Industry Trends

13 Groundbreaking Shows In TV Visual Effects History

TV has come a long way over the years. There have been some incredible highs that have almost literally gotten the whole world talking, as well as some abysmal lows populated with shows that are better left unmentioned.

As things have progressed, so too has the job of the visual effects artist, a job which has changed dramatically over the years and appears to be following an adaptation of Moore’s Law; where the future lies is open to speculation, but it’s always worth taking a minute to review what lead us to where we are today.

So, without further ado, let’s begin our tour of visual effects by going right the way back to the late 50s…

Visual Effects in Television: 13 of the Most Groundbreaking Shows
 TV visual effects

The Twilight Zone (1959 – 1964)

Almost every episode of the enduring pop classic, The Twilight Zone, saw the visual effects becoming increasingly inventive, being driven by ever stranger storylines that pushed the effects team’s abilities to the very limits of what was achievable.

More often than not, they met their mark and set the bar high for sci-fi to follow, especially in an age when nobody was convinced a sci-fi/speculative fiction show would work.

But of course, along came…

Dr. Who (1963 – present)

In the early 60s, a little sci-fi show featuring a time-traveling telephone box appeared on British screens on the same day as John F. Kennedy’s assassination. It arrived with little fanfare – partly due to the breaking assassination news, partly because half the country suffered a power outage that evening – and came very close to being permanently axed from the BBC’s production schedule.

Given the long-lasting impact it would have on not just sci-fi serials and the visual effects therein, but also pop culture in general, the world would be a very different place if it had been dropped in the first series all those decades ago.

Thunderbirds (1964 – 1966)

In the mid-sixties, children’s television was undergoing something of a revolution in the U.K and the release of Thunderbirds marked its apex.

Subsequently released in over 60 countries, it was arguably the most popular British TV export at the time (since Dr. Who had yet to find an overseas audience) and went on to inspire numerous other “supermarionation” shows, none of which quite lived up to the bar set by the original puppeteers.

Star Trek: TOS (1966 – 1969)

While all of the Star Trek series could be considered as boundary-pushing when it comes to TV visual effects, it was the 1966 magnum opus that laid the foundation for what would become one of the most popular and influential shows ever made.

As with all of the early entries in this list, you’ll need to apply a little historical perspective to fully appreciate how mind-blowing the effects were to a TV audience of 50 years ago, but The Original Series was way ahead of its time even in the 60s.

Cosmos (1980)

From iconic explorations of a fantastical universe to the very real one we find ourselves in, the original Cosmos series was a landmark in public science education. Bolstered by the late, great Carl Sagan and special effects that beautifully brought abstract concepts and cosmological events to life, Cosmos set a precedent that hadn’t really been met until the show’s gorgeous resurrection last year (under the helm of Sagan admirer Neil DeGrasse Tyson).

It’s little wonder the 80s show looked so exquisite, either – the 13 part series was given a $6.3 million production budget, which in today’s money equates to around $20 million (or one and a half million dollars per episode).

The Simpsons (1989 – Present)

While animated sitcoms go back as far as the 1960 (kickstarted by such Hanna-Barbera shows as The Flintstones and The Jetsons), it was a little short debuting on The Tracey Ullman Show in 1987 that would thrust the genre into the mainstream, and revolutionized animation made specifically for TV.

The Simpsons is now the longest running U.S sitcom and animation, and arguably the most celebrated with The A.V. Club dubbing it “television’s crowning achievement, regardless of format.”

Twin Peaks (1990 – 1991)

We could fill volumes discussing the cinematography merits and visual effects mastery in Twin Peaks, but it’s best summed up – and left – with three simple words…

… It’s David Lynch.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997 – 2003)

A seminal 90s series that brought makeup artistry to the forefront of the small screen, and even earned numerous Emmy Awards for Outstanding Visual Effects and Makeup during its run.

Sure, it may look a little hammy by today’s standards, but it’s the humor and acting that have aged a lot more than the visual effects that brought the occult to our screens like never before (provoking critic Robert Moore to proclaim “TV was not art before Buffy, but it was afterwards”).

Band of Brothers (2001)

By many measures, Band of Brothers was quite possibly the finest WWII miniseries of the past few decades, and particularly when judged upon its dedication to real (and often harrowing) visual effects.

Then again, could we expect any less from Steven Spielberg?

24 (2001 – 2010)

The premise behind 24 was bold, and the set pieces peppered throughout the groundbreaking show even more so.

Often overshadowed by the incredible performances, the ingenuity displayed by the special effects team who have worked on the past nine seasons is particularly worthy of praise: from the all-too-realistic portrayal of Jack Bauer lopping off a guy’s hand to the makeup department stepping up to the plate for every brutal interrogation scene, 24 is a visual feast that will endure for some time to come.

Peep Show (2003 – Present)

From seemingly out of nowhere came a small-budget, British comedy which fully realized the art of POV-shooting as a regular feature in a way never before (or since) mastered, becoming a huge cult success in the process.

At the time of writing, the longest-running comedy on the UK’s Channel 4 is currently filming its ninth and final series, having been at the risk of cancellation due to low viewer numbers (and saved through high DVD sales) since the very first episode.

Daredevil (2015)

While it sagged a little in the third act of the series, it’s been heralded by many as a near-perfect example of how superhero-centric TV shows should be executed. Particular praise was given to Daredevil for its grit and masterful cinematography (which was very reminiscent of Wally Pfister‘s work on The Dark Knight trilogy), as well as the visual effects employed throughout the show.

Perhaps the beauty of Daredevil‘s visual effects is they were fairly understated. Fully-blown CGI sequences are traded with simple effects that demonstrate how the blind Mat Murdoch’s “powers” work, and fight scenes are driven by nothing more than excellent choreography and stunt performance than overwrought trickery.

Take for instance the 3-minute, single shot fight scene that had many a Netflix viewer picking their jaws off the carpet. If this doesn’t make Daredevil a worthy addition to this list, we don’t know what does:

If anything, Daredevil will hopefully see the action TV genre following suit and going back to basics, which is a savvy tactic if you don’t have $6 million dollars of budget to blow on each episode…

… and speaking of which:

Game of Thrones (2011 – Present)

From a visual production standpoint, TV shows don’t get much bigger than this, and it’s likely to be quite some time before we see a rival fantasy series of this scale…

… and the scale is indeed huge, with the last two episodes of the fourth season being formatted for IMAX (the only TV show we can think of which has had the super-big screen treatment.) Given that it’s officially the most expensive TV show ever produced, we can safely shut the book on the age old argument “what costs more: the cast of Friends or CGI dragons?”

So there we have it – a whistle stop tour of the finest shows to have advanced special effects in television. Any particular titles that you feel should have made the cut? You know where to drop your suggestion… see you in the comments below!

Disney’s Next Live-Action Rehash: Winnie the Pooh?

News has just surfaced that Disney Studios is continuing with its slew of live-action adaptations of old, cherished animations, this time with Winnie the Pooh coming at an unspecified date… and the Internet hasn’t reacted too kindly.

Winnie the Pooh live action

Although many are decrying the live-action retelling of the A.A. Milne classic, which is particularly noted for its 2D animation style, the news probably shouldn’t have come as a surprise. The recent slew of adaptations have proven extremely viable from a commercial standpoint, even if critical reception has been hit-or-miss:

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, 2010. Cost $150m to make, took $215m at the box office. Scored at 42% on metacritic review site Rotten Tomatoes.

Alice in Wonderland, 2010. Production budget of somewhere between $150m and $200m, went on to bring in an incredible $1.02 billion despite only receiving a 51% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Maleficent, 2014. The live-action Sleeping Beauty derivative took $758.4m against a budget of $180m – Angelina Jolie’s highest grossing film – and gaining a 49% approval rating from critics.

Into the Woods, 2014. Based around numerous fairytale sources, the star-studded musical quadrupled its budget with $204m in takings against it’s $50m budget. Fared well on Rotten Tomatoes with a 71% rating.

Cinderella, 2015. Still screening at the time of writing, but has so far grossed $397m at the box office and a budget of $95m. Currently stands at 84% on Rotten Tomatoes.

The current wave does not represent the first time that Disney have given classic animations the live-action treatment. For that, look to 101 Dalmatians released in 1996 and the 2000 sequel, both of which did notably well at the box office.

An unsubstantiated rumor about a Cruella de Vil movie being planned (a la Maleficent) is also doing the rounds, but that’s a story for another day.

Cruella Dalmations live action Disney movie

With profit margins like this, it’s little wonder that Disney Studios are planning on plumbing these depths for as long as the numbers hold strong. Of course, other studios are following suit given that a lot of the source material (namely Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen) is out of copyright and open game.

As for Winnie the Pooh, it’s historically been one of the most profitable intellectual property licenses on Disney’s books and they have put out a few feature-length, theatrical releases in the past. Sadly, they’ve never quite hit the financial heights that were hoped for and the most recent 2011 Winnie the Pooh movie, which was traditionally animated. It only took in $44m against a $30m budget. Again, in light of this it’s no surprise that Disney are giving the franchise a lick of live-action paint for the next release.

Winnie the Pooh live action remake

In a nutshell, the reason for the current trend is all down to cold, hard cash (as it often is). But let’s stop looking back, and instead turn our attention to the live-action remakes that are scheduled for the next few years:

The Jungle Book: April, 2016
Alice in Wonderland, Through the Looking Glass: May, 2016
Beauty and the Beast: March, 2017
Dumbo: Unknown
Mulan: Unknown

Dumbo and Mulan are both being directed by Tim Burton. No doubt this is due to the financial success of the first Alice in Wonderland movie (its 2016 sequel has been entrusted to James Bobin). In addition to all this, Sofia Coppola is set to direct an adaptation of The Little Mermaid, albeit for Universal rather than Disney.

Little Mermaid remake

And that leaves us with one question…

What Will a Live-Action Winnie The Pooh Movie Look Like?

At present, it’s anyone’s guess. All we know is that it’ll feature a more “grown-up” Christopher Robin revisiting Hundred Acre Wood.

The other recent live-action anthropomorphic bear movie, Paddington Bear, which came out in 2014 made sense. The bear himself was animated and set amongst a host of real-life actors and sets. With Winnie the Pooh, however, it’s the other way around. It’s hard to imagine humans playing all of the Milne animals. Could everything be CGI animated with the exception of Christopher Robin?

In the meantime, there’s sure to be healthy debate as to whether or not the entire project is doomed to failure or should even be attempted in the first place.

pooh bear live action

What’s your take? Any live-action adaptations you’re actually looking forward to, or are you longing for this current trend to fizzle out? Let your voice be heard in the comments below…

Stop Motion Animation: 5 Award-Winning Stop Motion Films

Stop motion animation is a discipline that has been around for almost as long as the film industry itself, but it’s been in the last few decades in particular that we’ve seen some incredible innovation in the field.

Whether you’re simply an avid fan of stop motion or currently working your way through animation school, the following 5 award-winning stop motion films will serve to inspire you and deserved all the recognition they received. Continue on and you’ll see why.

Fresh Guacamole (PES)

PES has become something of the go-to name for stop motion animation, particularly in the YouTube era. As we mentioned in our guide on How to Do Stop Motion Animation, PES (born Adam Pesapane) garnered a lot of recognition for his short Fresh Guacamole:

PES himself has picked up a great number of awards for his quirky stop motion to date, but Fresh Guacamole in particular is a notable short given that, at 1:36 long, it’s the shortest film to have ever been nominated for an Oscar. The film was in the running for the 2012 Best Animated Short Film, but subsequently lost out to Disney’s Paperman.

Out of a Forest (Tobias Gundorff)

Shortly following graduation at animation school, Gundorff’s thesis short, Out of a Forest, went on to do exceptionally well on the festival circuit and launched his filmmaking career spectacularly.

The short itself features a nighttime gathering in the woods of a group of rabbits, blissfully unaware that something moves in the darkness. We won’t spoil the ending of course, but we can guarantee you’ll enjoy the seamless addition of live action elements into the mix:

It’s little wonder that this fantastic example of stop motion animation went on to win multiple awards given that it’s packed with both style and substance.

Bottle (Kirsten Lepore)

Creating any kind of stop motion is difficult, but when you’re trying to accomplish intricate results on location in nature, using sand, sea, and snow no less, the challenge level increases manifold.

That’s precisely what Kirsten Lepore and her team accomplished, and to great effect, in this tale of two animated chunks of landscape communicating to each other via the ocean:

We can’t begin to imagine the amount of work that went into keeping this animation as consistent and flawless as it is, but it deserved every award it was given and stands as an inspiration to stop motion animators the world over.

MUTO (Blu)

Known only by his pseudonym, Blu is a street artist who has been honing his craft since the late nineties in Bologna.

His art is intricate, imposing, and subversive; above all, it’s highly distinctive. Blu’s style was brought vividly to life in a graffiti/stop animation crossover titled Muto, which is unparalleled in terms of the project’s scale, and went on to give Blu both international recognition and awards:

The animation was released in 2008 and involved hundreds (if not thousands) of individual paintings of various sizes, but usually massive, across the streets of Buenos Aires. It is unknown how long this bizarre creation took, or how Blu managed to evade authorities during the process.

Stanley Pickle (Vicky Mather)

In the award-winning UK filmmaker’s own words, “Stanley never goes outside. He likes to play with his clockwork toys and every night his mother kisses him goodnight. Stanley is twenty. The trouble is that Stanley thinks this is all quite normal, until an encounter with a mysterious girl turns his world upside down…”

An undeniably interesting premise, made even more compelling through its innovative use of a stop motion technique called ‘pixilation,’ everything was taken as still images as with conventional stop motion, but using real actors instead of puppets or models. As can be observed in the short itself, the resulting aesthetic of the film is very peculiar indeed (and even a little unsettling):

Know of any award-winning stop motion animations that we’ve missed off the list? Drop a comment below and let us know what we should be watching next!

A Quick History of Animation

The animation industry has grown to become an absolute behemoth in the world of cinema. As of the last reliable estimates, which surfaced around 2008, the industry was reported to be worth a cool $68.4 billion alone, and that was before the world had ever heard of a little movie called Frozen.

history of animation

And even though modern animated movies require massive teams working solidly for years, they’re still the most profitable of any film genre. They have been since 2004, with gross profit margins at 52% compared to the second-most profitable genre, action, at 48%. It’s appears that the industry has stumbled into a gold mine, and it’s still way too early to predict when we’ll hit the peak.

But of course, animations weren’t always multi-million dollar affairs. Only a century before 3D animation schools rose up to help people study the craft, there were pioneers out there trying to figure out how to get it started.

The First Ever Animation

What was the first ever animation? That is a trickier question than it might appear, because it depends entirely on what is classified as an animation.

Given that animation, at its heart, is simply the act of creating the illusion of movement through still images, you could argue that the craft began hundreds of thousands of years ago. We’re all familiar with the stereotypical cave painting imagery which usually depicted hunting in motion.

The Victorians also figured out how to create moving stills to trick the eyes into thinking the image was animated:

History of animation: first ever animation

But that’s probably not what you wanted to know. Even if we’re talking about the first ever animation in the era of film, though, we’ve still got a problem: are we including only drawn images? Stop motion? Animations that only featured a few frames?

Let’s skip ahead a little and take a look at the first verifiable animated feature-length film… although that may be a little tricky, since no surviving copies exist.

The First Animated Feature Film

After a number of pioneers began creating animated shorts in the early 20th century (1914’s Gertie the Dinosaur being a notable example), the very first feature-length animation created using traditional methods was entitled El Apóstol.

Released in 1917 to a South American theatre audience, the 70-minute long movie – running at an impressive 14 frames per second – also holds the distinction of being the first commercially profitable animated movie ever made.

According to those who saw it, the political satire was exceedingly good. Those who didn’t catch it the first time round will never have the chance to find out, however, since the only copy of the film was destroyed in a house fire.

Alas, we’ll never know how good the first ever feature-length animation truly was.

Moving on…

The Rise of the Mouse House

A few more experimental animation techniques were developed over the next decade (including methods like rotoscoping), which produced some hit-and-miss results. It was the opening of a small studio in Los Angeles, however, that changed the game forever.

Walt Disney studios history of animation

To many, the word “animation” begins and ends with Walt Disney. With more innovations and notable works over the 20th century (and beyond) than we could ever hope to list here, Disney’s studio and tumultuous history set a precedent for the entire animation industry.

Interestingly, Pinto Colvig, famously known as the voice of Disney’s Goofy, was an extremely talented illustrator and is reputed to have made the very first animated feature film himself a couple of years before El Apóstol, but this is now impossible to verify.

As a result, some commenters point to the 1937 release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs as the first feature-length animated film since it was fully hand-drawn and isn’t classified as a ‘lost movie’.

The First Computer-Animated Feature Films

If the founding of Disney Studios is the biggest turning point in animation history so far, Pixar’s release of Toy Story in 1995 could be deemed the second biggest.

While it’s amazing that Toy Story still looks incredible two decades later, it’s undeniable that the CGI animations released since are following some kind of Moore’s Law effect: every year the rate of technological increase is growing exponentially, leading to mind-blowing results which are light-years ahead of titles released just a couple of years ago.

modern animation then and now

With CGI animation now a hugely profitable staple of the industry, it certainly isn’t going anywhere soon. The only thing left to see is how the students of animation school today are going to revolutionize the world of animation tomorrow.

10 Best Twitter Accounts EVERY Animator Should Follow

Animation is a big business these days. Many of today’s top television series and major motion pictures are animated, and there’s a high demand for animation professionals. One of the best ways for both up-and-coming animators and current professionals to stay on top of news in the animation industry is through social media,  so without further ado…

10 Best Twitter Accounts EVERY Animator Should Follow

New York Film Academy
@NYFA

New York Film Academy’s own 3D animation school has helped countless students achieve success with animation, so our Twitter stream is a good start for gleaning news about the entertainment industry in general and the animation world in particular.

Autodesk
@autodesk

Autodesk makes Maya, a 3D animation software platform widely used in the animation industry and widely taught in film and animation schools. Autodesk’s Twitter stream posts everything from tips to using Maya to news in the animation world, so it truly is one of the essential Twitter accounts every animator should follow.

3D Printing Industry
@3dprintindustry

Technology affects every field of the entertainment industry, especially animation. In the past decade, 3D printing has emerged as one of the fastest-growing technologies, and savvy animators will want at least a passing knowledge of news from the 3D printing world. 3D Printing Industry keeps track of such news.

hitRECord
@hitRECord

Founded by actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt, HitRecord bills itself as an “open collaborative production company.” Creators of all types, including animators, can contribute material and collaborate with other creators on various projects, from books to movies. HitRecord’s Twitter stream is a good source for seeing what projects need animators.

Lino DiSalvo
@LinoD

Lino DiSalvo is a veteran animator at Walt Disney Animation Studios and was the head of animation for Frozen. His inside expertise in the animation world makes his Twitter stream one of the most useful accounts for animators to follow.

Disney Animators
@DisneyAnimators

Although not an official Disney account, the Disney Animators’ Twitter feed collects the thoughts of animators working at Walt Disney Animation Studios.

 Jessie
@jslipchi

Jessie Slipchinsky is a freelance animator who has also worked for Disney, and her account provides a candid, slice-of-life look into the life of a working animator.

Animation Jobs
@animationjobs

Looking for a job as an animator? Animation Jobs does what it says on the tin, keeping a running list of openings for animators. If you’re looking for paid positions or are soon to graduate, this is pretty much the best Twitter account an animator can follow.

Bardel Entertainment
@bardelent

A Vancouver-based animation studio, Bardel Entertainment has worked on various projects for Nickelodeon, Disney, and the Cartoon Network, to name a few.

Animation World
@AnimationWorld

Animation World Network is an animation news site dedicated to the animation industry. Its website is one of the best sources for up-to-date animation information, and its Twitter stream is a quick way to keep tabs on new articles.

This concludes our list of Twitter accounts every animator – professional or hobbyist – should follow, but feel free to add your own to the list via the comments below. In the mean time, be sure to check out our guide to the various types of animation jobs in the industry.

The Most Anticipated 2015 Animated Movies

2014 was, all in all, a pretty decent year for animated movies. At one end of the spectrum, we saw some exemplary work coming to life at the hands of students at our animation school in LA while animated features like The Lego Movie, How to Train Your Dragon 2 and Mr. Peabody and Sherman did well in the wider industry.

It’ll be a tough year to match, but some of the most anticipated 2015 animated movies may be up to the challenge. With everyone waiting with baited breath particularly to see what Pixar and Disney are going to do next, let’s take a tour of the five biggest releases hitting the big screen in the near future.

Frozen Fever (March 13)

Frozen Sequel official trailer

We can’t go any further without addressing the highest grossing (if one of the *cough* most overrated *cough*) animated movies ever to hit the screens.

Given that Frozen has pulled in $1.27 billion at the box office and who knows how much more in spin-off revenue, the prospect of a Frozen 2 is pretty much a certainty at this point even if details aren’t forthcoming.

One thing we do know, however, is that there will be a sequel (of sorts) packaged with the theatrical release of the Mouse House’s Cinderella in March. It’ll only be a 7-minute long short, but with the original vocal cast and characters returning, you can guarantee Frozen Fever will restoke the fires of… well, Frozen fever.

Inside Out (June 19)

For anyone growing weary of franchise sequels and formulaic features, Pixar’s upcoming Summer release is definitely one to watch.

Created by many of the Up team members and with the soon-to-be household name Amy Poehler voicing the lead, Inside Out is set within the head of a girl driven by five characterized emotions – Anger, Fear, Disgust, Joy and Sadness. With a synopsis like that, it could well be one of the most conceptual and quirky films the studio has ever released.

Minions (July 10)

Much like the idea of a Frozen sequel, it’s hardly surprising that another Despicable Me movie would be on the cards given how successful the first and second movies became (both commercially and critically).

The fact that it’s a spin-off featuring the titular Minions characters is even less surprising – after all, they practically stole every scene they were in for the first two movies. Unlike some of this year’s upcoming releases, unless the writers do something catastrophically risky with the script it’s a nigh-on certainty that Minions will perform well when it hits this Summer.

The Good Dinosaur (November 25)

THE GOOD DINOSAUR trailer

For a long time, Pixar’s second 2015 release (the only year to date in which we’ve had two major releases from the studio) was doing the rounds under the name The Untitled Pixar Movie About Dinosaurs.

Any Pixar release is usually highly anticipated, but perhaps moreso given that The Good Dinosaur has been rumored since 2009 and has continuously pushed back from its original 2013 release date (with the project falling apart several times.) Based around the simple premise of ‘What would have happened if dinosaurs didn’t become extinct?’, those worried that it’ll be a knock-off Flintstones affair will be pleased to hear that “they’re dinosaurs… they won’t be walking around with clothes on or anything like that.”

Finding Dory (June 17, 2016)

Finding Dory trailer

Okay, so this one isn’t a 2015 release but that doesn’t make the sequel to Finding Nemo any less anticipated.

It nearly never happened – Andrew Stanton, the writer and director of both, originally stated ‘no sequels’. And we nearly got it this year, before the documentary Blackfish required a total rewrite of the ending.

The original movie (which will be 13 years old at the time of Dory‘s release) hit a bullseye with 99% positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, and we’re all eager to see whether the sequel will live up to this impressive legacy.

Which of these most anticipated animated movies are you most looking forward to? Any we’ve missed? Let your voice be heard in the comments below!

12 Movies That Revolutionized Visual Effects

Special effects have been part and parcel of moviemaking since the days of Thomas Edison and the dawn of cinema. King Kong revolutionized stop motion animation as action filmmaking, The Ten Commandments commanded meticulously detailed miniatures, Jaws scared millions with life-like animatronics.

But as comic books and science fiction transition from niche genre flicks to mainstream blockbusters, and Hollywood makes things bigger and brighter to compete with an ever expanding number of entertainment options, special effects have only become more prominent.

As even the last vestiges of analog give way to creating art digitally, computer effects have become the chief way of creating images that would otherwise be impossible to film.

Where once the question filmmakers had to answer was “How can we make this?” the question now is “What should we make now?” seeing that literally anything a screenwriter can come up with is now possible to put on screen.

In the new age of cinema, digital animating is as important to the filmmaking process as cinematography and editing. The following twelve movies were milestones in the art of computer visual effects.

This is by all means not a complete list—computer technology is a complicated, subtle science. Hollywood effects houses, indie animators, and even intrepid film school students make breakthroughs in technology all the time, and lucky for audiences, movies are constantly showing us something new.

These are 12 milestones. Feel free to add and talk about the many others in the comments.

Movies Visual Effects

1. Westworld

Before Westworld, any movies about killer robot cowboys had to make do with practical analog effects. The box office hit used computerized raster graphics to represent the pixelated point-of-view of Yul Brynner’s cyborg Gunslinger, a clever trope later made famous by The Terminator and Robocop.

2. Superman

It wasn’t until 1978 that a Hollywood film had its first computer generated opening credits sequence — the iconic flying Superman titles backed by John Williams’ heroic score. The floating blue names are still more exciting than many contemporary action scenes, and never before have the words “Associate Producer Charles F. Greenlaw” looked so cool.

3. The Last Starfighter

The 1984 space adventure replaced all of its spaceship models with CGI, a move remarkably ahead of its time and not even considered by George Lucas for a Star Wars film for another fifteen years.

The Last Starfighter was also the first movie to use integrated CGI, using computer-generated images to represent actual real world objects. Before then, computer images were only used to portray other computer images, or blocky holograms with corners sharp enough to cut yourself on.

Computer VFX

4. Terminator 2: Judgment Day

Besides being the first blockbuster to use a personal computer for major 3D effects and including multiple morphing effects, Terminator 2 is really more famous for making CGI a cool water cooler topic for the average layperson.

In 1991, everyone was talking about the T-1000, Robert Patrick’s killer cop made of computer-generated liquid metal that moved realistically like a human. We movie audiences love shiny things, and it didn’t come shinier than the T-1000. Suddenly, moviegoers were wondering aloud just what Hollywood would make next.

5. Jurassic Park

Steven Spielberg is considered one of the all-time best directors for a reason. He knows how to draw an audience into his world, and how to best utilize technologies of all kinds to make a collaborative work of genius like 1993’s Jurassic Park.

He didn’t limit himself to his trademark animatronics to create larger-than-life dinosaurs, including the use of state-of-the-art CGI. By combining both effects, the photorealistic full bodies of brachiosaurs and Tyrannosaurus Rex caused us to drop our jaws as they opened wide theirs.

6. Casper

The kid-friendly film Casper was the first Hollywood feature to include a completely computer-generated protagonist, in the days before Andy Serkis held a monopoly over that particular niche.

It was also the first big film to have its CG characters interact with real-life human actors, a revolutionary idea that is now standard training for those looking for careers in acting.

VFX in Film

7. Toy Story

In 1995, just a few months after Casper and his brothers hogged up screentime from their flesh-and-blood costars, Pixar released the first CGI feature-length animated film.

Toy Story was a smash hit, with Tom Hanks’ non-robot, non-killer cowboy Woody becoming a Disney star and computer animation soon replacing traditional hand-drawn animation as the king of Hollywood kids movies.

8. The Matrix

Like T2, while The Matrix’s technical milestones were somewhat small, it was the first film to use CG interpolation for the now-ubiquitous “bullet time”— the 1999 release did wonders for the public perception of computerized special effects.

Today, modern blockbuster filmmaking can be seen as either pre-Matrix or post-Matrix, with the use of CGI transforming from a Hollywood gimmick to an essential part of twenty-first century filmmaking.

9. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

Using Weta Digital’s Massive software, 2001’s epic Middle Earth opening chapter includes a colossal battle scene with thousands of battling elves and orcs.

Rather than recruiting half of New Zealand to portray the armies, Peter Jackson used computer-generated imagery. And rather than having animators painfully orchestrate the motions of each and every soldier, the software allowed the digital extras enough artificial intelligence to battle each other on their own, a Hollywood first. Because teaching AI computers how to wage war isn’t a terrible idea at all….

Best Visual Effects in Movies

10. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

How do you top a battle scene with thousands of sentient CG creatures? With one incredibly charming and technologically advanced CG creature, by the name of Gollum.

Andy Serkis’ motion-captured creature was the first photorealistic CG character that movie audiences took seriously, at least seriously enough to believe he was the same part of the world as Ian McKellen and Elijah Wood.

Serkis became the first recipient of an acting award without ever actually appearing on camera, heralding the age of motion-capture thespianism.

11. Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow

2004’s Sky Captain is not remembered as a particularly good movie, but it doesn’t have to be. It did its service to the cinematic arts simply by being the first movie to use all-CG backgrounds with live actors. While producers love this because it’s much cheaper than practical sets, it also allowed for a greater creative freedom to the filmmakers behind the movie. While Sky Captain was a flop, it showed us at the time yet another use for computer VFX in Hollywood moviemaking—one that, if fine-tuned, could make something as mesmerizing and memorable as, let’s say, Avatar.

12. Avatar

James Cameron’s working title for Avatar might as well have been The Kitchen Sink, because he threw everything into his 2009 space epic.

Not content with the most advanced technology of its time, Cameron even delayed production and invented his own techniques to bring the world of Pandora and its blue-skinned inhabitants to the big screen.

Avatar was the first mainstream feature to combine both photorealistic backgrounds and motion-captured characters, making an adventure that completely blurred the line between live-action and animation without taking the audience out of the movie.

It was also a boon for motion-capture actors and filmmakers as the first production to use real-time animation to show live feedback as what the mo-capped performers would like as their virtual characters.

Avatar Computer Animation

It’s hard to say what milestones are left to be reached, but that’s a good thing. After all, the stop-motion animators behind King Kong would have never imagined the 3D renderings of the Na’vi.

A film with visual effects that would blow the mind of James Cameron will definitely be something to behold. That is, if the AI extras from Lord of the Rings haven’t revolted and killed us all by then.

 

The 7 Must-Watch TED Talks For Anyone Interested In Animation

Animation is one of the most unique artforms in modern media – a unique blend of creative imagination and technical prowess, animating is something that isn’t particularly difficult to pick up but can take a lifetime to master. The rewards and sense of achievement, however, make the hard work more than worth it.

Given the multi-faceted nature and technical intricacies of animation as a whole, it’s something that is often best learned at an intensive 3D animation school but those getting into the craft can benefit hugely from the wisdom of those already working in the profession. Presenting:

The 7 Best TED Talks on Animation

TED-Ed – Animation Basics: The Art of Timing and Spacing

Who: The TED-Ed collection of practical lessons.

What: A beautiful, well-presented, and highly useful gem which explains (by example) what transforms graphics from a simple slideshow to a finely crafted animation.

Why: You’ll learn more in this six minutes than you probably would a month of trying to figure this stuff out on your own. And even seasoned animators are likely to find some fresh perspective which they can apply to their existing work habits.

Tony DeRose – Pixar: The Math Behind the Movies

Who: Senior Scientist and Lead Researcher for Pixar.

What: A surprisingly accessible presentation on animation mathematics delivered by a man that knows a thing or two about it.

Why: There’s a lot of material out there on creativity and storytelling, but not a lot on the hard math that lies behind it all. Outside of animation school, this is one of the best opportunities to have a professional at the height of his field explain the intrinsic link between math and art.

Matthew Winkler – What Makes a Hero?

Who: Winkler is a journalist and editor-in-chief with Bloomberg News.

What: Not just a video on the hero’s story concept – an important trope in animation – but the talk is also presented in a gloriously animated format (with the animation conducted by Kirill Yeretsky).

Why: Even non-animators can get a kick out of the lush visuals and narrative theory which runs central to most of the great works in literature, from Homer’s Odyssey to Lord of the Rings and beyond.

Torsten Reil – Using Biology to Make Better Animation

Who: Video game entrepreneur, CEO of NaturalMotion, and animator on Grand Theft Auto 4.

What: One of the enduring classic TED talks on animation, Torsten’s humorous presentation puts forward the advantages that a little bit of biology knowledge can bring to your animation work.

Why: Although Reil’s TED talk is over ten years old, the key principles are just as relevant today and the lessons herein can lead to a much more fluid style of animation.

Drew Berry – Animations of Unseeable Biology

Who: Biomedical animator at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne, Australia.

What: Whereas Torsten Reil’s talk concerned the use of biology to make animation better, Berry flips this around and looks at how animation can be a hugely beneficial tool in medicine.

Why: Whenever you feel that animation is just an entertainment medium, it’s good to remind ourselves that it is, in fact, an overwhelmingly useful way to educate and help people. It’s one of the best TED talks on animation that also presents animation in a different light. Plus, Berry’s work is fascinating to watch in and of itself.

Andrew Park & Denis Dutton: A Darwinian Theory of Beauty

Who: Park is a British animator; Dutton is an art philosopher, web entrepreneur, and media activist.

What: A talk by Dutton on what lies at the heart of aesthetic beauty across cultures, cleverly animated in Andrew Park’s inimitable style.

Why: While not strictly discussing the craft of animation, the idea of what is visually appealing is naturally a major consideration for animators and it’s fascinating to see Park at work while Dutton delivers his illuminating talk.

Miwa Matreyek: Glorious Visions in Animation and Performance

Who: Short film maker, performance artist, and animator.

What: An entrancing display of mixed-media performance art which is almost meditative in tone.

Why: Want to relax for ten minutes? Watch this. Want to see animation used in an altogether different way? Watch this. In fact, just watch this.

Most Expensive Animated Movies Of All Time

Forget hiring a cast of A-list actors or shooting at a number of exotic locales around the world; if you want to totally blow a movie budget, incorporating dazzling animation sequences are the way to go.

Given how costly animation sequences can be, it’s of no surprise that many of the most expensive movies ever committed to film are animated features. The returns, however, can be equally gargantuan; coupled with the wave of new talent emerging from animation colleges, these profits have ensured the market for animated features is only going to continue growing.

Here we present the Top Five, including only movies which are fully animated (rather than live-action movies with animated elements such as Avatar).

Interestingly, all of the most expensive animations on this list were released in the last four years. We’ve listed their budgets, box office takings and metacritic scores from Rotten Tomatoes along with each title, but it’s ultimately up to you to decide whether it was money well spent…

Brave (2012)

most expensive animated movies

Budget: $185m
Box Office Revenue: $539m
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 78%

Pixar’s Brave took things to the next level. The world’s fifth most expensive animated movie not just looked incredible, but it delivered on every level; Princess Merida’s adventure is deep, smartly written, and puts out the message that female characters don’t need a male counterpart (something sadly lacking in the genre).

A lot of the budget was spent on rewriting Pixar’s entire animation system in order to deliver the visual goods, and we’d imagine the remaining time and budget was spent on Merida’s hair.

Cars 2 (2011)

Cars 2 budget

Budget: $200m
Box Office Revenue: $560m
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 39%

While the original Cars was a fairly solid addition to the Pixar canon, it was no Toy Story 3  or Monsters University despite all three films matching in production budget (see below).

Although the story of Cars 2 was wafer-thin, it’s clear that a lot of the budget went into the visual effects given that the finished product is nothing short of eye candy. For all its failings, it’s did push the envelope of what’s achievable in special effect-laden, high octane animation.

Toy Story 3 (2010)

Toy Story 3 budget

Budget: $200m
Box Office Revenue: $1.06 billion
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 99%

The third and final entry in the Toy Story franchise was well worth the wait from a critical perspective, and it didn’t do too terribly at the box office either. Toy Story 3 was the first animated movie to ever make over $1 billion in revenue, though this has since been surpassed by Frozen’s $1.26 billion in takings.

Tom Hanks stated in an interview that he heard that Pixar were planning a sequel, but all other sources deny that anything is confirmed. Given how satisfying the conclusion was at the end of Toy Story 3, we hope that Hanks heard incorrectly.

Monsters University (2013)

Monsters University budget

Budget: $200m
Box Office Revenue: $743m
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 78%

Also a member of the $200 million club, Monsters University – the first prequel film ever made by Pixar – came a good twelve years after the original Monsters Inc.

Apparently Disney wanted to do a sequel almost immediately after the Monsters Inc. brought in the big bucks, but Pixar wanted to bide their time and an entire script got discarded during the disagreement. We’re glad things transpired as they did, however, because once the wait was over we were treated to a great story on the origins of Mike and Sully’s friendship.

Tangled (2013)

Tangled most expensive animated movie

Budget: $260m
Box Office Revenue: $592m
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 89%

Tangled snags the top spot and is the second most expensive movie of any kind, surpassed only by Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (which overtook its budget by a wide margin at $300m).

While Tangled undeniably looks like a super expensive production, it was the languished six year production period that caused the incredible costs. It was worth it in the end, however, since it over doubled its money back at the box office and scored nearly unanimously positive reviews from critics. Curiously, the name was reportedly changed to Tangled from Rapunzel due to fears that a Disney princess movie wouldn’t appeal to younger males.