Computer generated imagery can get a bad wrap from film audiences and critics – but make no mistake: when used correctly, CGI is an incredibly valuable tool for filmmakers.
Notice we specified “when used correctly?” That’s because effects artists are being allocated less and less time to properly finish their work, resulting in incomplete visual effects making it into the final cut.
It’s not just increasingly tight production schedules that are responsible for CGI goofs ending up on the big screen, either. Over the years, directors have also turned to digital effects to achieve things not actually possible with the technology (or budget) available at the time, which has inevitably caused headaches.
Sometimes this has happened because the director genuinely believed that CGI would yield convincing results – only to find that this optimism is unfounded when error-riddled effects are completed. But more and more filmmakers have developed a bad “we’ll fix it in post” habit, which assumes that VFX experts are, in fact, wizards, capable of transforming hastily shot footage via magic.
Whatever the reason, the outcome has invariably been the same: movies being released in theatres with scenes containing flawed CGI. Fortunately, many of these digital flubs go unnoticed, as they’re typically only onscreen for a few seconds. However, in an era when hardcore cinema buffs have ready access to high resolution versions of their favorite films, few of these gaffes stay hidden for long.
With this in mind, here’s a list of 20 CGI Movie Mistakes That Fans Completely Missed.
20 Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge Of The Sith
The Star Wars prequels cop plenty of flak regarding director George Lucas’ overuse of digital effects, but in fairness, some of the work on display here still holds up remarkably well. Unfortunately, that doesn’t apply to several digital head replacement shots scattered throughout Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith – most notably those featuring Chancellor Palpatine in the latter film.
These shots – which were likely rushed, due to a mix-up over how much on-set swordplay elderly actor Ian McDiarmid would be participating in – range from off-model to downright creepy.
On the plus side, most of them fall under the “blink and you’ll miss it” category, but will likely make you do a double-take!
19 Justice League
When Justice League came out, everyone rightly focused on the botched visual effects used to remove Henry Cavill’s moustache, which meant they overlooked other goofs.
A great example of this is a scene between Cavill’s Superman and Amy Adams’ Lois Lane, which takes place in a cornfield.
With Cavill’s digitally deformed upper lip dominating proceedings, it’s easy to miss that both Cavill and Adams were obviously composited into the scene, and never set foot in a cornfield. Or perhaps they did, but as with much of the film, last minute reshoots demanded that additional coverage was filmed in front of a green screen, which also explains why the CGI is so sloppy.
At the risk of tipping a sacred cow – and incurring the wrath of the millions of fans who made this Disney animated flick a billion dollar smash-hit – there’s a pretty big CGI goof in Frozen. Compounding matters, this mistake occurs during Elsa’s showstopping “Let It Go” number, arguably the most beloved moment in the entire film.
Admittedly, it’s kind of hard to notice – so if you’re happy with your perfect memories of the movie, we recommend you stoppreading now.
If you’re still with us, we’re guessing you don’t care that when Elsa lets down her hair, it moves from her back to her chest in a manner that suggests it cuts straight through her shoulder!
The Na’vi – those big-eyed, blue-skinned aliens at the centre of James Cameron’s 3D epic Avatar – are 9 to 10 feet tall. They’re considerably larger in height and build than a human, and this is something that the film’s VFX consistently adheres to-- mostly.
One scene near the end throws the careful scaling between both species out of whack: when human protagonist Jake Sully caresses his Na’vi lover Neyteri’s face.
Here, Jake’s hand should be much smaller than it’s depicted – although the emotional undercurrent of the scene makes this discrepancy easy to miss. Here's hoping Cameron nails the CGI in all of his planned Avatar sequels.
Sometimes, the CGI in a scene works fine – until you realize that it doesn’t properly fit with the live-action elements it’s supposed to be enhancing. Need an example? How about in Sam Raimi’s first Spider-Man film, which includes a memorable close-up of our hero and Mary-Jane swinging across New York City’s skyline.
The compositing work here is flawless, however the actual background plates don’t match up with MJ’s hair.
Seriously: actress Kirsten Dunst’s locks are clearly being blown in the oppposite direction by wind machines! This may have been an aesthetic choice on Raimi’s part, but it’s still wrong all the same.
15 X-Men Origins: Wolverine
The unbreakable metal claws that pop out of Wolverine’s fists in the X-Men franchise are one of those effects that are cinch to achieve practically. That’s why this approach was taken wherever possible across the character’s multiple appearances in the franchise – although sadly, this doesn’t apply to X-Men Origins: Wolverine.
Here, the stabby protrusions that extend from actor Hugh Jackman’s hands are often inexplicably rendered with CGI, with several shots looking quite shoddy indeed.
What’s more, there are several instances where Wolverine’s claws should have inflicted visible damage on surfaces he's gouged, but no corresponding digital claw marks appear.
It’s hard to knock the top-notch CGI used to realize god-like superhero Doctor Manhattan in Watchmen – it’s about as close to believable as a blue, glowing, jacked-up guy is going to get. For the most part, the visual effects artists even avoided the “Uncanny Valley,” the unsettling sensation caused by overly human-looking digital performers.
So what is the mistake here?
In a handful of shots, the VFX team forgot to replace the reflection of actor Billy Crudup with that of Manhattan.
Need proof? Check out a close-up of Nite Owl – chances are Crudup (dressed in his illuminated motion capture suit) will be staring back at you from Nite Owl’s goggle lenses, not Manhattan.
13 The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy was hailed as achieving the perfect balance between practical effects and CG wizardry. Unfortunately, the practical effect aspect was too absent from his follow-up Hobbit outings.
For example: the army of elven warriors seen in The Battle of the Five Armies, who were predominantly brought to life via digital effects, even in close ups.
Now, the visual effects here aren’t actually too bad, although the elves are still clearly not portrayed by flesh-and-blood stuntmen, which is distracting. The real gaffe made by Jackson and the team at Weta Digital is that each and every one of these CG warriors has identical facial features.
12 The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2
The Twilight franchise is decidedly not for everyone, but those who love, it really love it. As such, they were probably having too much of a good time during Breaking Dawn: Part 2 to notice that CGI baby Renesmee doesn’t just look fake, but flat-out sinister.
She's less Renesmee, and more Rosemary's Baby!
Yes, trying to create a believable otherworldly baby with digital effects was always going to be an uphill battle, so we’re not trying to dismiss the efforts of the artists involved. Even setting aside the technological limitations no doubt at play here, it’s hard not to treat Renesmee’s inadvertent creepiness as anything less than a mistake.
11 Toy Story
The thing about a fully animated family feature like the first Toy Story is that – because it was created entirely inside a computer – any errors it contains are automatically CGI mistakes. If the set undergoes an impossible alteration from one shot to the next, that would definitely sit under this umbrella.
As it happens, that’s exactly what this entry is all about: the moment when Woody’s allies pull a light fixture through a hole at Sid’s house and the plot requires said hole to expand.
Otherwise, the light fixture could never fit through the clearly much smaller space. However, Toy Story is such a blast, we doubt audiences would care, even if they did notice!
10 Fantastic Four
Production on the 2015 Fantastic Four reboot was troubled, to put it mildly, and this translated into many, many issues with the version ultimately released in theatres.
One of the less noticeable of these issues relates to the Human Torch’s CGI flames.
He has a tendency to ignite and extinguish himself randomly from shot to shot.
Admittedly, this is more of a continuity complaint than an outright digital effects flub, but as it relates primarily to a CGI element, it earns a place on this list.
After all, in these instances, Johnny Storm’s powers were either added when they shouldn’t have been, or shouldn’t have been added when they were!
9 The Matrix
When cyber-messiah Neo defies the laws of physics by dodging a hail of incoming gunfire in the first Matrix, it represents one of the coolest moments in cinema history. Indeed, it’s such a breathtaking scene that many viewers failed to notice that the SWAT officers previously dispatched by Neo and Trinity have vanished completely during the transition to a CGI environment.
What’s more, Neo’s discarded handguns have likewise disappeared from where he threw them moments before. Even Trinity’s absence is a bit suspect, although its possible she’s taken refuge in a hiding place just out of frame.
Maybe it's all just a glitch in the Matrix?
8 Star Wars: Episode II - Attack Of The Clones
Here's another CGI foul-up from the Star Wars prequels, this time appearing in Attack of the Clones.
As part of a “romantic” moment between Anakin Skywalker and Padmé Amidala, Anakin uses his mystical Force powers to levitate a piece of pear-like fruit onto Padmé’s fork.
As you’d expect, the pear was created using visual effects – something that becomes abundantly clear when Padmé goes to eat it. Or rather, it becomes clear just before she goes to eat it.
If you pay attention to the fruit itself, you’ll notice that a bite-sized chunk of it disappears a millisecond before Padmé actually sinks her teeth into it!
7 The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
We’ve already acknowledged the celebrated marriage of digital and practical effects in The Lord of the Rings trilogy – but that doesn’t mean director Peter Jackson always got it 100% right.
Take the battle between our heroes and an army of orcs riding wolf-like wargs in The Two Towers, for example.
Early on in this skirmish, the Legolas who leaps into battle isn’t actually Orlando Bloom, but rather his digital stand-in.
It’s easy to miss – a warg attacking a horse and rider dominates the shot, and Legolas is quite small in the frame – but eagle-eyed viewers weren’t fooled.
Still, we’d wager that thanks to both of these factors, Jackson largely got away with this somewhat clunky CG trickery.
6 Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
As is commonplace with films released in the early 2000s, time has not been kind to many of the digital effects in the first Harry Potter film, The Sorcerer’s Stone.
The scene where Harry, Hermione and Ron confront a troll in the girl’s bathroom at Hogwarts epitomizes the movie’s CGI flaws.
Sure, the cartoonish creature effects are hard to miss, but did you spot the less-than-magical digital double substituted in for actor Daniel Radcliffe when Harry clings to the troll’s back?
Mercifully, these shots are fairly brief, but to a modern eye, Radcliffe’s unconvincing CGI stand-in is nevertheless painfully obvious.
5 Tron: Legacy
On the one hand, the visual effects artistry involved with creating a younger version of actor Jeff Bridges in Tron: Legacy deserves plenty of kudos. In many scenes, it’s nearly impossible to tell that villain Clu isn’t portrayed by Bridges himself, but rather a digital head on a stand-in body.
On the other hand, the CGI employed here – while cutting edge for 2010 – is plagued with minor issues that can make Clu’s facial performance seem a bit off.
Take the virtual baddie’s big pre-invasion speech, for example. You might not know what exactly is wrong here – for the record, it’s Clu’s unnatural mouth movements – but subconsciously, you can recognize that something isn't quite right.
4 Escape From L.A.
John Carpenter’s sequel to Escape from New York – the inventively titled Escape from L.A. – was produced on a significantly higher budget than its predecessor, over a decade later. With all that money – not to mention 15 years worth of advances in CGI technology – surely the compositing on in the tsunami surfing scene should be more seamless?
True, digital effects were still relatively new at the time, so maybe the filmmakers couldn’t do any better.
All the same, Kurt Russell’s Snake Plissken and Peter Fonda’s Pipeline could have been better integrated with the gigantic wave behind them, and revisiting the scene, this feels like a botch job.
3 Lost In Space
The 1998 big screen version of Lost in Space received a mauling from critics and underperformed at the box office, so it seems a little unkind to add to the filmmakers’ woes. Nevertheless, it’s our sad duty to highlight yet another way in which they dropped the ball: visible green screens.
That’s right: the mistake here is not poorly executed visual effects, but the absence of any effects at all!
The incomplete scenes take place on spaceship the Jupiter 2, with the windows at the very edge of certain shots displaying green screens, and not the majesty of space like they should.
2 Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
It’s easy to forget that even relatively low budget, critically-acclaimed dramas like Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri feature digital effects shots – though far fewer than an action blockbuster. While the CGI employed is almost always intended to be far more subtle, as Three Billboards illustrates, that doesn’t mean the mistakes are impossible to catch.
Consider the scene where Frances McDormand’s Mildred Hayes encounters a wild deer. The visual effects artists needed to incorporate a deer filmed at Western North Carolina Nature Center with McDormand’s performance filmed in nearby Black Mountain.
This isn’t something that will surprise those with sharp eyesight, as subtle differences in lighting provide the tell-tale signs of digital compositing.
1 In Time
Sci-fi thriller In Time, starring Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried, is a largely forgettable affair, as the lukewarm critical and commercial response it received can attest. Still, the movie’s visual effects are generally solid-- except for its fateful car crash sequence.
Frankly, everything about this set piece is a let down – the vehicle itself looks and behaves like a toy car, for one thing – but one minor detail we’ve picked up is especially bad.
If you pay careful attention just before the car comes to a stop, you’ll notice that passengers Will and Sylvia seem to vanish for a few frames.
What are some other CGI mistakes left in movies that fans completely missed? Let us know in the comments!