Great Moments in Computer Generated Imagery

While I don’t have the problem with CGI that some people do, there are days (and movies) that have me wishing filmmakers would just cut back on it. That said, there are other movies that use it in a truly legitimate way. Smaller movies like Mirrormask are able to bring wild dreams to the screen on a tight budget, and bigger movies like The Dark Knight mix CGI with practical effects to evoke a subtly heightened reality.

And then there are people who put CGI right smack in the middle of the shot and we never notice it. Or I don’t. Well, I do, but only after I have it pointed out to me by a director commentary or something. MOVING ON.

Here are five examples of CGI that totally fooled me. Spoilers ahead. Not obscure ones, but still.

The rat from The Departed


Yeah, okay, this is a minor thing. But I never would have guessed that they couldn’t get a real rat to just run across a porch railing like that. I’m sure there’s a perfectly logical reason why that thing had to be put in later with a computer, but I haven’t done enough digging to find out. But anyway, it looks real to me.

Doc Ock sinks in Spider-man 2


I guess it would have been a little much to ask Alfred Molina to drown himself, just for the sake of a superhero movie. It’s a good thing the wizards behind the computers were up to the challenge. It’s impressive to pull off a ton of nutty action scenes, but slow, dramatic ones present their own challenges. Just look at that shot — how many synthesized extreme closeups do we get that actually work? The only other attempts that spring to mind are in The Matrix Revolutions, and those don’t even come close to Ock’s departure.

C3PO’s plating in Attack of the Clones


I literally just found out about this about a month ago, and it’s what initially sparked the idea for this post. Apparently the original version of Attack of the Clones included a scene in which C3PO was finally given his outer coverings, but it got nixed in the editing process. Unfortunately, Lucas had already shot the bits with a skeletal C3PO in them (I would assume that it’s primarily the first couple of Tatooine scenes). So he got the guys at ILM to simply put a digital C3PO over the original footage, and bam. Fooled me for almost ten years.



It’s gotta be hard to shoot a convincing period piece. Nothing we use today – cars, streets, lampposts – looks exactly like it did thirty years ago. Most moviemakers will rent out some old cars, dress up a couple buildings, maybe drop in an artificial background, and call it a day. Most moviemakers aren’t David Fincher. His repsonse to the challenge of making a historically accurate movie set in 1970s San Francisco was to basically rebuild the whole damn city in a computer. You wouldn’t think a quiet police thriller like Zodiac could be called a visual effects extravaganza, but once you watch them break down the effects that went into it there’s almost no other way to put it.

Spidey dodges bats in Spider-man


And we’re back to Spider-man, this time from the first movie. The shot in question is the super slow-mo shot where we see Spidey dodging a series of the Goblin’s razor bats. Obviously the bats are CG, but I still have trouble coming to terms with the fact that Spider-man is, too. I’m not entirely sure why it was necessary to do it this way. My best guess is that moves like the 360-degree flip he does at the beginning of that shot were too precise to be pulled off by a stuntman. Whatever the reason, I’m pretty sure I saw this movie five times before I found that out, and I still almost don’t believe it.

Any great ones that I missed? Obviously, the theme of the post leaves the possibility wide open. List your favorites in the comments.

Similar Posts


  1. Jeez. I had no clue that much CGI was used for Zodiac. Fincher did something similar with The Social Network. Harvard does not allow anything to be filmed on its campus due to damage sustained by the last film shot there, so they filmed at other schools and used CGI to make backdrops and even buildings match up to Harvard. The result was so good that I have friends at Harvard and another friend at MIT who frequents Harvard who were fooled and thought it was shot on-campus

  2. The company Rainmaker used CG in the Da Vinci Code movie for locations the Vatican wouldn’t allow them to film.

    Even more subtle, there was a shot in the movie Fracture (with Anthony Hopkins) where a camera zooms out of a house. The house was CG, and totally fooled me.

    If you search out demo reels of FX artists’, you’ll find out there is a lot of “good” CG that use the tool sparingly and convincingly.

  3. In 2009’s ‘Star Trek,’ after Kirk gets in a bar fight, he picks up a little salt shaker shaped like an Enterprise ship and shakes some salt out of it.

    Turns out the salt was computer-generated.

  4. There’s a shot in The Machinist where the sky is CGI. Thinking about it, I think they used CGI a lot for street signs and stuff because they shot it in Barcelona I think.

    Also in Jarhead when the guys make scorpions fight, the scorpions are CGI.

  5. Actually, a lot of Zodiac is actually San Francisco. The scene they show here (not the roadside scene) had to be CG because the people that lived there didn’t want them recreating that murder. Still amazing though.

  6. In the c3po video, in 11:30, one of his eyes blink in a way that look like a glitch. And talking about rats the one we see at the very beginning of Daredevil must be cgi too

  7. Kind of figured that Daredevil rat was fake, but not surprised it wasn’t in the list considering the less-than-average opinion of that movie (an opinion I don’t agree with).

  8. wow. you forgot the most important of them all. jurassic park. raptors in the kitchen. trex escaping from its paddock.

    more currently, transformers.

    you can’t spell film without ILM

  9. @Alaric – I’m a fan of Daredevil, too. Well, the Director’s Cut. But I’m going to have to go back and watch the opening again, since for some reason I just can’t call that scene up in my memory.

    @pedro – I think that’s just sunlight glinting off the metal, but I could be wrong.

  10. Many of the scenes in Spiderman were done with a CG spiderman because the director wanted spidey to move in a manner that was more in tune with the comics and thus occasionally put him in positions that were near impossible for a human to achieve.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.