Remember the days when you could easily spot CGI in movies? Unfortunately, they still exist (think Fantastic Four reboot), and we may never be fully rid of them. While there have been some pretty horrible instances of CGI as well as some awesome ones, perhaps the most impressive are the moments where you had no idea computer-generated effects were being used at all.
All explosions, sentient robots and Jar Jar Binks aside, in the hands of an adept filmmaker, CGI can be an indispensable tool for achieving subtle effects to better immerse the audience in a story and its characters. Or tone down a woman’s, erm, features. Really, as those below prove, the possibilities are endless.
Here are 12 Movie Scenes You Never Realized Used CGI.
12. Jessica Alba in Machete
For all those who thought they saw Jessica Alba naked in Machete, we’ve got some bad news. Of course, this may not be a surprise to most, since her appearance in Robert Rodriquez’s exploitation throwback garnered quite a bit of press for seemingly contradicting every claim she had ever made about doing nudity on camera.
While her character may appear to be showering naked, Alba was actually wearing white underwear that was digitally removed in post-production. In what might have been the first use of CGI to this effect, rest assured (or dismayed), faux film nudity is here to stay — but more on that in a moment.
11. Bathtub Baby in A Beautiful Mind
Let’s chalk this one up to scenes where you hoped they used CGI. Russell Crowe’s genius mathematician turned schizophrenic, John Nash, forgets he left his infant son alone in a tub. Slowly the waters rise and the baby starts to submerge. Luckily, director Ron Howard opted out of nearly drowning a baby on film and elected instead to use computer-generated water to make it convincingly appear that there was any real danger.
It comes as no surprise that even movie genres like dramas use CGI (unless you thought Tom Hanks really met both John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon in Forrest Gump), but they are often far more understated than their big-budget sci-fi/superhero counterparts. A Beautiful Mind stands as one of the best examples of films using a surprising amount of CGI to dramatically immerse moviegoers within a story.
10. 1970s San Francisco in Zodiac
While David Fincher is no stranger to CGI, the sex scene in Fight Club or the Winklevoss twins in The Social Network are a little less subtle than his setting for the serial killer thriller Zodiac. In order to transport audiences into an early 1970s San Francisco, Fincher sought as authentic an atmosphere as possible using computer effects, even down to shots of blood instead of using traditional squibs and dyed corn syrup.
The film required practically building the entire city out of 3D generated environments. Whereas some directors might throw in some old cars and period specific decor to make you think you’re in a different time period, the amount of inconspicuous detail that Fincher’s graphics team created for Zodiac is a rare feat.
9. Nicolas Cage’s Abs in Ghost Rider
For a man in his mid-forties, Nicolas Cage was in great shape for the filming of 2007’s Ghost Rider. However, during a shirtless scene when Cage has a funny face contest with himself in a mirror, graphic artists had to digitally remove his tattoos and while they were at it, decided to make his abs look like they’d been put through a cheese shredder.
While it’s not so shocking the ripped stomachs of Gerard Butler and the rest of the 300 Spartans were boosted by makeup and special effects, it seems silly that they used a similar technique on Cage’s Johnny Blaze. Although it may not be evident at first glance, once you know you’re ogling fake Nic Cage abs, it becomes blatantly obvious computers are to blame and not the months of hard work spent training by the actor. Particularly disturbing is the way in which they unnaturally move with a mind of their own, much like Nicolas Cage himself — so yeah, his CGI abs are perfect.
8. Lindsay Lohan’s Breasts in Herbie: Fully Loaded
After test audiences felt Lindsay Lohan’s character was “too raunchy” in the aptly titled Herbie: Fully Loaded, Disney was obviously left with no other option but to digitally reduce the size of her breasts. Don’t worry, it’s not throughout the entire movie, just those scenes where her curved bust was deemed particularly distracting and could warp the mind of young impressionable viewers and their fathers.
Execs have claimed the reports are false, but we’re not buying it. After all, if there’s one thing everyone knows it’s that Disney likes to keep any signs of overt sexuality in their films to a minimum, and instead insert them subliminally.
7. Jennifer Connolly’s Tear in Blood Diamond
As an army of rebel militants close in on a wounded Leonardo DiCaprio stranded in West Africa, he takes a moment to call Jennifer Connelly. On both sides, it is a well-delivered, moving and sad scene. However, for director Edward Zwick, it wasn’t quite sad enough, which is why he had a single tear digitally implanted on his actress’s cheek in post-production.
Usually CGI is used to enhance the visuals of a scene. This instance has the rare infamy of it being used to improve an actor’s performance, probably much to the chagrin of Jennifer Connelly, who we can’t imagine was too thrilled to see this on the big screen.
6. Tobey Maguire’s Hair in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Instead of paying Tobey Maguire the $15,000 fee that his contract required to shave his head, director Terry Gilliam decided to let computers do the work. The result was some truly ridiculous looking hair, that, by today’s standards. appears remarkably real — especially given the fact that the movie came out way back in 1998.
An added benefit was that the wispy mane stayed in place despite riding at high speeds in an open-topped car. On the downside, it almost certainly ended up costing more to do all this than just meet Tobey’s haircutting demands.
5. Johnny Depp’s Eyelids in Dark Shadows
There’s a good chance you never realized Dark Shadows used CGI to digitally remove any and all signs of Johnny Depp blinking, because you probably never saw Dark Shadows. However, for those who did, and anyone else who gets a kick out of seeing what lengths filmmakers will go to make Johnny Depp look creepy, it’s impressive to realize Tim Burton’s dedication.
A VFX team went in and took out 700 shots of eye blinks to make Barnabas seem more vampire-like. Dark Shadows may not be as bad as most believe, but if there’s one reason to watch the film, it’s to witness the seamless use of CGI throughout. And to see if you can catch Johnny Depp blinking.
4. John McClane’s Sign in Die Hard with a Vengeance
Early on in the third entry in the Die Hard series, Detective John McClane is coerced by a vengeful Simon Gruber to go to Harlem and wear a sandwich board brandishing the N-word. In an obviously smart effort to not offend anyone during filming, the sign in reality read, “I Hate Everybody.”
What else can you say except that it was definitely a good idea to not have Bruce Willis walking around in public wearing the sign that appeared in theaters. Samuel L. Jackson’s character leaps to his aid in the movie, but in reality, things would probably go about as well as they do on screen had they elected to use the finished sign during filming.
3. Nudity in The Change-Up
Years of technical advancements in creating computer simulated imagery on film have all been leading up to this one groundbreaking moment — making camera-shy actresses look naked on screen. The filmmakers behind this Jason Bateman/Ryan Reynolds comedy used computers to create the illusion of Leslie Mann and Olivia Wilde’s topless scenes.
Most likely, this is the future of film nudity, especially for those who still want to retain some sense of modesty. A similar technique was recently used, albeit to a much different effect, on Game of Thrones when Cersei was forced to publicly walk nude through King’s Landing.
There are many perfectly good reasons for putting an actor’s face on someone else’s body, as we’ll see in a moment. It’s debatable whether this is one of them, though adolescent moviegoers everywhere would probably disagree.
2. Walkie Talkies in E.T.
Anyone who lived during the 80s might notice a slight difference in E.T. the Extraterrestrial today than the film they knew and loved growing up. Namely, its lack of deadly weapons. In 2002, an alternate version of E.T. was released, having received the George Lucas treatment. So instead of FBI agents in hot pursuit of a runaway Elliott and his friends holding shotguns, we now have FBI agents in hot pursuit holding walkie talkies.
No one likes to have their favorite movies tinkered with, but you can partly see why Steven Spielberg wanted to change this in hindsight. Threatening to use massive shotguns on a ten-year-old boy riding his bike with an elderly-looking mini-alien seems like overkill. But that’s just the 80s for you. Of course, the rest of the alterations they made were entirely unnecessary, like changing one character saying “terrorist” to “hippie,” because obviously those two are pretty much the same thing.
1. Actor’s Faces in Iron Man 3, Gladiator and Jurassic Park
Our last pick is a tie between three films that used the effect of digital face replacement to amazingly, and unnoticeably, make the audience believe an actor was on screen when they weren’t.
When Robert Downey Jr. injured his ankle filming Iron Man 3, rather than postpone production, they opted to continue shooting with a body double and facial captures of the star’s visage. Take a closer look at the final scene when Tony Stark throws his chest piece off a cliff to see fake RDJ in action.
While filming Gladiator, Oliver Reed sadly passed away and was unable to finish his turn as Maximus’ master-turned-trainer, Proximo. Director Ridley Scott was left with the difficult task of seamlessly concluding the story of this important character and also honoring the actor’s final great performance. The best option? Take bits and pieces of Reed’s face from previous scenes, digitally place them on a double and manipulate their movements to coincide with the action on screen.
We end with a film that helped introduce the world to CGI, and one which still holds up to this day. No one would debate that computer graphics are all over 1993’s Jurassic Park, but amidst all those strolling brontosauri and stampeding gallimimus, one might be surprised to learn the dinosaurs weren’t the only ones who got a digital makeover. When Lex falls through an air duct while fleeing a group of raptors, she looks up in terror, only that’s not really her dangling there. The actress’s face was digitally mapped on a body double. Jurassic Park is proof that even when CGI is at its most blatant, we can still miss a blink or two.
Honorable Mention: CGI Myths
There’s nothing like a good rumor to make one consider a movie in a different light or second guess an actor’s bulge. Take one of Hollywood’s most notorious failures, Waterworld, in which it was reported Kevin Costner had his head CGI’d to cover up a receding hairline. Then there’s Jessica Alba again, only this time believed to have had computer generated tears so she could “cry pretty” in Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. Or our personal favorite, that VFX artists had to reduce the size of Brandon Routh’s crotch using a little CPU shrinkage when he donned the Man of Steel’s red and blue tights in Superman Returns. As much as we wish these stories were true, they seem to be nothing more than digital fabrications.
Do you know of any other instances of hidden digital trickery that we missed? Tell us in the comments below.