Sometimes you will sit in the movie theater and have your socks blown off by what you are seeing. Many of the biggest movies of all time were considered so because of the high tech approach they took to their production. Many of these films were groundbreaking and changed how movies were made forever.
Avatar – 2009
Director James Cameron basically invented a new way of filming to make this live action-animated sci-fi hybrid the success it became. Movies had flirted with filming in 3D back in the ‘80s but hadn’t really found much success until Avatar came along. Suddenly there was an explosion of 3D movies, and it was all thanks to Avatar.
Cameron directed the film through the use of a virtual camera system that allowed him to see how the actors were interacting with the animated world. A far cry from a simple green screen production, it had a huge budget, $237 million.
The Matrix – 1999
One of the most famous scenes in this 1999 sci-fi action was the introduction of bullet time footage. Whenever someone would fire their gun at one of the characters, time would slow down, and we would see the actors dodging the bullets in slow motion, even though they were, in fact, moving at hyper speed. The film pitted its heroes against the evil Agents in an alternate cyber reality to a budget of $63 million.
Blade Runner – 1982
Blade Runner is a visually stunning piece of sci-fi cinematography that still holds its own in comparison to some of the modern movies in the same genre. The movie was set in a cyberpunk reality that heavily relied on an industrial mood. It featured many high tech special effects including flying cars, moving advertising billboards, and incredibly vibrant lighting. The lighting effects were achieved by filming scenes, then changing the lighting, rewinding the tape and filming it all over again. Special cameras were used that were as advanced as any other technique at the time, they were motion controlled cameras the were operated by computers.
Metropolis – 1927
This sci-fi drama film pioneered some filming techniques that would take other studios years to catch up to. They used miniature models of the city the futuristic movie was set in, along with a camera mounted on a swing. Finally, they used mirrors to create an illusion, fooling audiences into thinking the actors were occupying the model sets. This technique was called the Schüftan process after the special effects expert on the film, Eugen Schüftan.
Iron Man – 2008
There were many computer-generated action sequences in this superhero film, and director Jon Favreau was careful not to fall into the trap many other similar movies had fallen into. Often the animation can be clunky and actually removes the audience from the final picture. Favreau instructed the star, Robert Downey Jr. sometimes only to wear the helmet of Iron Man’s suit to allow the visual effects department to add the rest in digitally.
Cameras were flown through the air to give the filmmakers an understanding of the effects of wind, frost, and physics on Iron Man and the flying enemies he was battling. They filmed skydivers in wind tunnels to make sure they perfectly captured the physical effects flying through the air has on the human body. It cost the studio $140 million to produce, but after seeing the end result, many feel it was money well spent.
These movies helped to pioneer new filming techniques that many other filmmakers have since gone on to replicate. The success of the special effects is proven by the fact that these movies are still considered classics and each can hold up to the special effects of today’s filmmakers.