CAUSE AND EFFECTS: THE CUTTING EDGE FILMS THAT WOWED THE WORLD
When visionary director David Fincher brought his big-budget epic The Curious Case of Benjamin Button to the screen in 2008, it not only marked a big forward step in movie visual effects but also represents one of the greatest examples of a film using effects to enhance rather than overpower the story.
The astonishing ageing of leading stars Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, together with the subtle touches elsewhere, drew gasps of admiration from the rest of Hollywood and audiences worldwide. The magical tale, spanning 85 years, blends superb prosthetic make-up with seamless computer-generated effects to bring the characters and New Orleans vividly to life alongside New York, Paris and Russia.
The result is a film that is an astonishing fusion of time, place, character and love, which provides us with a compelling reminder that life is measured in moments not minutes. With the box-office busting Button out on DVD and Blu-ray on June 8th, we thought it was the perfect time to celebrate the three-time Oscar winner by looking at the other films that broke new CGI ground with the subtlety of their effects...
Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles (1994)
Before David Fincher breathed life into old New Orleans, Irish director Neil Jordan collaborated with Digital Domain and Stan Winston Studios to produce a spectacular and vivid 18th century New Orleans in the adaptation of Anne Rice’s novel. Not only that, the visual effects gurus amazed us with the morphing of Kirsten Dunst’s young vampire Claudia and the slow, tortuous death of Tom Cruise’s vampire Lestat.
The Truman Show (1998)
Special effects whiz Michael J. McAlister orchestrated the CGI shots in Peter Weir’s Oscar nominated drama, the fictional TV town of Seahaven brought splendidly to life for Hollywood star Jim Carrey’s clueless character Truman Burbank. The background buildings, skies and the vast studio that houses Truman’s world, which can be seen from space, are all blended seamlessly into the movie throughout.
One of the best loved films in recent memory, Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s sumptuous tale of a charming Paris waitress who changes the lives of those around her for the better took CGI to a new level. The fantastical segments are jaw dropping, the beautiful cinematography allied with animated effects to show Amelie turning to water and draining to the floor together with inanimate objects coming to life.
Ridley Scott’s Roman epic was hailed for its breathtaking action sequences and ferocious performances from the likes of Russell Crowe and Joaquin Phoenix, but it came as a surprise to many when it landed the Oscar for Best Visual Effects. The standout shot centred on the CGI coliseum that proved incredibly real with Crowe’s Maximus battling a stalking tiger in front of thousands of computer generated spectators.
Fledgling British director Joe Wright was very brave to put his trust in company Double Negative to recreate the atrocity of wartime with around 200 visual effects shots undertaken, not often the status quo for period films. The signature shot was a live-action sequence on the Dunkirk beach that lasted five minutes 27 seconds, the explosions, smoke and chaos, amidst the swarm of soldiers, enhancing the atmosphere.
I Am Legend (2007)
Will Smith is front and centre in this haunting film; however he is also aided by a spookily empty New York after a plague kills most of humanity. Visual effects supervisor Jim Berney had to recreate complete shots of Manhattan, due to real-life shooting restrictions in the Big Apple. Whether it was green screen or painting out of people and traffic, it lends an eerie atmosphere to Smith’s plight.
One of the subtlest visual effects leaps forward in the 1990s came in Ron Howard’s all-star fire-fighting thriller. With around 95 per cent of the movie filmed live on location, the FX crew worked wonders to turn the series of raging fires into volatile beasts. Industrial Light & Magic weren’t called upon often, but a key scene involved Billy Baldwin’s character diving to safety off the collapsing chemical warehouse roof.
Road to Perdition (2002)
Cinematographer Conrad L. Hall won the film’s only Oscar, posthumously, however the graphic novel adaptation also got a big helping hand in the visual effects department. When Tom Hanks’ character Michael Sullivan drives into Great Depression Chicago across LaSalle Street Bridge with his son, the 40-second sequence is notable for a CGI El train and birds as well as the reflections on the car windows.
Jurassic Park (1993)
Tinseltown behemoth Steven Spielberg is not afraid to break the mould and his dinosaur romp certainly broke new ground when it came down to visual effects. Industrial Light & Magic, who had blown us away with T2, were originally only pencilled in for big shots like the stampede scene. However, they went one better with the pivotal T. Rex whose looming ferocity scared the bejesus out of us and bagged the Oscar.
Forrest Gump (1994)
When director Robert Zemeckis unleashed Tom Hanks’ simple, yet utterly charming, character on the movie masses it wasn’t just the star’s superb acting that saw it scoop six Oscars but the ingenious special effects throughout. The CGI ping-pong game and Vietnam napalm blast produced gasps of awe, but it was the removal of Lt. Dan Taylor’s (Gary Sinise) legs through visual effects that really raised the bar
If this showcase of superb special effects has left you wanting more, don’t forget The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is out on Blu-ray and DVD from 8th June..
Curious Case of Benjamin Button - Behind the scenes special effects
Visit www.benjaminbuttonfx.com to explore the creative process behind The Curious Case of Benjamin Button