Movie Magic CGI Exhibit

AVATAR 3 - 2024 - December 20, 2024

Vertigo - 1958

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

VFX Director: John Whitney Sr.

Computer animation was used for the first time in making the movie Vertigo. Legendary director Alfred Hitchcock hired John Whitney to make the computer animated opening sequence, Whitney rigged up a WWII anti-aircraft  targeting M5 computer. It was a mechanical computer which needed five soldiers to operate. Whitney placed cels on the platform and used a pendulum to achieve the needed endless rotation. Whitney collaborated with the graphic designer Saul Bass. 

Catalog - 1961      

Director: John Whitney Sr.

An abstract color display using an analog computer and such effects as extended exposure, kaleidoscopic mirroring, optical manipulation, and frame by frame editing in a way that anticipated 2001: A Space Odyssey seven years later.

WestWorld - 1973 - Triple-I 

Westworld was the first feature film to use digital image processing. A science-fiction film written and directed by novelist Michael Crichton, in which humanoid robots live amongst the humans.  Crichton originally went to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, but after learning that two minutes of animation would take nine months and cost $200,000, he contacted John Whitney Sr., who in turn recommended his son John Whitney Jr. The latter went to Triple-I, where they could work at night and complete the animation both faster and much more cheaply. Whitney Jr. digitally processed motion picture photography at Triple-I to appear pixelized in order to portray the Gunslinger android's point of view. The approximately 2 minutes and 31 seconds' worth of cinegraphic block portraiture was accomplished by color-separating (three basic color separations plus black mask) each frame of source 70 mm film images, scanning each of these elements to convert into rectangular blocks, then adding basic color according to the tone values developed. The resulting coarse pixel matrix was output back to film. The process was covered in the American Cinematographer article "Behind the scenes of Westworld" and in a 2013 New Yorker online article.

The film was released on an experimental regional saturation basis and grossed $2 million in its first week in 275 theatres in the Chicago, Detroit and Cleveland areas. It was MGM's biggest box-office success of that year, earning $4 million in rentals in the US and Canada by the end of 1973. After a re-release in 1976, it earned $7,365,000

Close Encounters of the Third Kind - 1977

PG 1977 ‧ Sci-fi/Drama ‧ 2h 17m

Steven Spielberg ran a few tests of computer generated imagery (CGI), now the industry standard, but then in its very first stages of development. He decided none of it looked believable.

Star Wars - 1979

Lucas wanted his 1977 film Star Wars to include visual effects that had never been seen on film before.[7] After discovering that the in-house effects department at 20th Century Fox was no longer operational, Lucas approached Douglas Trumbull, best known for the effects on 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and Silent Running (1972). Trumbull declined as he was already committed to working on Steven Spielberg's film Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), but suggested his assistant John Dykstra to Lucas. Dykstra brought together a small team of college students, artists, and engineers, and set them up in a warehouse in Van Nuys, California. After seeing the map for the location was zoned as light industrial, Lucas named the group Industrial Light and Magic, which became the Special Visual Effects department on Star Wars. Alongside Dykstra, other leading members of the original ILM team were Ken Ralston, Richard Edlund, Dennis Muren, Joe Johnston, Phil Tippett, Steve Gawley, Lorne Peterson, and Paul Huston.

In late 1978, when in pre-production for The Empire Strikes Back, Lucas reformed most of the team into Industrial Light & Magic in Marin County, California. From here on, the company expanded and has since gone on to produce special effects for nearly three hundred films, including the entire Star Wars saga, the Indiana Jones series, the Harry Potter series, the Jurassic Park series, the Back to the Future trilogy, many of the Star Trek films, Ghostbusters II, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, the Pirates of the Caribbean series, the Terminator sequels, the Transformers films, the Men in Black series, the Marvel Cinematic Universe films, Wild Wild West, most of the Mission: Impossible films, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Batteries Not Included, The Abyss, and Flubber, and also provided work for Avatar, alongside Weta Digital.

In addition to their work for George Lucas, ILM also collaborates with Steven Spielberg on many films that he directs and produces. Dennis Muren has acted as Computer Animation Supervisor on many of these films. Apart from flashy special effects, the company also works on more subtle effects—such as widening streets, digitally adding more extras to a shot, and inserting the film's actors into preexisting footage—in films including Schindler's List, Forrest Gump, Snow Falling on Cedars, Magnolia, and several films directed by Woody Allen.

After the success of the first Star Wars movie, Lucas became interested in using computer graphics on the sequel. He contacted Triple-I, known for their early computer effects in movies like Westworld (1973), Futureworld (1976), Tron (1982), and The Last Starfighter which ended up making a computer-generated test of five X-wing fighters flying in formation. He found it to be too expensive and returned to handmade models. Nevertheless, the test had showed him it was possible, and he decided he would create his own computer graphics department instead. As a result, they started investing in Apple and SGI computers. One of Lucas' employees was given the task to find the right people to hire. His search would lead him to NYIT, where he found Edwin Catmull and his colleagues. Catmull and others accepted Lucas' job offers, and a new computer division at ILM was created in 1979 with the hiring of Ed Catmull as the first NYIT employee who joined Lucasfilm. John Lasseter, who was hired a few years later, worked on computer-animation as part of ILM's contribution to Young Sherlock Holmes. The Graphics Group was later sold to Steve Jobs, named Pixar Animation Studios, and created the first CGI-animated feature, Toy Story.


Golgo 13: The Professional - 1983

It is the first animated film based on the manga, first anime to incorporate CGI animation, and the third overall Golgo 13 film after two previous live-action films (the second film starring Sonny Chiba as Golgo 13). Created by Koichi Omura and Satomi Mikuriya at Toyo Links Co., Ltd. The most notable example of this is during the helicopter attack on Dawson Tower.

The Last Starfighter - 1984

Directed by Nick Castle, this was a great step forward compared with other films of the period, such as Return of the Jedi, which still used conventional physical models. The computer graphics for the film were designed by artist Ron Cobb and rendered by Digital Productions on a Cray X-MP supercomputer. A total of 27 minutes of finished CGI footage were produced. The company estimated that using computer animation required only half the time, and one half to one third the cost of traditional special effects.

The Young Sherlock Holmes - 1985

First completely computer-generated polygional CGI character on live background, the "stained glass man". This effect was the first CG character to be scanned and painted directly onto film using a laser. The effect was created by Lucasfilm's John Lasseter (now chief creative officer at Pixar Animation Studios and Walt Disney Animation Studios) before Pixar was sold the next year.

The "Pixar group" at Lucasfilm used new motion blur technology (first time used in Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan (1982), and its 32-bit RGBA paint system to create the effect.

30 second on-screen sequence took 6 months to accomplish.

Steven Spielberg studied the effects sequences on this film, as well as both The Abyss (1989) and Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), to prepare for making Jurassic Park (1993).


The Abyss -  1989

The CGI technology used in 'The Abyss' might seem antiquated by today's standards, but it arguably produced more convicing results than many much more modern movies. Only one shot of the pseudopod - where it transformed back into ordinary water - was composited digitally.

James Cameron released his fourth movie, The Abyss. 

Cameron had started out working as an art director for Roger Corman on Battle Beyond the Stars, before being hired to direct Piranha II: The Spawning in 1981. Although he was soon fired from the watery sequel, the setting must have appealed because - after his breakout hit The Terminator and his celebrated addition to the Alien franchise - he would return to aquatic locales for The Abyss, not to mention Titanic and his subsequent diving documentaries.


Computer-generated imagery was not new to cinema in 1989, but its uses has been limited. 1982 had seen Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan feature the first all-digital shot in cinema - the Genesis device terraforming a planet - as well as the classic Tron with its many wireframe images. A major breakthrough had come in 1985 with the family adventure Young Sherlock Holmes, in which a knight sprang to life out of a stained-glass window, becoming the first ever CG character in film.


George Lucas’ effects house Industrial Light and Magic was behind most of these advances, and although they considered traditional stop-motion animation to realise The Abyss’ pseudopod, the creature’s transparent and reflective nature prompted ILM to select cutting-edge CGI once again.

Led by Dennis Muren, the team began by designing the pseudopod hands-on via a series of resin maquettes, while simultaneously developing new software. This included the very first version of Photoshop, coded by ILM’s CG supervisor John Knoll and his brother Tom. John took 360º photos of the set and used his as-yet-unreleased software to stitch them together into a reflection map for the pseudopod.

Movement reference on set was supplied by two grips carrying a length of hose from an air conditioner, much to the amusement of all present.

For the mimicking shots, Harris and Mastrantonio had their faces captured by a Cyberware scanner. This device circled a sitting subject, bombarding them with laser beams to map their 3D geometry. Such scanners had previously been used to morph the heads of the Enterprise crew together in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, and would go on to be used on Terminator 2 and many other productions.


Cameron was initially concerned that giving feedback on CGI and having it revised accordingly would be a slow and cumbersome process. His fears were alleviated by what - at the time - was a highly efficient system: ILM couriered videotapes of rough shots to the director, who printed out key frames, drew on them by hand, then faxed them back to Muren’s team.


Only one shot of the pseudopod - where it transformed back into ordinary water - was composited digitally. The remainder were done traditionally, with various different render passes of the CG creature recorded onto separate strips of film which were then combined on an optical printer.

The 1990 Oscars ceremony saw The Abyss honoured with an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects. Within a year, ILM were at work on Cameron’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day, which pushed the art of CGI even further. In 1993, Jurassic Park was released, and by the end of the 20th century the cinema was awash with computer generated images, most of them considerably less convincing than their landmark predecessors.


Overall, contemporary reaction to the Abyss was mixed but leaning towards the positive. Once the special edition was released in 1993, however, the film began to root itself as a cult classic. It’s well worth seeking out on DVD and Blu-ray, featuring an excellent behind-the-scenes documentary called Under Pressure. The film itself is still as gripping today as it was 30 years ago.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day - 1991

A staff of 25 were devoted at ILM to the T-1000’s metallic morphing abilities. Assistant VFX supervisor Mark Dippé noted: “We were pushing the limits of everything – the amount of disc space we had, the amount of memory we had in the computers, the amount of CPUs we had. Each shot, even though it only lasted about five seconds on the screen, typically would take about eight weeks to complete.”

The team began by painting a 2x2” grid on a near-naked Patrick and shooting reference footage of him walking, before laser-scanning his head at the appropriately-named Cyberware Laboratory. Four separate computer models of the T-1000 were built on Silicon Graphics Iris 4Ds, from an amorphous blob to a fully-detailed chrome replica of Patrick, each with corresponding points in 3D space so that the custom software Model Interp could morph between them.  

Other custom applications included Body Sock, a solution to gaps that initially appeared when the models flexed their joints, Polyalloy Shader, which gave the T-1000 its chrome appearance, and Make Sticky, with which images of Patrick were texture-mapped onto the distorting 3D model, such as when he melts through a barred gate at the mental hospital.

The film’s legacy in visual effects – for which it won the 1992 Oscar – cannot be understated. A straight line can be drawn from the water tendril in Cameron’s The Abyss, through T2 to Jurassic Park and all the way on to Avatar, with which Cameron again broke the record for the highest-grossing film of all time. The Avatar sequels will undoubtedly push the technology even further, but for many Cameron fans his greatest achievement will always be Terminator 2: Judgment Day, with its perfect blend of huge stunts, traditional effects and groundbreaking CGI.

Chuck Csuri and investor Robert Cranston Kanuth formed the American computer animation company CCP. 

The liquid metal effect was later used by James Cameron in Terminator 2 (1991).


Toy Story - 1995

LIGHTYEAR June 17 2022

G | 81 min | Animation, Adventure, Comedy

A cowboy doll is profoundly threatened and jealous when a new spaceman figure supplants him as top toy in a boy's room.

Director: John Lasseter | Stars: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Don Rickles, Jim Varney



BY JULIA ZORTHIAN  NOVEMBER 19, 2015 1:30 PM EST  TIME

When the lights went down for the first screenings of Toy Story across America on Nov. 22, 1995, audiences were merely eager to see how the first fully computer-animated movie had turned out. But the stakes were a bit higher for one particular team of people.

The movie was a joint venture between Disney and Pixar, a young company—then chaired by Steve Jobs—that had been recruited by the animation giant for its video capabilities. Pixar had been given a $26 million deal for three computer-animated, feature-length movies, but its filmmakers and engineers had yet to pull off a single one. Neither had anyone else for that matter. Succeeding would mean creating the software and hardware they would need as they went along, and inventing a new kind of movie altogether.

“At that point, none of us knew what we were doing. We didn’t have any production expertise except for short films and commercials. So we were all complete novices,” Ed Catmull, who was then a software engineer and is now Pixar and Disney Animation President, tells TIME. “But there was something fresh about nobody knowing what the hell we were doing.”

Catmull was a member of the Pixar “brain trust,” which also included current chief creative officer of Pixar and Disney Animation John Lasseter, the animator selected to direct Toy Story, and screenwriters Andrew Stanton and Pete Docter.

Reflecting on the experience 20 years later, Catmull notes that the young production studio was up against the wall: one project’s failure would likely mean the end of the three-movie contract, and the demise of Pixar studios.

“The entire company,” he says, “was bet upon us figuring this out.”

Spoiler alert: it was a good bet. The storytelling and technology of Pixar still rests upon the foundation Toy Story built. By the time the Toy Story credits started rolling that first day, the movies would never be the same.

The Toys

Catmull’s preparation started early. When he was a boy in Utah, he had watched early Disney movies with fascination, his eyes drinking in the color and magic of movement on the screens. All along, he had dreams of illustrating movies himself one day.

“We grew up with hand-drawn [animation], done the best at Disney Studios,” Catmull says. “It was very subtle and very emotional.”

He notes that part of what made the films so magical was how Walt Disney incorporated all the latest technology of his time, letting that innovation stimulate the illustrations. When it came to Toy Story, the animators didn’t have much choice but to follow Disney’s lead. No one had ever tried to make a feature-length film with 3D animation, so the technological capabilities guided much of their creative process, says Lasseter, who worked as an animator at Disney after college.

Catmull and computer scientists at Pixar built the software that animators could use to design the film, like RenderMan, which originated from Catmull’s studies at the University of Utah, and Menv (“modeling environment”), which the programmers developed for Pixar’s 1988 short Tin Toy. The goal was to allow the animators, without much engineering background, to control movement and “rig” their own characters.

In some ways, working with computers opened new possibilities, letting animators add details they never would be able to (or would want to avoid, to minimize illustrators’ “pencil mileage”), such as the plaid pattern on Woody’s shirt or the stickers on Buzz’s curved glass helmet.

But it had its limits—and that’s where the toys came in.

That software lent itself to perfectly geometric objects, such as blocks, bouncing balls: the type of things found in Andy’s stash of toys. Anything in a more “organic” shape or texture ended up looking plastic—which lent itself nicely to a movie about plastic objects springing to life. Toys always hung out in a kid’s room, Lasseter added, which let animators do their illustrations on a perfectly flat floor that was simple to render.

At first, the team was going to avoid humans altogether; choosing to keep them just out of the frames, Lady-and-the-Tramp-style, rather than crudely animating their features. Eventually human presence was too hard to avoid, and as a result viewers could put a face to Andy (a face that showed the improvements of Pixar’s rendering capabilities by the time he was off to college in Toy Story 3).

“I was so geeky and into this stuff,” Lasseter adds. “I’d always say ‘hey can we do this?’ They’d say ‘no, but let’s try,’ and they’d do R&D to get there. Meanwhile, all that R&D is inspiring different ideas. Then I’d say ‘oh can we do this with it?’ and come up with ideas we’d never thought of.”

The Story

That could very well have been the Pixar process, great technology powering their priorities. But even as the Pixar team leaned on the technology’s strengths, they had a cautionary tale from Disney history to keep in mind. Catmull says that he found that after Walt Disney’s death in 1966, the movies suffered when they prioritized art over story. And movies that live and die by technology can often suffer in retrospect, as those state-of-the-art special effects aged.

The problem is that, as Andrew Stanton puts it, “it’s not a widget you’re making. It’s not a product.”

Stanton says that once the team received the green light for the movie, they looked back at films that had staying power even after their outdated technology left the “strings showing,” such as Snow White, The Wizard of Oz and Star Wars. “We said anything that we break ground with, computer graphics-wise, will be subservient to getting the story right,” he adds, “because that’s what history has shown wins.”

So Stanton set about helping write the screenplay for a buddy movie, where the conversations would bring the characters to life as much as the unprecedented curves and planes. The writing team, which included Joss Whedon and Joel Cohen, paired the character concepts with a more cynical attitude than was typical for animated films, and Pixar also made the decision to skip musical numbers in favor of a more mature feel.

Disney balked at early versions of the story—Woody was not likeable enough, for example—and Catmull says the company “essentially shut down production” over the problem. The future “brain trust” shut themselves in a room to rethink the story. Stanton remembers telling Pete Docter at one point that the two main characters had to be engaging enough that people would think Buzz and Woody stuck in an elevator for 70 minutes was the highest quality of entertainment.

These days, it may sound obvious to say that part of Pixar’s success has been the appeal and emotion of the stories the studio tells—but 20 years ago, that didn’t necessarily have to be the case. Pixar’s contract with Disney had come as a result of its technological prowess, after all. The decision to put the story first was a key one, and it would power the next two decades of the company’s creativity.

Decades later, Stanton says that the “strings” do show, but the measure of the film’s success is that it doesn’t matter: “It’s the ugliest picture we will ever make, but you don’t care because you get wrapped up in the story to this day.” He remains so haunted by how well the movie turned out that he cannot watch the film more than once every two years or so, for fear of losing motivation on his current film projects.

Case in point: “Consider the new Disney animated feature, John Lasseter’s Toy Story, which is, incidentally, the first full-length film created wholly by computer and, not at all incidentally — by design, in fact — the year’s most inventive comedy,” Richard Corliss wrote in his Nov. 27 review for TIME that year.

The film won an Academy Award for Special Achievement, as well as nominations for Best Original Screenplay, Score and Song. Jobs told FORTUNE in Sept. 1995 that Pixar and Disney would break even if the movie was a “modest hit” at $75 million. It made over $361 million worldwide during its run.

Buzz and Woody’s story continued for two more films, with a fourth set for release in 2018. The foundation Toy Story set had effects far beyond the franchise. Pixar, which Disney acquired in 2006, has released 15 movies since then, accruing 26 Academy Awards and three Grammys in total. As the animators graduated from toys in a flat room to insects, monsters and fish, the studio’s abilities with technology advanced as well. The Incredibles was a milestone as a film based on computer-animated people. In The Good Dinosaur, opening this month, they’ll tackle prehistoric nature.

Lasseter says that for the past 20 years, the priorities established with Toy Story have continued to hold. Every story envisioned by the Pixar team requires something that they don’t know how to do, so they invent the technology that was needed. There have been more than 250 computer-animated films released worldwide since Toy Story. Lasseter attributes that plenitude in part to the choice made by the Toy Story team to worry about story more than showing off, and to concentrate on developing software to serve their ideas rather than the other way around: if Toy Story hadn’t succeeded the way it did, it might not have inspired others to follow.

As for himself, his metric for success doesn’t count animated movies made or Oscars won or tickets sold. It was just five days after the Toy Story premiere, as he changed planes in Dallas, that he knew the gamble had paid off.

“There was a little boy with his mom holding a Woody cowboy doll. The look on his face I will never forget. It was the first time I’d seen a character we created in the hands of somebody else,” he says. “I think about it every day: that character no longer belonged to me, it belonged to him.”

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring - 2001

The Lord of the Rings movies are undisputed masterpieces, and even to this day, they remain some of the most thrilling and most well-made movies of all time. The amount of care that went into these movies is nothing short of astounding, and Peter Jackson and his team of filmmakers deserve all the credit and acclaim they consistently receive.

With that said, the movies are now twenty years old, and like all big blockbusters reliant on visual effects, they have undoubtedly aged in some regards. Some effects look better than others - especially when it comes to the involvement of early CGI. The Fellowship of the Ring was released in 2001, Gollum was the first motion-captured character to come face to face with other actors. Traditional animation was combined with artificial intelligence software to replace actor Andy Serkis' movements with those of Gollum's.

Ice Age - 2002 - 2022 - Blue Sky Studios

Ice Age

Twenty-thousand years ago, Earth is a wondrous, prehistoric world filled with great danger, not the least of which is the beginning of the Ice Age. To avoid a really bad frostbite, the planet's majestic creatures - and a few small, slothful ones - begin migrating south . The story revolves around sub-zero heroes: a woolly mammoth, a saber-toothed tiger, a sloth and a prehistoric combination of a squirrel and rat that is known as Scrat.

Release date: March 15, 2002 (USA)

Director: Chris Wedge

Production companies: Blue Sky Studios, 20th Century Studios, 20th Century Home Entertainment, Fox Animation Studios

Box office: 383.2 million USD


March 15, 2002

Blue Sky Studios

20th Century Fox

Ice Age: The Meltdown

March 31, 2006

Blue Sky Studios

20th Century Fox

Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs

June 26, 2009

Blue Sky Studios

20th Century Fox

Ice Age: Continental Drift

July 13, 2012

Blue Sky Studios

20th Century Fox

Ice Age: Collision Course

July 22, 2016

Blue Sky Studios

20th Century Fox

The Ice Age Adventures of Buck Wild

January 28, 2022

Blue Sky Studios

20th Century Fox


I Robot - 2004

I, Robot is a 2004 American science fiction action film directed by Alex Proyas. The screenplay by Jeff Vintar and Akiva Goldsman is from a screen story by Vintar, based on his original screenplay Hardwired, and named after Isaac Asimov's 1950 short-story collection. The film stars Will Smith in the main role, Bridget Moynahan, Bruce Greenwood, James Cromwell, Chi McBride, and Alan Tudyk. Set in Chicago in 2035, highly intelligent robots fill public service positions throughout the world, operating under three laws to keep humans safe. Detective Del Spooner (Smith) investigates the alleged suicide of U.S. Robotics founder Alfred Lanning (Cromwell) and believes that a human-like robot called Sonny (Tudyk) murdered him.[4]

I, Robot was released in the United States on July 16, 2004, and in other countries between July and October 2004. Produced with a budget of $120 million, the film grossed $346 million worldwide and received mixed reviews from critics, with praise for the visual effects and acting but criticism of the plot. At the 77th Academy Awards, the film was nominated for Best Visual Effects, but lost to Spider-Man 2.



Avatar - 2009

Avatar (marketed as James Cameron's Avatar) is a 2009 epic science fiction film directed, written, co-produced, and co-edited by James Cameron and starring Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Stephen Lang, Michelle Rodriguez, and Sigourney Weaver. It is the first installment in the Avatar film series. It is set in the mid-22nd century, when humans are colonizing Pandora, a lush habitable moon of a gas giant in the Alpha Centauri star system, to mine the valuable mineral unobtanium. The expansion of the mining colony threatens the continued existence of a local tribe of Na'vi, a humanoid species indigenous to Pandora. The title of the film refers to a genetically engineered Na'vi body operated from the brain of a remotely located human that is used to interact with the natives of Pandora.

Development of Avatar began in 1994 when James Cameron wrote an 80-page treatment for the film. Filming was supposed to take place after the completion of Cameron's 1997 film Titanic, for a planned release in 1999; however, according to Cameron, the necessary technology was not yet available to achieve his vision of the film. Work on the language of the Na'vi began in 2005, and Cameron began developing the screenplay and fictional universe in early 2006. Avatar was officially budgeted at $237 million, due to the groundbreaking array of new visual effects Cameron achieved in cooperation with Weta Digital in Wellington. Other estimates put the cost at between $280 million and $310 million for production and $150 million for promotion. The film made extensive use of new motion capture filming techniques and was released for traditional viewing, 3D viewing (using the RealD 3D, Dolby 3D, XpanD 3D, and IMAX 3D formats), and "4D" experiences in selected South Korean theaters.

Avatar premiered on December 10, 2009, in London and was released in the United States on December 18, 2009, to positive reviews. Critics highly praised its groundbreaking visual effects, though the story was considered to be predictable. During its theatrical run, the film broke several box office records, including becoming the highest-grossing film of all time. 


Interstellar - 2014

Director: Christopher Nolan

VFX: DNEG

This fascinating exploration of space travel and the effects of time dilation features some beautiful effects work, including some truly realistic spaceship scenes (mainly done with miniatures) and a scientifically accurate CG representation of the supermassive black hole, Gargantua. But no one expected the final reel, in which astronaut Joseph Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) enters the ‘tesseract’, a four-dimensional construct of interlinked timelines, where he communicates with his daughter, Murph, in the far distant past.

VFX supervisor, Paul Franklin, told Art of VFX that the concept was based on a three-dimensional extension of slitscan photography (used to great effect in 2001: A Space Odyssey). All the elements of Murph’s bedroom were scanned at high-res and used to create a digital version, and from this they generated the multiple extruded timelines. The 3D team had to come up with clever ways of handling the huge data load so they could render it using Houdini’s Mantra. This digital model was used to extend the physical tesseract set to infinity… and beyond.


War for the Planet of the Apes - 2017

Director: Matt Reeves

VFX: Weta Digital

Watch it for the incredibly lifelike apes, of course. We could have included any of the three films, but with War for the Planet of the Apes, Weta Digital really nailed it, taking the levels of realism to new heights. There’s one scene where we see Caesar caged in the Alpha-Omega military base. Through the bars we see Woody Harrelson and his men, alongside a servile gorilla, and in the background is another cage full of apes. It’s night-time, it’s raining, the ape fur is wet and clumpy, and CG characters stand shoulder-to-shoulder with real actors… Despite being a compositor’s nightmare, it’s all totally seamless and utterly believable.

The New Zealand-based VFX house surpassed itself, not only with the incredible fidelity of the ape recreations, but also with entirely digital environments, water, weather and battle scenes. To do so it employed a range of in-house tools – Facets for facial performance capture; Tissue for muscle and skin; Wig for fur; Lumberjack for vegetation; Synapse for smoke and fire; Manuka for physically-based rendering – and the results speak for themselves.

Killer sequence: The final battle is great, but, really, all of the VFX are outstanding.


The Monkey King is a 2023 animated fantasy action comedy film directed by Anthony Stacchi from a screenplay written by Rita Hsiao and the writing team of Steve Bencich and Ron J. Friedman. It is based on the first 7 chapters of the classic Ming dynasty novel, Journey to the West. The film stars Jimmy O. Yang as the voice of the titular trickster, with Bowen Yang, Jo Koy, BD Wong, Jolie Hoang-Rappaport, and Stephanie Hsu in supporting roles.

The Monkey King was selected as the closing film at the 22nd New York Asian Film Festival, where it had its world premiere on July 30, 2023, and was distributed and released on August 18, 2023, by Netflix. On December 7, it appeared in the eligible list for consideration of the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature for the 96th Academy Awards.

AVATAR 3 - 2024 - Theaters December 20, 2024