Greatest VFX of all time?

Empire just released their list of the greatest VFX shots of all time, as selected by VFX artists:
Inevitably there'll be some missing stuff - what would you have included that isn't there?


  • I think the Avengers had some pretty awesome vfx
    Probably not the best of all time but it's worthy of recognition
  • BenBen
    edited July 2013
    I, for one, thought the majority of the effects in the Avengers looked terrible. Even looking at the thumbnail for the YouTube player with the Hulk in frame, he looks easily CG'ed.
    I like the idea of this list because it doesn't use stand-out visual effects, it lists sequences that were visionary on levels of implementation/verisimilitude AND good design/creativity. The corridor sequence in Inception, for instance, I hadn't even thought of until I saw it on the list -- but now thinking back on it, it certainly stands out as one of the most incredible, believable 'visual' effects in recent memory, most particularly because the cinematography and production design all continue to elevate the effects, rather than taking a backseat to a CG artist's work. Pfister and Corbould did a great job with that.
    Also, Davy Jones being the first thing on the list was no surprise, as it was the most arresting all-CG effect I think I've ever seen in theatres. Nods to Jurassic Park, as well, were welcome alongside the intriguing and believable matte paintings in Raiders and Metropolis.
    Simon, you may want to append this to the best 'shots' of all time - as whole sets of VFX are more broad. Were the list more broadcloth, I would definitely expect to see The Curious Case of Benjamin Button up there. As it's not a 'visual FX' film and rather a drama, I was dumbfounded as to how they got Brad Pitt's face onto the screen for the whole film, what was CG and what wasn't, and how precisely they even filmed any of it. Of course, the film itself is kind of forgettable -- but the VFX, whew! What a feat. 
    I fully expected the Matrix 'bullet time' sequences to be #1 on the list, if on it at all. So revolutionary in terms of the approach and idea behind the effects, as well as the execution.
  • edited July 2013
    They put some classic movies in there but, I'm surprised they didn't put the big-daddy of them all in there. Citizen Kane is a special effects movie and people never think of it as an effects movie. Most of the shots in that movie use special effects to create set extensions and to create shots that were impossible at the time with their current camera technology. Like deep-focus shots. Also, one of the most famously re-used effects shots originates from Citizen Kane. The shot where the camera tracks up to a building then up to its roof, through the sign on the buillding and then through the closed window into the interior to the actor, all in one shot. The Matrix as well as many other movies have replicated that shot.
    I love the effects in Avengers. It doesn't bother me that they look CG-ish. The single tracking shot of all the heroes fighting in the third act is the single best shot in a superhero movie, I think.
  • edited July 2013
    I love the effects in Avengers. It doesn't bother me that they look CG-ish. The single tracking shot of all the heroes fighting in the third act is the single best shot in a superhero movie, I think.

    I'm probably in the minority here, but I hated that shot.  It was so overwrought and nonsensical.  The Avengers was fun, but a great VFX film it was not.  I think it's very telling that there aren't many modern films in this list.  CGI sequences are often very impressive, like the entirety of Pacific Rim, and most superhero films, but they're not particularly revolutionary most of the time, and it's almost always very easy to tell what is CGI and what isn't, even if it's very well done.  I too was a little surprised not to see The Matrix on there, though.
    I can't disagree with anything on that list, and I honestly can't think of many modern examples that I would add.  Even something like Caesar in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, while extremely impressive, isn't exactly revolutionary or something that people won't realize is an effect in 50 years.  Probably one film that I would take a shot from and include it here would be Life of Pi.  There are numerous shots of Richard Parker (and especially when Pi interacts with him) where it's very difficult to tell if it's a real tiger or not.  Watching the behind the scenes stuff for that film, it's so impressive the amount of work that went into it.  But even that, when viewed decades from now, will probably look like a very obvious effect.

  • Triem23Triem23 Moderator
    My favorite VFX shots aren't the big flashy ones. It's the subtle stuff you don't notice. I will make special mention of Matrix "Bullet-time" as over-rated. Triggering still cameras in series to multiplex images goes back to the 1800's, and Howard-freaking-Stern was using the bullet-time effect as his TV show's opening sequence before Matrix was released. Plus movies like "Wing Commander" and "Lost in Space" used the same effect. Yeah. *yawns* "Bullet time."
  • edited July 2013
    I would include the matrix as it made a huge impact at the time. 'Bullet time' may not have been new exactly but it was never done to that level of quality and to such a good use. You can't compare the shots in lost in space and whatever to those shots in the matrix.
    I'm not 100% with the list. As much as I love t-1000 I would probably still rate the t-Rex at the top of my list. Also with inception I was more taken with the shifting cityscape than that corridor fight scene.
    Oh, and although the list covered crowd scenes with starship troopers, I'd still consider helms deep near the top of my list for visuals.
  • There's one particular shot in the Inception corridor fight, when JGL is running down it, from wall to floor, and kinda stumbles from the wall to the floor and back again, which blows my mind every time I see it. The whole sequence is great, but that one particular shot makes my mind ache, even though I know technically how it was accomplished. It's the kind of reckless disregard for physics that you normally can only experience in a video game - to pull it off so convincingly in a live action movie is seriously impressive.
    Citizen Kane is a good mention, specifically because so few people realise it is an effects movie. I remember watching it for the first time around the year 2000 and all the way through thinking "oh, THAT'S where the Wachowskis got that shot from!"

    while there was a 2001 shot this is one of my favourites. I think considering when it was made its amazing 
  • edited August 2013
    The scene in Book of Eli when the farm house is under attack and the camera looks at the bad guys, turns, then looks like the cameraman is running with the camera from outside, through a window to the interior and circling around an actor, pans to other people in the house, goes back out the window to follow a grenade thrown by Denzel Washington, it explodes and the camera pans to one of the bad guys with a rocket launcher and we follow the rocket in through another window where it explodes and all without missing a step- it just amazes me. It's just the feel of that moment that makes me wonder if it was green screen trickery, a camera on an overhead track........? Don't know but I love shots like that. It's completely seemless while in the midst of chaos.

    Thelurkerish- Are you sure that's not one of the featured videos? I thought I saw that on the movie wall. ;) 

    Wanted to add- Alfred Hitchcock's "Rope". The entire movie is filmed with one camera moving around a penthouse apartment, following characters. I think there are only two (maybe three) places where there are breaks in the editing- when an object or person goes right up to the camera and there's black out for a second or two. So the movie had to be filmed in thirds and acted out live like a play. The scenery in the background is extremely interesting. First, I think it's either fake enough to look real or real enough to look fake. @-) ; A city scape with tall buildings emitting smoke and steam while the clouds and the color of the sky keep changing as the sun sets until it's dark outside and building lights turn on by the end. Amazingly timed out whether its a set on a sound stage or a real apartment. I'd look it up to find out but I don't want to ruin the illusion.....or should that be my disillusion?
    Also, there are lots of moments where something is visually conveyed while someone is talking in the background.....but it's all relevant to the entirety of the story.
    "Rear Window" also intrigues me being filmed from the viewpoint of one apartment window and manages to hold your interest all the way through. Only one shot outside the apartment at the end when.................if you've seen it, you know. If you haven't, check it out. You'll love it. ;) 
    Do these count? Can a whole movie be an "effect"?
  • Triem23Triem23 Moderator
    edited August 2013
    I suppose an entirely animated movie could be considered an "effect." Or something like "Sin City," where every single shot of the movie had some form of virtual set and compositing.
    Speaking of Rear Window, Check out what editor Jeff Desoms did with Rear Window in After Effects.
    This article talks (very briefly) about how he put the sequence together:
  • Triem23- Now THAT'S crazy! Love it.
  • Holy cow Triem23, that's some topnotch compositing
  • my fave effect is the regeneration from Tom Baker into Peter Davison from Doctor Who, appropriately enough on the evening of the unveilling of the new one.
  • edited August 2013
    I like the list. I have always been a big fan of impressive effects and they listed a lot of my favourites. When it comes to Inception that shot Tarn mentioned is indeed really cool, but I find on multiple viewings that the hallway fight is slightly marred for me because everything in the hotel is conveniently bolted down. I realize it works as an excuse that it is a dream, but I feel the scene (albeit impossible to film in such a stylish simplistic way) would be more impressive if there was more moving stuff than the gun and the characters. Like how about lamps and the bed. Perhaps it would just ruin it and become cluttered. I'm sure Nolan and co thought about it. The folding city is my favorite Inception shot. 100% CGI and dosen't look it for a second. The Double Negative crew apprently spent months on that shot to get that level of (surr)realism.
    Anyway I think Davy Jones might be it for me. When I first saw Pirates of the Caribbean 2 it was the moment I knew that anything could be done and it could keep a really high standard on all shots through the whole movie (unlike before where effects were hit and miss). From Davy Jones, to CGI ships (being submerged, surfacing etc.), Davy Jones' Crew to the final threeway duel (using excellent VFX, stunt-work and character-moments to create one of the most impressive movie-fights I have ever seen) the movie was packed with stand-out moments. What helped on Pirates apart from John Knoll and ILM being world-class VFX people was that Gore Verbinski apparently has a background as a compositor on commercials and this is why his films always have such a high technical standard.

    The movie itself is just okay, but if I pop the blu-ray in right now I'll be as impressed as always with all the technical stuff.

    Tied with Pirates 2 is LotR trilogy. 
  • edited August 2013
    EDIT: So sorry. Double post for some reason. 

  • Davy Jones is amazing, but considering that the year before I'd seen Gollum and Smeagol arguing in The Two Towers, I didn't find him that groundbreaking.  Seeing Davy Jones was more of a "Yep, ILM is still just as good as Weta" moment for me.
    The first Jurassic Park still has the most convincing dinosaurs ever put onto film, and that blows me away.  And its not because no good dinosaurs have been done since, its just because the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park were so darn perfect!
  • Gollum was really good, but Two Towers came out in 2002 and Pirates 2 in 2006. There were some big leaps in rendering between those two films (for example: ), and the mocap technique used on Jones allowed for a much more natural interaction with the scene than was possible with Gollum. Which I think is why Gollum has aged much more than Davy Jones. Also in 2002 Weta were still a "small" company finding their feet (but growing every day as the post production budgets for Two Towers and Return of the King got bigger) and I recall reading they actually poached some ILM-guys specifically to work on Gollum. In 2006 ILM were a giant veteran as always.
    I think if you rewatch LotR and Pirates 2 you'll really see it. I'm still not sure I would agree that Jones has aged much at all.

    Another really great CGI character that proves how amazing ILM have always been is Jar Jar Binks. People seem to forget him because most of the attention is on how poorly received that character was, but if you watch The Phantom Menace today remembering that it came out in 1999 you'll be shocked to see how well some shots have aged. When they first meet Jar Jar in the woods and sunspots are leaking through the trees, ILM were able to match the lighting on Jar Jar so well to the scene around you hardly notice he is CGI at all. I still feel The Phantom Menace was snubbed for an Academy Award by The Matrix. The Matrix had some cool ideas and resonated more with audiences, but on a VFX level alone, The Phantom Menace had more impressive, and way more VFX than The Matrix. And unlike the sequels The Phantom Menace was not mostly CGI and used every trick in the book very much like LotR. 
  • Triem23Triem23 Moderator
    Re: Jar-Jar.
    Jar-Jar is a great example of how you can totally foul up an effect by failing to plan. Yup, Jar-Jar has bounce, and elasticity, and light wrap and texture out the wazoo, but, in post, they decided to make Jar-Jar a foot taller than the reference point on set. So no matter how well he's technically rendered, every actor talking to Jar-Jar is staring right up his nostrils.
    Also, to stay on Star Wars Prequels. When talking with student at the college I work at, I use Attack of the Clones as another great example of how lighting can make or break a shot. Because the matching of the lights between live action plates and CGI plates for the Battle of Geonosis is really really bad... CUT TO: Clonetroopers in white armor on red sand with a red sky and a red sun where the red light is lighting their white armor in red. CUT TO: Natalie Portman on the same planet in the same battle in te same location with the same environment and watch the red lights light her white costume white.
    ILM is the king studio of VFX, but even they can screw up
    Conversely, the regeneration of Tom Baker to Peter Davison really is a thing of beauty... And tha's a great example of old school studio shooting with a locked-off camera and doing live A/B mixing as you shoot your plates. Oh, the Eccleston and Tennant regenerations were flashy with lightning and explosions and the Doctor shooting plasma flame all around for some reason that makes sense only to Russel T. Davies, but, yeah. Baker to Davison.
    I'd like to throw out Godzilla 2000. Just because when that film was made full 3D matchmoving was still new and difficult, and I appreciate some of the shots with handheld cameras running down Tokyo streets, looking out at the bay where there is matted water splashing, and smoke and fire.... and a man in the rubber suit. .
  • edited August 2013
    Wow, I did not realize that about Jar Jar. Are you sure? I have watched some behind the scenes and I remember the actor wearing a sort of Jar Jar hat that covered his eyes to ensure the correct height and eyelines. Watch 6:48: 

    Also well spotted on the continuity in Attack of the Clones. To be fair I think the problem with Attack of the Clones was a mixture of Lucas being lazy about how he shot some of it, and having a bit to high ambitions coupled with it being the very first feature shot digitally. The flying car-chase at the beginning of the film still looks amazing from a VFX standpoint today. I remember hearing I think on the commentary track that the jump Obi-Wan does at 04:44 here:
    which looks terrible was actually an unfinished effect which when Lucas saw it he found it funny and made the ILM guys leave it in for some reason.
    And despite my username here I am not well versed in Classic Who, but I have seen the Baker regeneration and I'm sure that was an amazing effect back in the 80s. :) 
  • Triem23Triem23 Moderator
    I am going to link some pics from phantom menace. Trace the eyelines. They're staring at nostril height! But be warned. You can never unsee.....
    Yes, they had the hat on set, but stretched him in post. In Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith the eyelines are right.
  • LOL- That's hilarious. Wonder if Lucas will correct that in the inevitable Phantom Menace 2.0.
  • I wonder why they made him slightly taller in post. That's really odd. 
  • Jar Jar is an excellent example of how non-VFX elements can massively influence how a VFX shot is received by an audience. Taken purely as a visual effect, Jar Jar was and is amazing, as is the rest of the film. But the actual character is so mis-handled, it reflects poorly on the VFX. The end result is that people blamed CGI for the failure of the character, rather than the writing and performance.
  • I was one of the few who actually kind of liked The Lone Ranger, though I can understand the criticism. In any case the VFX were superb and this is an interesting article about how loads of the VFX were invisible such as complex 100% CG locations that looked like they were simply filmed on location.
  • edited August 2013
    When that regeneration was done, Quantel 5000 was used to line up the actors using the eyes as the point of reference.
    Back then, in early 1981, they only had an 11 hour Gallery Only session to do the post production work on those 4 episodes.

    Although the original is still good...  Mixed from 2 cameras, through a faulty mixing desk which caused the flaring.
  • Triem23Triem23 Moderator
    I enjoy the earlier, more subtle regenerations of the Doctor overthe flaring, exploding stuff they did with Eccleston and Tennant. I mean, with that effect, I see everyone on Gallifrey running for cover anytime someone gets hurt or sick... Just in case.
  • I enjoy the earlier, more subtle regenerations of the Doctor overthe flaring, exploding stuff they did with Eccleston and Tennant. I mean, with that effect, I see everyone on Gallifrey running for cover anytime someone gets hurt or sick... Just in case.

    Hah! The Tennant regen could in theory cause chain regenerations if in a small enclosed space with other Time Lords. (Though probably not if we look at the ammount of damage those guys can take with out regenerating.) 

  • The VFX on Doctor Who are inexplicably inconsistent in terms of quality. They occasionally come up with something very cool or technically accomplished but the majority of the time it often feels like amateur-hour, even though it must be one of the BBC's highest budgeted shows and the VFX have been run by a top tier house like The Mill.
    The regeneration stuff is a good example - conceptually it's pretty cool but it always just looks like somebody has gone made with a particle engine. There's no attempt to actually composite it realistically into the scene or to use practical lighting and effects to merge things together.
  • Thats why i prefer the old stuff
  • Triem23Triem23 Moderator
    Besides, I just get chills from "It's the end... But the moment has been prepared for."

Sign in to comment

Leave a Comment