Greatest Visual and
Special Effects (F/X) -
Milestones in Film


Film Milestones in Visual and Special Effects
Film Title/Year and Description of Visual-Special Effects

The Babe (1992)

Since star John Goodman was right-handed and he was portraying left-handed, legendary baseball player George Herman "Babe" Ruth, film-makers composited Goodman with a left-handed pitcher in action to get the fast-ball scene accurately shot.

Also, the baseball park was filled by shooting just one section of extras and then wallpapering the stands with copies of them.

Death Becomes Her (1992)

This film was the Academy Award winner for Best Achievement in Visual Effects, defeating Alien 3 (1992) and Batman Returns (1992).

The film featured photo-realistic skin (created with the first human skin CG software) - skin was replicated to link a body and head together with a digital neck.

The extensive CGI effects were in the scene of Madeline Ashton's (Meryl Streep) twisted-around head (and stretched neck), the see-through hole in Helen Sharp's (Goldie Hawn) abdomen, and the depiction of a rainy 1978 New York City and a miniature mansion.

The film used extensive digital retouching to remove the head of one actress, and then later placed a talking head on another body.

Lawnmower Man (1992)

This breakthrough film contained ground-breaking special effects - introducing a computer-generated Virtual Reality to films. It was the first feature film in the 1990s to use computer animation to explore the subject of virtual reality.

It was also one of the first films to record a human actor's movements in a sensor-covered body suit - a technique called Body Motion Capture, to control the movements of a CG character. [The technique was later perfected in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002), for the CGI character of Gollum.]

There was one imaginative and surreal CGI sequence (8 minutes in length) of virtual reality sex (or cybersex), the first of its kind, in this science-fiction thriller loosely derived from Stephen King's short story; Marnie Burke (Jenny Wright) and mentally-retarded lawnmower man Jobe Smith (Jeff Fahey) wore bodysuits, gloves, and head-mounted displays (HMDs), and were strapped into huge gyroscopes - all connected to the computer. After they kissed, the two intertwining lovers became swirling liquid metal, fusing with one another. The couple took the form of two metallic insects looking like a two-headed dragonfly - flying as one being. Jobe took over the dual fantasy, claiming to know what was in Marnie's mind, but she became trapped in his scary world and then traumatized ("Oh my God, let me out") - causing her brain patterns to become irregular, signifying that she had become a brain-dead vegetable.

In the film's VR climax, now all-powerful Cyber-Being Jobe Smith (Jeff Fahey) entered into the computer main-frame and faced off against VR researcher Dr. Lawrence Angelo (Pierce Brosnan).

The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

The first feature film to use a green screen instead of a blue screen for its visual effects, allowing for filming against a rich blue night sky.

The film also featured minor morphing effects with the knocker transforming into Marley's head.

Babylon 5 (1993)

This sci-fi TV series was the first to use CG as its primary means to create special effects. The animation effects were created or produced with off-the-shelf micro-computer systems.

Cliffhanger (1993)

In various dangerous climbing sequences, actor Sylvester Stallone (as climber-rescuer Gabe Walker) was held up by wires - that were later digitally erased.

In the film's tense opening scene, climber Sarah (Michelle Joyner) was supported by just a 1/8" wire (later removed), leaving her hanging 8,000 feet above the ground, before she appeared to fall to her death in the abyss below.

In the Line of Fire (1993)

Because it was much cheaper to use footage of an actual 1992 Clinton campaign rally than to pay extras to rally, computers digitally retouched the images and replaced Bill Clinton with the 'faceless' president that agent Clint Eastwood was protecting.

Computers also took an image of Eastwood from his earlier film Dirty Harry (1971), made it look even younger (gave him a digital haircut, shaved off his sideburns, narrowed his tie, and gave his jacket a digital lapel), and then implanted it into newsreel footage from JFK's 1963 Dallas airport arrival, taken with a 16-millimeter camera of JFK and Jackie Kennedy at Glover Field on the day the president was assassinated.

The same effects were used for the Presidential encounters in Forrest Gump (1994).

Jurassic Park (1993)

This film from Steven Spielberg was the Academy Award winner for Best Achievement in Visual Effects (defeating The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) and Cliffhanger (1993)).

It mixed animatronic and computer-generated (CGI), photo-realistic dinosaurs - the first of their kind, displayed with textured skin and muscles. The CGI creatures were artificially-generated at Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) and very realistically-rendered and seamlessly integrated within live-action sequences. There were 14 minutes of dinosaur footage in the movie, with only four of those minutes generated by computers. The original plan to use stop-motion versions of dinosaurs was quickly scrapped when CGI became the better option. It was the first major instance of extensively having computer-generated animated characters mixed with live action.

The scenes of the living, eating, and breathing dinosaurs (including the scene of the stampeding herd of Gallimimus) also used mechanical animatronic robots and miniature models in stop-motion, frame-by-frame processing.

The scene of the night-time attack of the T. Rex on a lawyer cowering in a toilet used live action and digitization - the first example of a computer-generated human stunt double, involving hyperrealistic rendering. The T. Rex was shot using 20- and 40- foot tall animatronics. The 20 foot-tall model weighed over 13,000 pounds.

Other models included a Triceratops and Dilophosaurus. As well as CGI and animatronics, the Velociraptors were also men dressed in rubber suits.

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

Tim Burton's masterpiece used sophisticated computer-controlled cameras to execute state-of-the-art camera movement for this feature film's stop-motion animation.

Puppets (built of a foam latex material covering intricate metal armatures) were manipulated frame-by-frame on real miniature sets. The painstaking film took nearly three years to complete (dozens of animators and crew members averaged only 60 seconds of film per week), because each different pose or position equaled a 24th of a second.

The Crow (1994)

Because actor Brandon Lee was unexpectedly and tragically killed on the set just before filming was completed, seven more scenes with him were needed. A body-double stood in for the missing actor - with Lee's face digitally-painted (or composited) on, and other scenes were manipulated.

[The actual filmed death of Brandon Lee was never used in the film.]

The Flintstones (1994)

In this live-action film based upon the 1960s Hanna-Barbera animated TV sit-com, there was the first instance of digital fur rendering - on saber-tooth tiger "Kitty" or Baby Puss - the Flintstones' family cat.

The film ended with Fred Flintstone (John Goodman) attempting to put the cat out, but was put out himself.

Forrest Gump (1994)

Robert Zemeckis' film was an Academy Award winner for Best Achievement in Visual Effects, defeating rivals The Mask (1994) and True Lies (1994), with its incredible computer-digitized effects:

  • Forrest Gump's (Tom Hanks) digitally-composited interplay with historic events (Governor Wallace's standoff in Little Rock and his assassination attempt), including his meeting with three past Presidents (Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon) and other celebrities (Elvis Presley, John Lennon)
  • the removal of Vietnam vet Lt. Dan Taylor's (Gary Sinise) lower legs
  • Gump's playing of a Ping Pong game (with a digitized ball and crowd watching) in China
  • crowd scenes (in the football stadium, and in the political rally in DC), using a replication special-effects technique
  • and the fluttering feather (with the string it was attached to erased) in the film's conclusion

Insektors (1994)

This TV series was the first completely computer-animated cartoon series to be broadcast. It told about two warring anthropomorphic tribes of insects (the Joyces vs. the Yuks). It first aired in France, and was then dubbed into English for US and UK television.

Its appearance was only a few months before another completely-CG animated cartoon series was aired - the full-length Canadian action-adventure series called ReBoot.

The Lion King (1994)

The remarkable wildebeest stampede scene blended 3-D computer animation with traditional animation techniques.

The Mask (1994)

This film combined live-action with cartoons composited onto the frame - (the Mask itself, a cartoon-style gun, etc.). This marked the first instance of visual effects artists turning a live actor into a photo-real cartoon character, or the first film that blended live action with CGI for human effects.

The lead character Jim Carrey was made to appear like the hyperactive cartoon characters of Tex Avery during the golden age of animation, especially in the scene when he wolf-whistled at a pretty woman and his eyes bugged out - looking like the wolf from MGM's and Avery's Red Hot Riding Hood (1943) cartoon.

Red Hot Riding Hood (1943)

Film Milestones in Visual/Special Effects (F/X)
(chronological order by film title)
Introduction | 1880s-1890s | 1900-1905 | 1906-1920 | 1921-1929 | 1930-1939 | 1940-1949 | 1950-1959
1960-1969 | 1970-1974 | 1975-1979 | 1980-1982 | 1983-1985 | 1986-1988 | 1989-1991 | 1992-1994
1995-1996 | 1997-1998 | 1999-2000 | 2001-2002 | 2003-2005 | 2006-2007 | 2008-2009 | 2010-Present

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