Hollywood blockbusters have become increasingly reliant on visual effects over the past few decades, and recent advances in technology have made it so feats in VFX work that were considered impossible just a few years ago are now well within reach. More and more studios are using CGI in films, mostly because it’s often cheaper than the alternative. In fact, many modern blockbusters are covered in so many digital layers that the original footage looks unrecognizable—and more often than not, completely ridiculous. Here’s what these movies really looked like before special effects were added. 300: Rise of an Empire Zack Snyder’s 300 made heavy use of CGI, and the technology used to create it had advanced immensely by the time its sequel, Rise of an Empire, came around. Which, of course, meant squeezing every ounce of that tech into the movie.
Director Noam Murro told Forbes: “It’s amazing how the tools available eight years later continue to develop. A major difference is CGI and the ability to create things in post that are convincing and complex and three-dimensional. The idea of creating a water movie without a drop of water on the set is remarkable.” The filmmaker also revealed they relied on some of the same techniques used in the Oscar-winning CGI blockbuster Gravity. Elysium Neill Blomkamp’s follow-up to his acclaimed debut District 9 didn’t exactly go as planned, despite the star power of Matt Damon. The blockbuster sci-fi film cost a whopping $115 million to make, but only returned $93 million at the domestic box office. But while Blomkamp took full responsibility for the film’s failings, the South African director didn’t have any complaints about the special effects team, which had to put together over three times as many VFX shots as they had for District 9. Jurassic World When Steven Spielberg decided to adapt Michael Crichton’s novel Jurassic Park, CGI as we know it today didn’t really exist. Spielberg brought on Industrial Light and Magic and tasked them with creating living, breathing dinosaurs using computer-generated graphics, and their efforts proved revolutionary.
Of course, it wasn’t just CGI that brought the inhabitants of Jurassic Park to life. There were a number of practical effects used too, and ILM mixed it up in the same way for Jurassic World. The fourth film in the franchise used detailed white casts of dinosaur heads that would later be layered with CGI for close-up shots, and they used actors in motion capture suits to make sure their movement seemed real. VFX supervisor Tim Alexander told Below the Line: “It gave us a new natural look for the animation. We ended up casting a person to give us a consistency in the performance. There were individual people being that raptor. We had suits that they would put on with a tail.” Mad Max: Fury Road When George Miller returned to the world of Mad Max with his critically acclaimed Fury Road in 2015, audiences were blown away by the sequel’s frenetic pace and visceral action—much of which was achieved through the hard work of inventive mechanics who built the vehicles used in the movie from scratch. The chase scenes were all shot for real, but the final product wouldn’t have looked anywhere near as eye-popping if it weren’t for the VFX team.