When it comes to costume design in movies, it used to be the case that filmmakers were limited by what could be achieved using real-world fabrics and prosthetics. Basically, if a design couldn’t be made using existing materials – and even if it could be made, if it was too unwieldy to actually wear – it was back to the drawing board!
Following the advent of computer generated imagery, however, all of that changed. Now, whatever costume designers can dream up can theoretically be made a reality, thanks to the magic of visual effects. Indeed, in a post-CGI world, actors regularly find themselves attired in the most otherworldly clothing imaginable, especially those starring in fantasy and sci-fi outings.
However, while the current trend towards CGI costumes has yielded some truly breathtaking results – bringing to life characters we never expected to see in a live-action film – more than a few have fallen flat.
Typically, this is because either the digital “tailoring” and “make-up” involved failed to convincingly portray whatever it was intended to mimic, or it’s because the end product wasn’t aesthetically pleasing. Either way, this usually suggests that the filmmakers might have been better off going down a more traditional route!
Here are 6 Terrible CGI Costumes That Ruined Movies (And 9 That Are Amazing).
Where better to start than with the infamous all-digital superhero togs worn by Ryan Reynolds in the disastrous Green Lantern flick – arguable the poster child for bad CGI costumes! Up front, we should say that costume designer Ngila Dickson is something of a creative genius – she’s the Oscar-winning seamstress behind many of the costumes in the Lord of the Rings trilogy – and the logic underpinning her Green Lantern suit is unsurprisingly solid.
After all, if Hal Jordan’s outfit is meant to be a construct generated by his power ring (rather than a physical cloth spandex), it stands to reason that it shouldn’t appear to be fabricated out of anything originating on Earth. Even so, while this is a nifty idea on paper, the visual effects artists weren’t able to accurately realize Dickson’s vision, and the end result was painfully unconvincing and cartoonish – especially the mask, which doesn’t even adhere to our hero’s face believably.
Fan backlash against this suit was severe, and they weren’t alone, either. Reynolds would later publicly denounce his CGI costume, going so far as to famously mock it in his next superhero flick, Deadpool!
Even in this brave new world of visual effects-heavy filmmaking, there will always be a place for talented make-up and prosthetics artists and designers. Think about it: these gifted guys and gals practice a craft that’s been continually evolving pretty much since film itself began in order to create fantastical beings as in-camera effects!
That said, even the proudest make-up artist would concede that there are some things that CGI can achieve that would be extremely difficult, if not downright impossible to do with silicone and latex. Such is the case with Pirates of the Caribbean baddie Davy Jones, whose marine-based physiology could only ever have been created in a computer.
Sure, the filmmakers could have glued a beard of tentacles to Bill Nighy’s face and fitted various sea life-inspired appendages over the actor’s arms and legs. But the finished product would have been far less realistic and dynamic than the Oscar-winning, fully digital costume (minus the eyes) developed by legendary effects house ILM.
The Star Wars prequels come in for a lot of flack. For a perfect example of this, look no further than the clone troopers in Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. The forerunners of the original trilogy’s stormtroopers, the clones could easily have been portrayed by stuntmen clad in plastic armor as in those films. Instead, Lucas opted to go down an entirely digital route.
Now, by and large, these guys actually look fine – we’re sure the average viewer barely noticed they weren’t watching an actual performer on screen. The CGI costuming decision also makes sense from both a financial standpoint (less kit to make) and as an exercise in continuity – as clones, these guys should all be the same height and weight, to be fair.
Yet this ignores the shots of helmet-less troopers, which look unspeakably awkward due to the unwise decision to attach Temuera Morrison’s real head to an obviously fake body. Jeez, George: couldn’t you have built at least one costume?
When Captain America: Civil War arrived in cinemas back in 2016, everyone was blown away by Chadwick Boseman’s turn as Black Panther. Fast forward a few weeks after the film’s release, and everyone was knocked off their feet a second time, when Marvel revealed that the Black Panther costume was entirely digitally rendered!
Whilst Boseman did indeed wear an already awesome-looking costume on set, according to the filmmakers this was replaced with a CGI version in pretty much every single frame it appears in. The reason for this ostensibly needless use of visual effects wizardry? It was the best way to incorporate the subtle, shimmering effect of the vibranium mesh weave specified by costume designer Judianna Makovsky.
Despite representing a relatively minor aesthetic enhancement, the all-digital Black Panther outfit was worth the effort. It’s unique texture allows it to stand apart from the regular MCU superhero jumpsuit, ranking as the finest of the several CGI costumes seen in Civil War.
As the past few entries have illustrated, more often than not, the most successful CGI costumes are those that achieve a unique, memorable look, yet don’t call attention to their artificial nature. So it was with Ex Machina’s robotic female lead Ava, whose striking look is the perfect example of using extensive digital effects augmentation to create an impossible outfit.
Using cutting edge filmmaking technology, visual effects artists were able to replace large sections of actress Alicia Vikander’s body with cybernetic components, the most notable of which being a translucent torso.
Maybe the most impressive accomplishment of all was that the techniques used ensured that Vikander’s on-set performance was captured exactly the same way as any other live-action film – nothing was sacrificed for the sake of the effects!
When the casting of Cate Blanchett as Hela in Thor: Ragnarok was first announced, most fans no doubt assumed that the Goddess of Death was unlikely to appear an outfit closely resembling her comic book clobber. While Marvel had done an admirable job of faithfully translating the outlandish kit of Asgardians like Thor and Loki onto the big screen, Hela’s ensemble – and its outrageous headdress – seemed a Bifrost bridge too far.
And yet, thanks to digital effects, that’s exactly what we got: a comics-accurate Hela, right down to her crazy headgear in all its gravity-defying glory!
However, there’s more to Hela’s CGI attire than just her ungainly bonnet – an understated, pulsating, toxic-green energy courses the length of Blanchett’s body as well, adding to her sinister air. That said, if this digital costume has a shortcoming, it’s the CG cape, which occasionally looks more than a little fake, but this is ultimately a minor quibble in the larger scheme of things.
At this point in the list, it’s worth acknowledging just how far CGI-enhanced costumes have come. Back in the '90s, studios were just starting to experiment with the cool new toy that was digital effects, and this extended to actors’ outfits. Whilst these efforts were commendably ahead of their time, the technology just wasn’t there yet to believably craft artificial clothing.
Just take the digital cape featured in Spawn, which – unlike the superhero’s practical bodysuit – has aged terribly! As with the costume in Green Lantern, the rationale behind Spawn’s CGI cloak – which attempts to ape the distinctive artistic sensibilities of his creator, Todd McFarlane, and ties into the suit’s demonic roots – holds up. What doesn’t hold up is the actual execution of the cape, which screamed “fake” at the time, and looks laughably cartoonish by modern standards.
2013 Best Picture nominee Gravity seamlessly integrated visual effects into a whopping 80% of the film’s screentime – and yes, this definitely included CGI costumes!
True, as Doctor Ryan Stone, Sandra Bullock did wear a practical spacesuit, manufactured by costume designer Jany Temime, in several scenes. At the same time, a hefty number of shots feature a totally digital digital replacement of Bullock’s entire body from the neck down (costume included), although we’d bet hardly anyone could tell.
As an interesting side note, while Gravity has generally been praised by critics and academics alike for its overall scientific accuracy, one area where the filmmakers took considerable liberty was in the costume department. As Temime explained in an interview, real spacesuits don’t open at the front, however as this was something the story required, Bullock’s real and artificial suits do.
We hinted at it earlier, but Black Panther wasn’t the only character in Civil War sporting digital duds – MCU newcomer Spider-Man was, too!
Although the initial plan was for incoming wall-crawler Tom Holland to wear a proper superhero spandex, apparently it turned out to be much easier to craft Spidey’s costume from digital threads. A big part of this decision came down to Spider-Man only appearing in costume during the airport showdown action set piece, meaning our hero was going to wind up being mostly a visual effects creation anyway!
Fortunately, the end results are very convincing – especially the eye-pieces, which brilliantly capture webhead’s iconic lenses from the comics – and once again, we’re confident not many viewers cottoned on to this being a CGI costume. That said, despite this being another well-executed digital outfit, we’re still glad that Marvel went with a predominantly real outfit for Holland’s first full outing as the character in Spider-Man: Homecoming!
This might seem a little bit harsh – after all, you’d expect the furry star of a live-action Beauty and the Beast film to be realized with visual effects, wouldn’t you? Well, we’re not taking Disney to task for opting to go down the computerized route on this occasion, merely pointing out the end result is less than wonderful. Granted, some of the shots of Beast look better than others, and even the least impressive looking shots aren’t absolutely awful.
Yet all the same, the CGI used to transform Dan Stevens into the Beast are rarely all that convincing, and a strong argument could be made in favor of using prosthetics – or possibly just less rushed digital effects – instead. Oh, and for what it’s worth, if you haven’t already checked out the hilarious behind-the-scenes footage of poor Stevens on set in a super-sized mocap suit, go and do it now!
Man of Steel proved to be highly divisive take on the Superman mythos, but one aspect of the movie nobody seemed to mind was would-be tyrant General Zod’s CGI battledress. Eschewing the simple black jumpsuit worn by Terence Stamp’s Zod in Superman II, costume designers James Acheson and Michael Wilkinson instead devised an imposing suit of armor in keeping with film’s grounded vision for Superman’s homeworld of Krypton.
By constructing the costume digitally, Acheson and Wilkinson avoided weighing actor Michael Shannon down with a heavy wardrobe, and together with the visual effects team, they achieved a result that looks utterly authentic, without restricting the star’s movement. Paradoxically alien yet familiar, Zod’s armor never once gives us reason to question its realness, so kudos to all involved!
When Iron Man first flew onto the big screen back in 2008, the superhero’s high-tech outfit was brought to life via a combination of practical and CGI costuming.
As you’d expect, the scenes featuring Robert Downey Jr. in a full-scale or even partial suit of armor were relatively few in number, given the amount of fighting and flying his character was required to do. Luckily, digital effects had reached a point were an incredibly realistic digital version of Iron Man’s suit could be superimposed over top of Downey without ever calling attention to itself.
In fact, in subsequent Iron Man and Avengers outings, the CGI costume has grown so sophisticated, the actor rarely (if ever) has to wear any of the cumbersome practical outfit at all.
If there’s a recurring theme running through this list, it’s that CGI costumes should only really be employed when a real-world solution would be impossible. This was especially the case back in the '90s, since (as we’ve discussed previously) the fledgling technology really wasn’t yet up to the challenge.
Nowhere was this more apparent than in slasher flick Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later, where villain Michael Myers’ iconic “Shape” mask was rendered via digital effects in close up scenes that couldn’t be re-shot for whatever reason. It turns out that there were issues with the on-set masks used during filming – the studio demanded the design be changed – so this was arguably a necessary fix.
But frankly, the CGI mask looks creepy (and not for the right reasons), and the filmmakers might have been better off leaving the existing physical version in place!
Yet another suit of superhero armor, the protective gear worn by the Dark Knight for his face-off against the Man of Steel in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was built almost entirely with a computer. Admittedly, a practical version was fabricated and seems to have been used for at least a few scenes, presumably when Batman isn’t moving around too much.
However, for the vast majority of sequences in which it appears, Batman’s armor was actually a highly convincing CGI costume, which deserves particular praise for its metallic textures. This makes sense, as the real-world equivalent of this kit would be unspeakably heavy and physically restrictive, whereas realizing it digitally allowed star Ben Affleck and the stunt team to perform Batman’s fighting moves with ease.
As with the Star Wars prequels, Peter Jackson’s return to Middle-earth with the Hobbit trilogy came under fire for being overly reliant on visual effects technology. One of the biggest complaints was lobbied against The Battle of the Five Armies – specifically, the seemingly inexplicable decision to replace Billy Connolly’s Dain Ironfoot with a completely digital duplicate!
Whilst the dwarvish warrior was always going to be animated with CGI for the film’s battle sequences, fans and critics alike were baffled by the choice to paint over a veteran performer like Connolly. This was even more the case when it came to light that the Scottish comedian had filmed his scenes in costume, and that the results were more than serviceable!
In the end, it appears it was Connolly’s ill-health that motivated this creative choice, as he was unavailable for necessary re-shoots, meaning his digital double was promoted to the big time! The Dain CGI rendering isn’t the worst out there by any means. Yet it still falls within the “uncanny valley” that plagues unconvincing digital characters, and – along with the CGI orcs that replaced prosthetic-clad actors used previously – adds to the sense of “effects overload” in this newer trilogy.
Agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comments!