How Does Hollywood Achieve Those Special Effects?
Hollywood provides us with a means to escape our everyday lives and jump into the surreal and magical world. Whether you’re a fan of superhero films, fantasy, or drama – there’s always a million-dollar budget to help filmmakers bring their vision to the big screen.
But how do they manage to craft these intricate worlds? We’ve uncovered some behind-the-scenes images from some of your favorite films. Let’s see how Hollywood creates the mystical worlds we know and love today.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
A magical world like Hogwarts has to rely on special effects to present the audience with the original vision. Of course, a big side of that is Hollywood’s use of green screen. This is when they dress or cover something in green so that the color can be removed or edited later.
Here, we can see very human hands take books from actress Emma Watson. Once the hands are removed in post-production, it will look as though they are floating back into their place. It might not be ‘magic’, but it’s definitely magical!
Game of Thrones
Emilia Clarke had to act opposite some interesting props when it came to her dragons. Of course, since dragons don’t exist the showrunners had to improvise and make it look as though Daenerys was actually petting one.
The showrunners used the same technology as Harry Potter. Clarke acted against a large green block and then the special effects team added the design in later. Pretty impressive, if you ask us! If only the ending of the show was as impressive as its special effects…
Beauty and the Beast
It has to be quite hard for actors to perform opposite green screen items. The same can be said for Emma Watson while she played Belle in the Disney live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast.
Here, we can see how she is acting opposite Dan Stevens as he dons a huge grey suit and stilts! This way, the filmmakers can easily insert the design of the beast in afterward. Once you see the film, you won’t be able to imagine that this is how it actually looked.
Life of Pi
They called it the unfilmable movie. Due to its huge imagination and story beats, Hollywood wasn’t sure if they could pull off the impressive adaptation of the Michael Morpurgo novel. Well, they put their minds together and came out with this.
As we can see, they didn’t use a real tiger (thank god!), and most of the sailing scenes were shot in a studio pool. So even though there was a lot of CGI, it’s nice to see the actor actually floating on the water.
If you were a kid in the 1990s, there’s a good chance you saw Space Jam. The 1996 sports film combined live-action and animation to make it look like Michael Jordan was playing basketball alongside the Looney Tunes.
Of course, he wasn’t. While the animated characters were added later on, Jordan still had to act his part against nothing. Here, we can see the humans who dressed in green and acted opposite the basket player. We think he did a great job!
Until recently, Titanic was the second highest-grossing film of all time. Hollywood can certainly trust director James Cameron to make a blockbuster and this 1997 proves just how talented he is. While most of the story focuses on Jack and Rose, he still needed the help of CGI to film some of the most iconic moments.
Here is one example of how Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet acted with the help of a green screen. This was to make it look as though they were on top of the world!
While many of Marvel’s heroes are seen hitting the gym to get buff for their roles, one actor doesn’t need to worry too much. Mark Ruffalo has played the Hulk in five movies now, so audiences have a good idea of his performance and the technology that is required.
We can see how Chris Hemsworth has to act with a man dressed in green to accomplish what they need. Afterward, the CGI team will make it look like the God of Thunder is fighting with the Hulk. Meanwhile, Ruffalo doesn’t need to lift a finger!
Mad Max: Fury Road
Many film fans consider Mad Max: Fury Road as one of the best films of the decade. This is mainly due to its use of special and practical effects to tell its story. As we can see, while the cars might be real, we should expect the explosions, flips, and scenery to be added in post-production.
Mad Max: Fury Road went on to gross more than $370 million at the box office and win the hearts of critics and cinemagoers. Looks like director George Miller knew what he was doing!
Game of Thrones
We’re back at Game of Thrones to see how some of the epic scenery shots were filmed. Due to the massive budget from HBO, the television show could enjoy a larger sum for special effects like these.
Take this shot, for example. It’s from season three when Jon and the Wildlings climb the wall. Of course, this wasn’t filmed on location and needed some CGI, but it’s cool to see how they did it. Hollywood, watch out!
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest
Thanks to the development of CGI, actors no longer have to spend hours in the make-up chair to look the part. Just take a look at Bill Nighy, for example. To play Davy Jones, a ghost captain, all he needed to do was put some dots on his face.
These dots were then used as reference points for the animators who would craft the CGI around his expressions. This means that while his face is unrecognizable, it still carries the same expressions and nuances that the actor intended.
I Am Legend
Everyone remembers the moment in 2007’s I Am Legend when Robert gets attacked by a mutant dog. While his own dog protects him, it isn’t enough and he also gets infected. It’s a painful scene and you can bet we all cried.
Well, we can see here exactly how they filmed it. Who would have guessed it was a man dressed in a green suit and holding a dog’s head? It must have been quite awkward to film this, but it definitely looked like the real deal on the big screen.
Guardians of the Galaxy
Here’s another example of how Marvel films shoot some of their famous characters. In the same way as the Hulk, Rocket the Racoon has to be entirely inserted onto the screen. So, during filming we can see Dave Bautista play Drax opposite a man dressed in green!
Later, Bradley Cooper will record Rocket’s lines and animators will merge it all together into a seamless shot. They will be doing the same thing for Guardians of the Galaxy 3, due to hit cinemas soon.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Back to Hogwarts now for a look at Daniel Radcliffe shooting one of his famous Quidditch scenes. Here is another example of how almost every aspect of the scene is built in a Hollywood studio somewhere.
Filmmakers placed Radcliffe on a real broom and propelled him up a few feet in the air. However, aside from that most of it is all CGI generated. Shame, we would love to play Quidditch if we could!
When The Matrix hit cinemas in 1999, it basically changed the way movies were made. The level of technology at the time was historic, and we saw some revolutionary scenes that have become iconic.
Above, we can see how Hollywood accomplished such an impressive feat. Those famous leaning shots that everyone mimics today were done by placing the actors on a piece of wood that was lowered by men in green. It’s so obvious once you think about it!
The famous battle in New York during 2012’s The Avengers hardly took place in New York! In fact, we can see here that most of the time they didn’t leave the Hollywood studio in Atlanta, Georgia.
This photo gives us two treats. The first is the obvious lack of scenery as we discover how they film outside shots. The bonus is also seeing Mark Ruffalo act as the Hulk in his outfit. It’s amazing how all of this comes together in the end.
The Dark Knight
Often cited as one of the best superhero films ever made, The Dark Knight sets Batman in a very real and grounded world. Most of director Christopher Nolan’s filmmaking methods rely on practical effects, except for one obvious part: Two-Face.
While previous iterations have used practical makeup, Nolan opted for CGI to make sure it was easier for actor Aaron Eckhart and also more realistic. Now, we can see holes in his face where cheeks should be. Spooky!
2013’s Gravity was one of the most impressive films of the year, much because of Alfonso Cuaron’s visionary mind. Of course, a film set in space would need some CGI efforts and we can definitely see how they came in handy.
The film is an impressive piece of cinema that explores what it’s like to be lost and alone in space. Looking at these behind-the-scenes photos, we can see that they didn’t need to leave Earth to film it!
This shot from HBO’s Boardwalk Empire shows just how easy it can be to set the scene for a television show. It turns out that the cast and crew didn’t need to travel to the ocean to film their scenes by a port – they just placed a green screen there!
Amazingly, just that small amount of green helped with the entire background. It was only a few years ago that crews would need to film on location. How times have changed for Hollywood!
We’re back to Marvel Studios for another look at how our heroes save the world. Well, we have a clue for you: they have help with some CGI! Here, we can see how Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, and Scarlett Johansson all pretend to feel the flames of battle.
Of course, it makes sense that the filmmakers would want to use as little actual fire as possible when filming these scenes. The result is our actors performing opposite nothing and adding it in post afterward.
X-Men: Days of Future Past
For 17 years, Hugh Jackman played Wolverine, a mutant who can heal himself in only a few seconds. It doesn’t matter if he’s shot, stabbed, or attacked, he can rejuvenate back to normal right away.
Humans aren’t as powerful as mutants and so our actor relied on prosthetics and CGI to achieve some of those more intense scenes. One of them, pictured here, is when Wolverine had snakes crawling out of his body. That’s gross!
2014’s Godzilla showed us a modernized version of our favorite Japanese monster. While a live-action one wasn’t available for filming, Hollywood had to improvise and add one in using green screen and CGI.
The final result was an impressive spectacle merging special and practical effects to make it look like a monster was causing havoc on the Golden Gate Bridge. Thankfully, no human or monster was hurt during filming! The actors must have had a hard time acting against nothing but we think the final result is great.
Avengers: Infinity War
It was a story 10 years in the making: how would Thanos fight, and defeat, the Avengers? We knew it was coming all along and fans rejoiced when Josh Brolin was cast as the Mad Titan. Well, since we knew he isn’t a purple monster, it meant the filmmakers had to use motion capture technology.
This is when the actors perform as usual and then their faces are adjusted in the computer in post-production. The subtle nuances in his performance are left untouched as digital designers manipulate the base of the face.
Quentin Tarantino is famous for his practical and gory fight scenes. Even though audiences can sit back and relax while they watch these movies, the actors have to put in a little more extra work!
Here, we can see Uma Thurman get strung up and ready as she prepares to fight the Crazy 88s. Thurman was a frequent collaborator with the famous director and so she was used to moments like this! Did you enjoy her performance in the films?
Avengers: Infinity War
Are our Avengers ever where we think they are? Here is one of the opening scenes when Thanos’ army comes to Earth to collect the Time Stone. When we see Robert Downey Jr. hiding behind a brick wall, it seems it wasn’t always there.
It makes us wonder if our Hollywood actors ever left the sound studios! Technology has come such a long way that we now use it for simple things like exterior shots. Did you notice this?
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Andy Serkis is the most famous motion capture actor in history. He has been the mastermind behind performances including Golem, King Kong, and Caesar in the newest Planet of the Apes trilogy.
When playing the ape, we can see that the filmmakers used the same technology as Thanos with Josh Brolin. Serkis simply acts as normal and then the image of Caesar is inserted on top of it on the computer. Recently, the actor has appeared on screen in human form, notably Marvel’s Black Panther.
Director Zack Snyder has a unique style that shines in all his films. One of his most noteworthy examples is in his 2006 epic 300. The massive film had a scale that would have been impossible to achieve without help from some CGI from Hollywood.
This photo is a great example of how green screen can be used to enhance the background of the fight scenes. Next time you see a Snyder film, look out for the unique style and tone the director captures in his shots.
A Good Day To Die Hard
We all know that Bruce Willis is hardcore. But when it comes to A Good Day To Die Hard, the 58-year-old needed a little help from Hollywood. We can clearly see the insertion of a green screen to help make the scenes pop after they’ve been edited in post-production.
The use of CGI technology makes it safer for older actors to perform stunts and remain able to be action stars. Let’s see how many more times Willis will appear as McClane in the future. Yippee-ki-yay!
It’s pretty safe to say that a film like Tron: Legacy required a little CGI. For those who haven’t seen it, the film is filled to the brim with special effects to make it look like a whole new world.
Here’s one shot that shows us just how much of the film was shot in a studio with a blue screen. When something is so abstract during filming, it’s amazing to consider how the actors and directors know what they’re doing in each shot.
We’re back at Hugh Jackman to see more from his time as Wolverine. This time, we’re having a look at his solo film and how Hollywood helped make him look injured. By applying a few dots on his face, editors could then digitally insert an open wound onto his face.
This is much easier for the actor than the application of practical effects. Not only does it save hours in the makeup chair, but it also allows the actors to perform naturally without feeling restricted by prosthetics.
The reboot of the 1990s classic action film came and went without much fanfare back in 2014, but we shouldn’t ignore its special effects. Here, we can see exactly how they crafted the look of the robots that helped save the world.
By acting normally, actors could get the movement of the robots to be as natural as possible. Unlike Thanos or Caesar, animators won’t need to make a face which is why his head isn’t covered during the filming of this shot.
Life of Pi
We’re back at Life of Pi to get a closer look at how our main character cared for the tiger on his boat. Of course, it wasn’t a real tiger with the actor – Suraj Sharma was acting opposite a big blue block in a Hollywood studio!
In post-production, the blue block was turned into a lifelike tiger than acted alongside the human star. It’s a testament to the actor and the crew who could act alongside an inanimate object and make it look so convincing!
Each year, the number of Hollywood scenery scenes are made on a computer screen! Here’s an example of how the filmmakers of Narnia filmed a modest establishing shot and used CGI to enhance it.
Using this technology to enhance the background can have huge benefits for filmmakers and audiences. First, it’s easier to get the perfect scenery needed. Second, it’s much cheaper and easier than building a lifesize set! The hopes for the CGI team is that no one notices their work.
We’re back at Zack Snyder’s epic film to see how backgrounds are enhanced to help build the mystical world we see. Aside from the large statues and intricate bedding, audiences get a wide shot of what it was like to live in that time period.
It’s important for audiences to see shots like this to make the world as expansive and real as possible. If it was only a bunch of tight shots, then we wouldn’t be able to grasp how big the world was.
Even though some of Tony Stark’s outfit is practical, there are still plenty of CGI scenes to help the filmmakers get the perfect look at the Iron Man suit. Here, we can see him entering the Avengers Tower in New York City.
As we can see, the whole shot is made completely on a computer. This means that actor Robert Downey Jr. didn’t even have to come into work that day! In total, Downey Jr. played Tony Stark for 11 years.
Wolf of Wall Street
Here’s one of those shots that makes you wonder if it’s worth filming it in a studio! How hard can it be to find a location with water?
Either way, director Martin Scorsese thought it would be better to film this shot with a green screen in a studio. It must have taken a few more hours to animate the setting than to just travel to leave Hollywood or LA. Why do you think they decided to do this?
Filmmakers had to work out how to make Superman fly after hiring Henry Cavill and realizing that he was only human. Well, as we can see here, it’s all smoke and mirrors when it comes to making it look as though someone can fly.
Cavill is hanging on some wires in front of a green screen. This way, they can film his body and facial expressions and then place him in a necessary setting. Interestingly, his cape is also entirely CGI.
The Hunger Games
When we look at those sci-fi films with people interacting with Augmented Reality, we can only imagine how funny it must be for Hollywood to film! Well, this photo shows just how strange it looks when actors are filming those scenes.
We can see some actors performing the necessary hand moves in front of a green table. Then, the appropriate design applied in post-production. Do you think they were improvising their moves or were they choreographed to fit animation?
The Walking Dead
AMC’s The Walking Dead is another example of a show or movie that benefits from seeing large scale wide-shots. This is to capture the world that our characters are living in. And when they’re living in an apocalypse, you’re going to need to see that.
Well, here we can see a shot of one of our characters riding a horse in a deserted location. Later, the use of green screen allows the showrunners to put in some derelict cars and skyscrapers. Just like Hollywood!
We have to include a few more shots from The Matrix, simply because of how much CGI was used to make it look the way it is. In one of the final moments of the film, Neo finally faces off against Agent Smith in an epic fight scene.
Well, it looks as though Keanu Reeves and Hugo Weaving needed to use much of their imagination when it came to fighting. After all, we can see they’re just surrounded by green screens! Still, the final result was amazing and they did a great job.
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