like a live-action video game, with both subtle and not-so-subtle awesome effects: a subtle example is when Scott and Ramona are on a bus discussing the Evil Exes, where the lights behind Scott are shaped like hearts and the ones behind Ramona are shaped like X's at first but then change to hearts as well, and a not-so-subtle example being the holographic Dragons vs. Yeti battle. Other special mentions go to Todd's Vegan Powers, the Exes bursting into coins, and the various weapons, especially Gideon's Pixel Katana. (Notice how anything behind the sword trail looks pixellated!)
Peeta's camouflage in the film of The Hunger Games makes him entirely indistinguishable from the environment and still looks like a plausible, realistic makeup job. No CGI here.
That and the fire. Not just during the chariot rides—all the fire in the movie.
The sequel The Hunger Games: Catching Fire had a bigger budget and better CGI. The best effect is when the Cornucopia in the middle of the arena is spinning.
Hugo. Dear Lord, Hugo. It's a dreamy, romantic, somewhat whimsical but still restrained depiction of Paris in the 30s, and features some truly magical visuals, achieved with a mix of CGI and gorgeous period sets. It's also a loving tribute to the great grandaddy of special effects, Georges Melies.
Part of what makes The Adventures of Captain Marvel one of the greatest examples of the classic Film Serial are the excellent visual effects, especially when Captain Marvel flew using a very well designed and dressed mannequin on a wire and careful filming to make a very convincing sight in long shots for 1941.
Corpse Bride. The only computer effects were the removing of wires for flying creatures, and the fire. The facial expressions are extremely subtle, by use of clockwork mechanics in the puppet's heads. It's a beautiful film.
The film adaptation of Life of Pi has some amazing CGI. Most notably is the model for Richard Parker. Who's CGI for almost the entire film, but looks incredibly realistic.
As reviled as it is, Super Mario Bros. did an outstanding job on its visual effects. It featured CG back when it was still in its infancy but has aged remarkably well, even if the film itself has not. While most of the film used practical effects, the de-evolutions were computer aided.
While the digital giants in Jack the Giant Slayer are quite good, the effects that brought the beanstalk sequences to life are pretty darn impressive.
Although all of G-Force (the movie) looks pretty good, the bit the takes the cake has to be the car/hamster ball chase scene. The FBI guys get to the hideout, and the team have to do a runner in a motorized vehicle that is made out of three hamster wheels and a miniature supercharged engine. They break out the window... the whole scene gets more and more "holy crap this is cool" until the finale of the scene where the FBI jeep accidentally sets off a ground fireworks display, so that the rest of the scene is G-Force fleeing from the FBI while fireworks are exploding all around making it look like they're out driving a fireball.
Gravity. It's very tempting to say just "the entire film" and leave it at that, but in particular, this is probably the most realistic depiction of space in film to date, to the point where it's difficult to believe the entire thing wasn't actually filmed in space.
A Zack Snyder staple. Special mention has to go to Zod's armor. It looks so real you would never guess that it's CGI.
A major highlight are the action scenes, which are a live-action adaptation of how Superman's fights are drawn in the comic books. Man of Steel properly adapts the speed and power the Kryptonians display in the comic books, and their fights are powerful brawls, whereas prior depictions relied a lot more on Coconut Superpowers and some degree of obvious Wire Fu.
The make-up and prosthetic work for Killer Croc is spectacular. It's rare for such things to look just as good in behind-the-scenes photos as it does on camera.
Lucy: ILM helped create a majority of the digital effects work and their work particularly shines during Lucy's time jump sequence at the end of the film. Another effects highlight is Lucy the Australopithecus afarensis, who features in two scenes.
While the overall quality of Interstellar is debated, the visual effects are almost universally praised, and for very good reason. Simply put, this movie has some of the best visual effects ever, and combines real-world props and stunning CGI to a degree that's scarcely been done this well since The Lord of the Rings movies.
Unlike with every film of the last 15 years, almost every scene in this film was done with real, physical props and sets, with CGI limited to space backgrounds and a few other scenes. (Of course, this is a defining trait of the director, Christopher Nolan. He often opts for physical props over CGI, and Interstellar is no exception.)
Nolan opted for a highly documentary-like style of filmmaking for the movie, emphasizing realism in cinematography and using various effects to that end. The film's starring spacecraft are full-size models in shots including actors and highly detailed miniatures in space scenes. The miniatures in particular were shot with very long exposure times, emulating the deep-contrast shadows of a vacuum, and almost all the exterior shots are from cameras mounted onto the ships, emulating footage from real-life engineering cameras. Plus, the way light plays on the surface of these miniatures results in an incredibly realistic look unachievable with CGI. The interiors of sets are lit not with studio lights, but with "in-universe" light fixtures, instrument panels, and the like. Even the view through the windows of the ships wasn't added in post-production - instead, the views were rendered beforehand, then rear-projected through the windows. The projected images are also bright enough to light the scene as if the ships were really in space - something that simply can't be done with post-production.
Those folding, transforming, robots that look like a cross between the Monolith from 2001 and a Transformer, with geometric transformations that border on Alien Geometries? Practical Effects.
But by far, the most visually striking element of the film is, ironically, a CGI element - specifically, the film's black hole. Generated with real physics-based models of black holes, the film's black hole is the most realistic ever depicted on film. It is simultaneously terrifying, and absolutely beautiful. Shout-out to the directors for managing to make an accurate depiction of wormhole where they cross from standard reality to the inside of a sphere-shaped hole in reality filled with stars and still have it be comprehensible. It has a terrifying beauty not seen in any other cinema depictions of black holes, perhaps because of its realism. Word of God has stated that the black hole renderings resulted in two published papers - one for the computer graphics community, and one for the scientific community.
And to to add the astonishing Mind Screw cherry on top of the sundae, the climax of the film where Cooper finds himself in the Tesseract where he sees multiple versions of his past unfolding simultaneously. Most of his surroundings throughout that part was a set that they really dangled Matthew McConaughey in.
Monsters. Considering the tiny budget, anything resembling special effects would have been commendable but its visuals would actually shame some movies 100 times its cost. And Gareth Edwards did it all himself. Special mention goes to the ending, when two of the creatures meet whilst Samantha and Andrew look on in awe.
The sheer amount of stuntwork and other practical effects that were used to bring the post-apocalyptic world to life, and all done in vivid colors instead of washed-out so that you could fully appreciate all of it. Over a year after the film's release, a new reel of raw stunt footage was released that still left critics and fans in awe. And on the CG side of things, that sandstorm.
Pixels: Generally agreed to be one of the lone bright spots of the film. And it's not hard to see why. Special mention goes to the Centipede and Pac-Man sequences.
In an interview after production wrapped up, Lana Wachowski mentioned that the effects were much more complex than the stuff that was in Cloud Atlas. They spent a lot of time and energy creating a unique feel for every set, from the claustrophobic and crowded Orous to the ostentatiousness of Titus' ship.
The hunters chasing Caine and Jupiter around Chicago has some truly stunning cinematography. Some of the shots were pulled off by having helicopters fly around the city, catching as many possible angles as they could.
Spaceball One, the prop looks just as good the ships in Star Wars.
The obvious track aside, the dancing Xenomorph is actually a pretty decent puppet for a comedy.
The Jungle Book (2016). Everything except Mowgli is computer-generated. Think about that for a second. Now go back and look at the film again. The animals, the jungle, the water, the fire - all of this was done with blue screen and computer graphics. And it all looks entirely real. The mere fact that they managed to make realistic-looking talking animals without descending into the Uncanny Valley is an impressive enough accomplishment on its own. The fact that it all looks this good is an almost unparalleled artistic accomplishment. This is quite possibly the most impressive example of this trope since Avatar (and not coincidentally, many of the same VFX people worked on both films).
The Martian has some very impressive effects, especially the sand storm at the start of the film. The scenes in space also rival the ones in Interstellar and Gravity for how realistic-looking they are. But perhaps the most impressive factor is that the Martian scenes actually look like they really were filmed on Mars.
Ex Machina won an upset Oscar victory for Best Visual Effects over favourites for the award like The Force Awakens and Mad Max: Fury Road. The android characters provide one of the finest examples of the Uncanny Valley in recent cinematic history, and it's difficult to believe they're not actual androids. Making the accomplishment even more impressive, the entire film was made on a shoestring budget and the effects were all done in post-production. There are a couple of minor flaws with the effects (mostly in the scene in which Alicia Vikander's character Ava takes skin from another robot character, due to the changing size of her breasts), but for the most part the whole thing is seamless, and it all looks like it was a lot more expensive to produce than it actually was.
The rendering of David's building in The Divergent Series: Allegiant is beautiful to look at - especially the colours and lights. Even the elevator looks impressive. The entire design for the barren future is also quite impressive.
Let's just say there's a reason why Independence Day won the Oscar for visual effects. The destruction of the White House alone was enough to hang a whole advertising campaign on.
Michael Powell's classic Black Narcissus is a film featuring stunning Scenery Porn of India. Except it was shot entirely on soundstages at Pinewood Studios. Matte paintings, hanging miniatures and glass effects were used to simulate Himalayan scenery. The result is a film that looks as if it was at least partially shot on location.
The live-action Fat Albert movie: The effects used to show the characters transform from cartoons to real people by jumping out of the TV screen hold up pretty well. To say nothing of the gorgeous traditional animation.
Many horror movies have spectacularly upsetting transformation sequences, but they usually take a few minutes at most for the audience and the afflicted characters. They were so common in the early 1980s, with varying levels of quality in the execution, that by mid-decade it seemed nothing new could be done with the conceit of a man becoming a monster. And then David Cronenberg's The Fly (1986) went with a Metamorphosis which unfolds over the course of a month-plus in-story, like a disease. Seven stages of transformation are depicted (an additional midpoint stage didn't make the final cut but DVD bonus features contain the sequence in question) — five via increasingly repulsive yet realistic makeup effects, and the final completely inhuman-looking ones via puppetry. Stage 5 becomes 6 right before the audience and characters' eyes as the Doomed Protagonist's body literally sheds its human form! Chris Walas and company's work deservedly won the Academy Award for Makeup, while Jeff Goldblum's amazing performance as poor Seth Brundle not receiving similar recognition for making the transformation fully come alive was regarded then and now as a serious Award Snub. Suffice to say that thisSlow Transformation will likely stick around as the trope's page image and codifier for a while to come.
Special mention goes to the shot of Charizard using flamethrower and the herd of Bulbasaur walking along with Morelull floating around them.
The Fantastic Noir aesthetic for Ryme City that blends a family friendly Film Noir look crossed with Pokémon was well received as well.
The surprise Mewtwo bursting out of the flames looks amazing.
The Torterra◊ in the 'Casting Detective Pikachu' video has lots of detail such as scales and marks over its body. Seeing a bunch of them artificially enlarged to the size of islands is like something out of Jurassic Park.
Another mention go to the Pangoro's fur and incredible detail with the photorealism. It looks like what an actual scary Panda while also being a bear would look like.
The Bulbasaurs in the lake scene are especially detailed, with glimming eyes.
The Prehysteria trilogy, started in 1993, is all about kids who adopt four baby dinosaurs and a pterosaur. You'd assume, based on that premise alone, that it's full of 90s caliber CGI that looks super lame now, right? Wrong. All of the dinosaur scenes are done with practical effects, specifically animatronics, stop motion and a few puppets, including a flying Pteranodon on a string. The effects look really natural and indeed, a good portion of the films' behind-the-scenes featurettes tend to be the actors marvelling at how convincing they truly are.