The average person walks into their local theater and walks out mesmerized by the incredible visual effects. They talk with friends about how vivid a specific place looked or how lifelike a fictional creature appeared as it interacted with real actors. The legions of pleased moviegoers have show us that although there’s still room for special effects in the industry, it’s thanks to CGI and green screen that we’ve experienced cinematic moments that are otherwise impossible to share.
But perhaps you’re different than most moviegoers. As an aspiring animator or filmmaker, maybe you leave the theater wondering how they made the fake backdrops and monsters look real. Sometimes, it was clever use of a technique that’s almost as old as cinema itself — green screen. Below are some of the greatest uses of VFX that to this day look fantastic.
1. We Enter the Great Elven Realm
Film: “Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship Of the Rings” (2001)
It’s hard to believe that it’s already been 15 years since Peter Jackson’s 2001 film took the world by storm and made everyone a fan of elves, dwarfs, and, of course, hobbits. The later Hobbit trilogy was criticized for using too much CGI (so much that Ian McKellen had a breakdown on set), but the first three films set in Middle-earth used the perfect combination of green screen along with forced perspective, clever camera tricks, and even the use of miniatures
“Best Effects, Visual Effects” was one of the many Oscars this film won at the 2002 Academy Awards. And while there are plenty of great scenes to choose from, few are as breathtaking as the first reveal of Rivendell. The gorgeous waterfalls, glowing trees, and beautiful Elven architecture all work to make you feel like you’re really standing in an Elven sanctuary.
2. The Final Battle
Movie: “Avatar” (2009)
James Cameron’s epic sci-fi film still stands as one of the most respected and critically praised films of all time and currently holds the record as the most financially successful film, with a worldwide gross of $2.7 billion dollars. The movie earned every dollar thanks to innovative new special effects that made the planet of Pandora a sight to behold.
With all the new tricks and technology at his disposal, Cameron often relied on the tried-and-true method of green screen. This allowed him to merge the characters and environments together, creating a captivating movie experience. There are few better examples of this than during the final battle of the movie where, despite the heavy use of VFX, the scene still feels intense and emotional.
3. Pretty Much Every Fight Scene
Film: “The Matrix” (1999)
Show a young viewer today “The Matrix” for the first time, and they’ll probably see it as just another sci-fi action movie. Maybe they’ll comment on how cool the unrealistic kung fu and physics are, but that’s about it. Yet those of us who were there during its original release know just how big a deal these incredible special effects were.
While plenty of 3D computer models were used during certain sequences, most of the time it was real actors fighting in front of a green screen background. Whether they were hanging from wires or on flat ground, the awesome combat scenes revolutionized the filmmaking industry and helped evolve it into what we have now.
4. Welcome to Jurassic Park
Film: “Jurassic Park” (1993)
These days, the people in post-production have more work than ever before in the movie industry. Where before only a few dozen VFX shots were taken, today’s film averages around 200 shots. While there are benefits to ever-evolving technology, sometimes it’s all about quality — not quantity.
No movie is a better example than “Jurassic Park,” which used no more than 40 special effect shots. Arguably the most memorable scene in this acclaimed film is when Alan Grant and Ellie Sattler first set their eyes on a pair of Brachiosaurus making their way out of a lake. In the video above, you can see how this scene was put together in order to make the audience feel like they too are standing in John Hammond’s “promising” theme park.