Some of the most popular and well-known movies have used CGI in ways that audiences didn’t realize. For example, in the movie Dark Shadows, Johnny Depp’s character is made to look like he never blinks, and all of his reflections are removed through CGI. In Les Miserables, the musical numbers are enhanced with CGI to remove the need for microphone wires and other unsightly objects. And in Spider-Man 2, Doc Oc’s death scene is entirely CGI.
There used to be a time when you could easily spot the use of computer-generated graphics in a movie. They would stand out from the regular live-action sequences by looking less than perfect. However, technology has since improved itself to rather perfect renditions, in which it is almost impossible to spot the subtle use of CGI. What’s more impressive is that this technology is not only limited to summer blockbuster flicks, but also down-to-Earth dramas and thrillers.
There’s also a very good chance you missed these instances, so let’s see which movies spent extra bucks to make use of CGI when you least expected them to. Also, this is a spoiler warning for any movie that you haven’t seen and would prefer not to know about the film’s use of CGI.
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Dark Shadows (2012)
This might be the only movie here that you might not be able to sit through until the end, but owing to Johnny Depp’s committed performance, it’s almost watchable. This Tim Burton vampire comedy went to great lengths to keep up the pretense that Johnny Depp was a vampire. His eye movements were edited so that it seemed like he never blinked. Also, CGI was used to edit out all of Johnny Depp’s reflections.
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Les Miserables (2012)
This musical owes a great debt to CGI wizardry. Due to the inherent nature of musicals, the actors are required to sing while they act. This posed a problem for the director, as he wanted the actors to sing live, but the microphones disturbed the aesthetics of the scene. The wires and mikes were removed digitally during post-production.
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Spider-Man 2 (2004)
Sam Raimi, the director of this hugely successful adaptation of the web-slinger, felt that the death scene of Doc Oc had to be visually brilliant. For this, he digitally created the entire scene in which the super villain drowns with his tentacles and nuclear fusion machine. The rendition of Alfred Molina’s face is nearly perfect. Obviously, you wouldn’t have wanted such a talented actor to actually fling himself into the abyss.
The Social Network (2010)
Director David Fincher is a champion of subtle CGI imagery and his critically acclaimed movie about the origins of Facebook is no exception. You might have thought that the actors who played the Winklevoss twins slamming Zuckerberg with lawsuits were just mighty good actors. Sorry to disappoint you, but the actors who played the twins aren’t actually twins. The face of one of the actors, Armie Hammer, was plastered onto the body of Josh Pence to give the illusion of twins and you were none the wiser.
Director Ridley Scott is known for filling his scenes with huge sets and this Roman tale of epic gladiators had to make use of the Colosseum in Rome. This required come clever thinking, because as we all know, the Colosseum is far from operational. When Maximus enters the arena, the effect awes the audience with its not-so-subtle use of CGI.
Black Swan (2010)
This might just be the creepiest movie on the list, but Natalie Portman certainly surprised audiences with her acting chops. Who knew that she could be so haunting, although, to be fair, she had a bit of help. CGI was used in several scenes to up the creepy factor, like elongating the actress’ fingers. Also, many of the faces of the ballerinas were swapped with Portman’s face in one scene. However, Natalie’s bloodshot eyes were totally real. The production team also decided to clean up the theater stage and digitally dust it off in post-production.
Children Of Men (2006)
This apocalyptic drama from Alfonso Cuaron sent chills down the spine of every viewer with its brilliant story about a time in the future when humans have lost the ability to reproduce. Although CGI was used several times throughout the movie, the most unexpected and impressive one was creating the most life-like digital baby ever seen on the big screen. This climactic birth scene depicted the last hope of humanity and the true genius of VFX artists.
Next up on the list is another of David Fincher’s thrillers. This serial killer drama was set in 1970s San Francisco and most of the exterior shots of the harbor city were made using CGI. They look so convincing that next to no one can spot any digital monkey business. The effects added to the aesthetics of the movie, which needed the audiences to be wrapped up in a moody San Francisco from an older time. Most directors would instead opt for fancy period costumes and set pieces, but this movie stands out owing to its expensive digital rendering process.
Brokeback Mountain (2005)
A modern classic from perfectionist Ang Lee was one of those movies where using CGI could have been considered overkill. However, no one suspected the presence of digital rendering when they looked at the herd of sheep hanging out in the mountains. Obviously, this was a shot that couldn’t be provided practically, due to the ‘little’ problem of handling hundreds of sheep, so it warranted the use of computer graphics. However, when a movie is this good, nobody cares whether the sheep are real.
Furious 7 (2015)
This was a highly personal movie for all those involved due to the premature death of actor Paul Walker. At the time of his death, some of the scenes in the movie still needed to be shot. As a substitute, the production team used the actor’s brothers – Cody and Caleb – as stand-ins. Paul’s face was digitally rendered onto them in post-production. This movie is a great example of when CGI can be used to not only add to the movie, but also to enrich the whole movie-making experience.
BONUS: Most Gratuitous Use Of CGI In A Movie: John Wick (2015)
As rewarding as it was to see Keanu Reeves kick ass, the most unnecessary use of CGI in the history of cinema was made in this movie. The moviemakers actually created digital dog poop for one of the scenes. They could have easily used a practical prop that had the same effect, but instead, the production team decided to spend $5000 on digital designs. Oh, Hollywood…
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