Special effects go beyond simply adding visuals to films

Photo courtesy of Simone Impei via Unsplash

By Mariyah Ramirez

At its most simple form, computer generated imagery (CGI) is the use of either still or animated images created by a computer to enhance the filmed aspect of a movie. CGI can be as simple as an animated film like “Toy Story” to something more complex like using a green screen to depict someone riding a dragon in a live action film.

While CGI has existed since the 1950s in its earliest form, it really took off in the 1970s with films like “Star Wars.” The 1990s started seeing some of the CGI most similar to what we see in movies today with films like “Toy Story” and “Jurassic Park.” 

CGI has now become almost required in movies created today 

In “Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers,” the Battle of Helm’s Deep is a particularly dramatic scene that illustrates contemporary uses of CGI. In this battle, a group of Elf warriors work to protect the humans of Helm’s Deep from an overwhelming hoard of hideous orcs. Jim Regial managed all the visual effects in all three “Lord of the Rings” movies and worked particularly hard in this scene to get the details just right through not only staging, but also special effects.

Scenes like this on such an epic scale helped to change computer generated imagery (CGI) forever. There was an extensive amount of detail put into each orc, troll, and balrog. 

Sauron’s Tower capped by the fiery “Eye of Sauron” is good enough CGI that it could easily be placed in a movie this year despite the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy being over two decades old.

CGI of this nature was still relatively new when Peter Jackson released his take on J.R.R. Tolkien’s seminal fantasy trilogy and it helped pave the way for future wonders. 

Many films use CGI to create effects they could not create otherwise. James Cameron’s 2009  “Avatar,” is a prime example of this. The film is set on another planet with an indiginous people named the Na’vi who are ten feet tall, blue, and with long sweeping tails. It would be impossible to create as realistic creatures as the Na’vi without using CGI. The extraordinary color grading, aspect ratio, and audio are extremely precise.

Beyond fantasy movies, CGI has become a staple in many genres such as horror as well. “The Conjuring” franchise has used many special effects in all three movies. Special effects artist Juan Vargas generated the chair swinging completely digitally. CGI played a huge role in these movies because it really made illusions happen on the screen instead of making the audience imagine the effects. For instance, CGI helped show the illusion of Valak coming out of the portrait and flying. 

Where once Valak would have been an actor suspended from a rope in a costume, now we have the technology to completely generate these images on computers which ironically makes them much more realistic.

All these different films are examples of movies we love and the special effects it took to be produced into a great movie. They all have special details in the characters, settings, and just the movies in general are fantastic. New movies like HBO’s most recent “Dune” show how far special effects have gone over the decades.

Overall, special effects are really a big part of making movies. The more time and detail the creators put into the effects, the more audience the movies are going to get because people love to see special effects in action. Details are very important when it comes to special effects because it turns fantasy into reality.