If you thought you were the weird kid growing up just because you had an insane obsession with blowing stuff up… you probably were. Of course, there's nothing wrong with watching the professionals re-create these thoughts, now is there?
From doll houses to animatronics, CG to "flow motion," we've got enough of the coolest Sci-Fi Film Special Effects sequences to last you a lifetime — or at least until 2019, which is where our No. 10 list-er finds us…
No. 1 - The Matrix: Bullet Time
OK, here's the deal: We'll pretend we don't know you've spent hours trying to reenact this technique, if you sit back and listen to the watered-down science of "Bullet Time." Deal?
Imagine, if you will, a semicircle of still-image cameras that all take the same picture, just from a different angle. Throw in some frame interpolation (extra frames to smooth out the picture) and computer graphics (like the bullet you see in The Matrix), and you've got yourself what is now officially called "Bullet Time." It's like "Hammer Time," but way cooler. And a little more violent.
As most of you remember, The Matrix totally revolutionized this effect, giving our Top 10 List Bouncer the ability to unlatch the velvet rope to let this special effects sequence in. However, given the extreme nature of this special effect, we feel compelled to warn you: do not try this at home. Unless you can somehow pull off "Bullet Time" without a bullet.
No. 10 - Blade Runner: Los Angeles, November 2019
If you thought you were the weird kid growing up just because you had an insane obsession with blowing stuff up ... you probably were. Of course, there's nothing wrong with watching the professionals re-create these thoughts, now is there?
From doll houses to animatronics, CG to "flow motion," we've got enough of the coolest Sci-Fi Film Special Effects sequences to last you a lifetime — or at least until 2019, which is where our No. 10 list-er finds us ...
The vision of Los Angeles in November 2019 alone is one of the most visually stunning sci-fi movie sequences in history. And we're not just saying that ... we have almost all the sci-fi community behind us on this one. For example the image of the spinners, or flying cars, cutting through the atmosphere was the result of very specific lighting and a machine that dispersed oil in intervals, creating what appears to be L.A. and its infamous smog. Every element was considered in the production of this future noir city, which set the bar extremely high for special effects-induced cities (think Fifth Element) to come, including layer upon layer to add gritty textures to the look. But if you think this was normal filmmaking back in the day, think again: Blade Runner was making magic in 1982 — that's seven years before Harry Potter's Daniel Radcliffe was even born. God, we're old.
No. 2 - Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope: The Opening Sequence
Come on, we were all thinkin' it the first time we watched it: "OK, that's gotta be the end of that ship. Nope, that is. No that. OK, maybe now it's the end — no, no that's not it either. OK, this ship is never gonna end, like I really think there is SERIOUSLY no end to this ship and it's just going to be two straight hours of us guessing when the end of this ship is gonna come — oh. There it is. That's the end. Cool. Oh, OK wait, now there are like, explosions, and weird lasers and … ohmygod. That is SO cool. Seriously that robot looks like a person. Is it? Is that a person? It seriously has to be a person; it is moving way too human-like to be an actual robot. Oh SNAP — that door just exploded. What the … are those lasers? Are they shooting lasers? They look real; they are SERIOUSLY shooting those guns. That is REAL. OK, now, WHO is THAT dude … ohmygod. Is he for real? He seems pretty for real. Oh NO. OK … awesome opening."
Pretty dead-on, huh? Yeah, we know ...we've all been there. You see, the opening to Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope is often (if not always) hailed as one of the greatest special effects sequences of all times. Not only was it impressive for the time of its release, but to this day it still holds its own in a day and age of special effects one-uppers. (OR but to this day it still holds its own in an age of special effects one-uppers).
As an added bonus, you can take the opening paragraph there and sync it up with the actual opening of A New Hope, like Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon syncs up with The Wizard of Oz. Did you try it? We hope not, 'cause we were totally lying. Besides, the opening itself is cool enough — it certainly doesn't need a gimmick to make it any cooler.
No. 3 - King Kong: The Ending
Sure, you thought Clay Aiken was the creator of stop-motion animation with his awkward movements while performing … but nay, it was the original King Kong, created over 75 years ago, that was at the forefront of this animation movement.
At the time, few people had even seen a gorilla in real life, all large and in charge; nor had they seen the special effects that graced the screen in 1933. As you may or may not remember (but probably should), the ending of King Kong had our title character climbing the Empire State Building, which of course is a difficult feat for anyone with actual muscles — but perhaps even more difficult for a miniature inanimate sculpture with no actual muscles. Not only did you get a view of that, but we got all up close and personal when we actually saw our leading lady struggling in his outstretched palm.
The original King Kong utilized filmmaking we had never seen before, and combined them with already present techniques, only on steroids. By today's standards, King Kong may be outdated and unconvincing. But don't let the king hear you say that … or you could be the next one taking an unwanted trip up to the top of the Empire State Building. The good news is, your hair and makeup will be flawless!
No. 4 - Lord of the Rings: Gollum
Even if you're not a fan of Gollum, you have to admit the LOTR trilogy utilizes some kick-ass special effects to serve up a classic. The third movie alone has an unheard of 1,488 effects shots (most big-effects movies have an average of 700).
Animation on Gollum began all the way back in 1998, just to prove to [the production company, New Line, that …] New Line that this technology was a possibility. Once they got the go-ahead on the animation awesomeness, Andy Serkis was cast to re-create the movements and voice the character. In fact, the character was originally intended to be entirely CG, but Serkis was such a convincing real-life Gollum, they decided to use that genius to their advantage. And thank goodness for that — the character of Gollum is the creepiest/most amazingly animated character we have ever had the pleasure of seeing on-screen. Sure, that's an "opinion," but we're pretty sure it's close to fact.
Using both a motion-capture suit and manual re-creation of Serkis' facial expressions, the LOTR production team created a never-before-seen character that we almost empathized with more than the real-life actors. Perhaps the craziest bit of information we were able to glean on Gollum's conception was the crazy render time it took to finalize the bugger: four hours per frame. And at 24 frames per second, that means it took 96 hours to process one second of animation. It may be a long process, but you certainly have to admit it's worth every cup of coffee those poor animators choked down. And for that, dear LOTR animators, we salute you.
No. 5 - Jurassic Park: T-Rex
Jurassic Park was originally intended to be animated using stop-motion mixed with animatronics, similar to the techniques employed in King Kong. A company called Industrial Light and Magic, however, was looking to change the face of animation. And to land the job, of course. To prove to Mr. Spielberg that they were up to the task (besides just pointing excitedly at their past success on Terminator 2, which of course is our No. 7 winner), Industrial Light and Magic used CG animation to create the very frightening Tyrannosaurus Rex.
What differed for ILM this time were the myriad elements that had to be added to the dinosaurs to make them more realistic: textures on their skin, dirt on the textures, muscles, bones — even something as minute as breathing. To do this, they created an entirely new program that addressed elements below the skin — the insides that had never really been dealt with before. Because they thought of … well, everything. The JP animators have more than earned a spot in our Top 10 Sci Fi Special Effects. And we would say that with or without the threat of sicking their T-Rex on us.
No. 6 - Jason and the Argonauts: The Skeleton Fight
We're kind of wondering if anyone else is as terrified as we are to ever garden again. Well ... maybe we should just be sure not to use the teeth of Hydra as the seeds.
The skeleton fight in Jason and the Argonauts is a highly acclaimed and much talked about special effects sequence, despite its 1963 release date. At the time, stop motion was rarely seen or utilized, and for good reason — it took FOR-EV-ER to actually produce. The four-minute skeleton fight clocked Ray Harryhausen (the special effects genius in charge of Jason and the Argonauts) in at over four and a half months … and we're not talkin' 9 to 5 days, either.
Of course, it wasn't just the stop-motion animation that made the scene awesome; by rear-projecting the footage of the actual actors (who, when filming, were basically battling air behind the animation), they were able to combine the two shots in a surprisingly convincing way.
Judging by how much time it took to create these effects, it might have been a more efficient use of time to actually grow those Hydra teeth. Still, the animators created some of the greatest cinematic history the way they did it … so we'll let sleeping skeletons lie.
No. 7 - Terminator 2: The T-1000
That T-1000 is one tall drink of water. Er, metal.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day is so much more than a movie about our (now) governator; in fact, it is the first movie documented to utilize computer graphics that displayed natural human motion. To achieve this effect, Industrial Light and Magic (a company you will hear from again later in this list!) scanned actor Robert Patrick's body into their computers, to create a wireframe that could then be manipulated to animate the liquid metal transformation we've grown to know and love. They then used a technique actually called "morphing" to help transition from computer-generated graphics to actual footage of Robert Patrick. The most difficult part of the process was, perhaps, ensuring the metal-like substance that the T-1000 was made of accurately reflected the character's surroundings. Talk about a script supervisor's own personal nightmare.
Of course, the T-1000 wasn't exactly a dream date.
No. 8 - 2001: A Space Odyssey: The Star Gate Sequence
It seems unfair to have to pinpoint exactly one sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey that most exemplifies the film's special effects success — but then, if we have to do it for (spoiler/obvi alert!) Star Wars, we have to do it for all the great SFX films. The space corridor alone is enough to make you swear that you're trippin'.
Even today the special effects in 2001: A Space Odyssey are touted as the most hypnotizing and stunning visual effects in film. To create this sequence, director Stanley Kubrick and special effects guru Douglas Trumbull used something called a "Slit Scan" machine that allowed them to film two superficially infinite planes of exposure with additional color filters for you to feast your eyes on. So pull up a chair and grab a fork,'cause we know you feel like you have the munchies.
No. 9 - Independence Day: Blowin' Up the White House
"We've always believed we weren't alone. On July 4, we'll wish we were."
Especially once we see the severe beat-down our White House gets.
We're sure you're probably aware that special effects sequences like this are typically done using a small (but very detailed) model of the real thing. In this case, the White House model was one-twelfth the actual size of our real White House, and nine cameras were used to accurately catch all the action. At the time (and to this day, in fact), the scene was so convincing that people often mistook it for the real thing (which they took full advantage of in their marketing campaign!), and frankly, scared the crap out of our grandmothers. Independence Day also had more miniatures than any other film of its time, making it most likely the creepiest set of all time. It sure did set a lot of records.