The use of CGI goes back to the 1950s, even though its first appearance in a feature movie was in Westworld back in 1973. However, it most definitely didn’t start off as the CGI we know in modern-day movies, and it still had many rough edges to it to become what modern-day viewers are used to.
Before the heavy use of CGI, many movies used a wide range of special effects from stop-motion, miniature models, and inventive use of props and makeup. There’s a unique beauty to movies void of CGI, and they highlight the more imaginative movie-making process, sometimes with brilliantly executed results. Many of these methods still stand the test of time and still prove to be an inspiration for modern-day movie-making.
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10 An American Werewolf in London (1981)
In An American Werewolf in London, two American college students, David and Jack, are attacked by a werewolf. David is mauled to death, but Jack survives. He has nightmares of hunting people down, however later finds out these weren’t just nightmares when the spirit of his friend David, alongside his own victims, appear to him. They demand he take his own life to cut the supernatural tether that binds their spirits from passing on, due to dying unnatural deaths.
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Months were spent planning the notable man-to-werewolf short two and half minute transformation scene. A combination of robotics and prosthetics were used to change Jack from man to beast. In order to achieve the facial reconstruction two robotic skulls were used, and they utilised a false door to get the full-length body shots, showing a fake wolf body from the waist down. The highly successful scene has since been considered one of the most iconic scenes in the history of horror movies.
9 The Ten Commandments (1956)
The Ten Commandments is an epic religious drama following Moses as he helps the Hebrews escape from slavery in Egypt. The story is well-known, how Moses finds himself adopted into the Pharaoh’s family, however, many years later, his Hebrew heritage is found out, and he is cast out of Egypt. While living out in the desert, he is commanded by God to rescue the Hebrews. It’s a tale that’s been adapted into movies and tv many times.
In the 1956 movie, however, merit has to be given to the efforts of the special effects in parting the Red Sea. In order to create the walls of water, they caught footage of water being poured continuously and then flipped the images around to make them appear as walls. It sounds simple enough, but this move was considered the most difficult of its time and took around six months to complete.
8 Alien (1979)
In the movie, Alien, After receiving a distress call on a nearby moon, the crew of a commercial spaceship are obligated to investigate. Unfortunately for the crew, it’s only after they land on the moon and move out to investigate that the distress call was actually a warning to stay away. Their troubles only continue from here when aliens board their ship and cause chaos and death for almost all on board.
The most memorable scene of this movie, and probably well-known to many who have not even seen it, is the scene where one of the crew members dies after having one of the aliens hatch through their chest. A prosthetic body was used and filled with offal from a local butcher. Furthermore, they had two crew members hiding beneath the table ready to spurt out the fake blood. What really elevated the special effects here was the reaction of the cast members. They were not told to expect the alien to burst out of the victim’s chest, so their genuine reactions just make the scene. Sometimes you really don’t need fancy CGI, just great storytelling methods to set the scene.
7 King Kong (1933)
In King Kong you’re taken to the infamous Skull Island, as director Carl Denham and his crew go to complete filming a movie. No one is prepared for what they meet on the island and no one could have imagined the gigantic gorilla that was Kong that awaited them. After a perilous experience on the island, the crew captures Kong and take him to New York as an entertainment feature. This eventually leads to the world-famous scene of King Kong scaling the Empire State Building.
King Kong has been re-made many times since the original was released in 1933, however, none of the remakes have the same level of charm that the simplistic special effects of the original possessed. The original King Kong heavily featured the use of stop-motion to create both Kong and numerous other prehistoric creatures that were found on Skull Island. The crew found it a challenge to blend in the live-action footage with the separately created stop-motion footage. However, they managed to effectively combine the two elements effortlessly for their time.
6 The Wizard of Oz (1939)
The Wizard of Oz takes you on the whirlwind adventures of Dorothy in the land of OZ. It’s an adventure down the yellow brick lane whereby alongside her trusty little dog Toto, and newfound friends, Dorothy must find her way back home.
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The most difficult special effect that needed to be figured out in this movie was how to best create the twister that sends Dorothy off to the land of Oz in the first place. In order to create the correct shape of the twister, a 35-foot-long piece of muslin was wrapped around chicken wire. The make-shift twister was held up by a crane and fastened to a car that moved along a track to give the twister some movement. All other aspects of the scene, like the farmhouse and barn, were done in miniature. Wind and dust machines were used to add more of a dramatic effect. Once the twister sequence was complete, it was shown as a rear projection while they filmed the actors.
5 Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
In Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, Skywalker, Han Solo, Chewbacca, and Princess Leia, all find themselves thrown once more into the ongoing battle with the Imperial forces. The movie famously ends with the action-packed duel between Luke and Darth Vader and the shocking revelation of their relationship as father and son.
Around 100 people worked tirelessly to create nearly 600 different effects used throughout the film. A range of special effects methods were utilised like stop-motion, full-sized vehicles, and miniature models. To note one of the special effects used; the tuantaun creatures that feature on the planet Hoth, were created using a mixture of miniatures and a full-scale costume for close-ups. It took much deliberation until a decision was made on these creatures; however, the end result blends the two special effects methods effortlessly to create something truly memorable.
4 Jaws (1975)
In Jaws, the small community of Amity Island is struck by the drama that follows the arrival of a man-hunting great white shark. Turns out that it’s not just any great white though, and the small island soon finds itself infested with amateur hunters hoping to get their claws on the reward money for killing it.
The shark was created by using a variety of methods combined. A number of animatronics were used and shot at different angles to create the body of the shark; however, it was not smooth sailing, and creating as realistic a creature as possible proved difficult. As can be seen from the final product, however, it was a job well done. In addition to the animatronics, real live footage of great whites was used alongside footage of a real 15-foot great white swimming beside a miniature cage with a stuntman of under 5 feet inside.
3 Planet of the Apes (1968)
Planet of the Apes takes you to a world where the roles have been reversed. Apes are the ones in charge and humans find themselves enslaved. Astronaut George Taylor comes out of hibernation to realise his ship has crash-landed on a strange planet. He’s captured and taken to the city, but this is only the start of his troubles.
This movie didn’t need CGI to succeed in drawing in viewers to its gripping storyline. It became one of the most popular sci-fi films of all time due to some truly remarkably set designs and filming locations. Most notable, however, were the incredibly impressive makeup techniques used to create the apes. In fact, so impressive and ahead of their times were the techniques, that they’re considered to have redefined the use of special effects makeup and are still used as inspiration today.
2 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
In the epic sci-fi movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, humankind must dare to discover exactly who, or what, placed unexplained monoliths both on Earth, and on the Moon. If successful in their mission, the next step of evolution for humankind will be revealed. Assisted by AI, the humans take to their mission however it all goes terribly wrong. The AI system on the ship makes a deadly mistake that kills most of the crew. It then tries to hide its mistake by killing those who remain alive. The sole survivor must outwit the AI system if he is to survive and succeed in their mission to reveal the next step of evolution.
The most impressive scene utilising special effects would be the star gate scene that was achieved using slit-scan photography. The movie actually managed to advance this existing technique perfecting it even further to achieve the super trippy moment.
1 Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)
In the lovable quirky Who Framed Roger Rabbit, toon star Roger employs detective Eddie Valiant in a desperate attempt to find out whether his wife, Jessica Rabbit, is cheating on him. However, the plot takes a turn when Roger is framed for murder and both he and Eddie work together to find the real culprit.
The movie was well-received due to its incredible blend of live actors and animation. To say this was no easy feet would be putting it lightly. The movie was first shot using real-world actors and then each animation element was hand-drawn in afterward. Even though there have been a few efforts made, no movie since has been able to so brilliantly blend live-action with animation in the way that Who Framed Roger Rabbit did.