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

Babe (1995)

Revolutionary computer effects made it the Oscar winner for Best Achievement in Visual Effects, defeating the other nominee Apollo 13 (1995).

The lips of animals moved in sync with speech, digitally-modified, so it looked like they were really talking.

Batman Forever (1995)

In this comic-book film adaptation directed by Joel Schumacher, digital stunt doubles were used for intense action sequences.

The same technique was becoming increasingly used in films, such as in Judge Dredd (1995).


Casper (1995)

This was the first feature-length film with a digitally-created, CGI character that took a leading role (almost 40 minutes of film time).

The computer-generated, translucent image of the 'friendly spirit' (from the Harvey Comics' character Casper the Friendly Ghost) - was the first fully synthetic speaking character with a natural and distinct personality expressing emotion.

The City of Lost Children (1995, Fr.) (aka La Cité des Enfants Perdus)

This surreal French film, by co-directors Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet, reportedly had the greatest number of digital special effects, of the greatest length, ever made to date by a wholly French film crew. It was a dream fantasy science fiction tale about a dystopian world, in which a morose, bald-headed and mad scientist named Krank (Daniel Emilfork) lived in a laboratory located on a coastal oil rig surrounded by a minefield. He suffered from a lack of dreaming, and had grown prematurely old (and wanted to slow his aging), so he went about kidnapping innocent young children from their homes to extract and steal their dreams, often while wearing a Santa Claus outfit.

The opening credits sequence, in which multiple Santas invaded a young boy's bedroom employed a special effect known as 'warping' to produce a nightmarish effect (causing the image to bend, warp, and distort) - it was also used in the film's final dream sequence. The kidnappings were performed by Krank's hired blind cultish group of 'Cyclops' (possessing a mechanical, video-camera third eye or Optacon, worn over their left eye, to provide vision) - their viewpoints were seen in greenish POV shots.

Special effects shots were also used to multiply the image of Krank's six narcoleptic cloned assistants (Dominique Pinon) within a single shot or scene, and also used in the sequence of a flea (magnified in size) unleashed by an opium-addicted circus owner/organ-grinder to inject victims with a toxin that caused them to become violent. There were also some morphing sequences, changing individual's faces from old to young and vice-versa.

The film's main story was about the kidnapping of a fearless blonde 5 year-old orphan or 'little brother' named Denree (Joseph Lucien) and the efforts of a silent, kind-hearted sideshow Strongman named One (Ron Perlman) and precocious 9 year-old Miette (Judith Vittet), the leader of an orphan band, to rescue the boy, by finding their way into Krank's laboratory. One of the film's most remarkable sequences was the Rube Goldberg-like chain of events of a teardrop, ultimately causing a freighter to crash into a pier. The sequence of events follows:

  • One was turned violent after being infected by the flea, and he slapped Miette across the face
  • Her teardrop (CGI) flew out of her eye and was propelled into a spider-web
  • The web shimmered in the light, which reflected onto a sleeping green parrot with an orange beak
  • The parrot was awakened and chirped
  • The chirping annoyed a sleeping golden retriever which began barking
  • The barking angered a homeless man who threw an empty wine bottle at the dog to get it to stop barking
  • The bottle missed and crashed near a seagull
  • The startled seagull flew away and pooped in mid-air
  • The poop hit the windshield of a passing truck, and blocked the driver's vision
  • The driver crashed his truck into a fire hydrant
  • The fire hydrant burst and caused a giant waterspout
  • The water flooded the street, entered a sewage drain, and carried three rats on a tin plate into Chez Rosette nightclub
  • Top-less nightclub performers, scared by the rats, exited screaming into the street
  • The topless women distracted an electrician working on a nearby telephone pole, causing a giant spark
  • The city's electricity was accidentally shut off
  • The lack of power and black-out (for a lighthouse) caused a freighter navigating through the fog to crash into the pier
  • The pier was destroyed, and One and Miette were thrown into the water - restoring everything to normal


Optacon vision



Start of Teardrop Sequence


Jumanji (1995)

This fantasy movie featured an amazing stampede scene with dozens of elephants, rhinos, zebras and pelicans - all computer-generated by ILM, during a rampage through town.

The special-effects company also created the first computer-generated (CG), synthetic, photo-realistic hair and fur for the digital lion and bright-orange-colored monkeys (in the chaotic kitchen scene) in this film.

Toy Story (1995)

This was the first feature-length film made entirely by computer animation, also fully 3-D, with a collaboration between Pixar (its debut film) and Disney Studios.

[Note: It was followed by an equally-successful sequel Toy Story 2 in 1999.]

Waterworld (1995)

This film contained the first photo-realistic CG water effects.

Dragonheart (1996)

This 10th century fantasy fable, Oscar-nominated for Best Visual Effects, featured the first use of CARIcature software for the state-of-the-art digital animation seen in the film.

It was used to create a very complex CG film character - a talking dragon, named Draco (with realistic facial animation and expressions, and voice provided by Sean Connery), an 18 ft. tall, 43 foot long creature, that helped knight Bowen (Dennis Quaid) to defeat an evil tyrant.

The dragon was expertly produced by Industrial Light and Magic (Phil Tippett and others) as a 3D digital character, using CARI software that allowed animators to animate a fast-rendered version of the model, instead of animating to wire-frame models.

[Note: See Mars Attacks! (1996) (below) which used the same process.]

Independence Day (1996)

This blockbuster disaster film was the winner in the Academy Award race for Best Achievement in Visual Effects (defeating Twister (1996) and Dragonheart (1996)).

A remake, unofficially, of the original The War of the Worlds (1953), this world doomsday film displayed a monstrous, asteroid-sized UFO that entered Earth's atmosphere, and a spectacular, well-publicized scene of the destruction of the White House (a 1/12th model), filmed with 9 cameras. $75 million was spent on models and miniatures (the film had more miniature model work than any other film up to its time).

CGI work included the depiction of F-18 Hornets, debris, alien attackers, missiles, and light balls.

Mars Attacks! (1996)

The highly-realistic aliens in Tim Burton's science-fiction comedy were all-digital, CGI animated creations, rather than stop-motion puppets.

They were produced with the same CARI software used in Dragonheart (1996), courtesy of Industrial Light & Magic (ILM). The CG aliens were then composited (and integrated) into miniatures of the interiors of spaceships.

Space Jam (1996)

This Warner Bros.' film combined traditionally-animated Looney Tunes characters (such as Daffy Duck) within a live-action film. The film was inspired by a series of Nike commercials featuring Bugs Bunny and Michael Jordan.

[Note: The iconic characters would later star with Brendan Fraser in Looney Tunes: Back in Action (2003).]

Twister (1996)

Although nominated for the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects, along with Dragonheart (1996), both were defeated by Independence Day (1996).

This was a phenomenal special-effects film with incredible atmospheric FX (digital tornadoes, such as the film's 200 foot tower of wind) produced by ILM, including many hand-held camera shots taken through windshields at composited CGI animated tornadoes.

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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