10 Best Visual Effects in Movies in the Last Decade

Wednesday, January 6, 2010 at 4:22 pm

To earn a spot on this list of the 10 Best Visual Effects in Movies in the Last Decade, a film had to run through an intimidating gauntlet of contenders.  This is due to the many innovations that have been introduced into filmmaking in the previous 10 years.

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Visual effects can be broken down into four categories:

While the competition was stiff, the following movies produced visual effects that were either iconic or close to technically flawless.  Your opinion may differ, however, so be sure to give your own thoughts in our comments section or on our movie forum.

Avatar – James Cameron’s blockbuster epic set new standards for visual effects at the tail end of the decade.  Just a few of the innovations include advanced motion-capture animation technology and improved full performance capture.  That may sound like a lot of mumbo jumbo, but just one look at Avatar should tell you that Cameron is on to something.  The techniques used in this film will continue to be perfected for years to come.

2012 – When the shit hits the fan, it really hits hard in this film from Roland Emmerich.  After taking time to set up the premise, the rest of the movie is dedicated to the destruction of Earth.  Los Angeles falls into the Pacific, earthquakes kill billions, and a megatsunami wipes out the President of the United States.  Mass destruction never looked so good, and it’s certainly deserving of a spot on any list of 10 best visual effects in movies in the last decade.

The Matrix – There were plenty of impressive visual moments in The Matrix, but none has been more influential than the use of “bullet time,” a technique that allows the viewer to orbit around a slow-motion event in normal speed.  While the impact may have quieted down in the last few years, think back to all the movies and commercial that used this technique ad nauseam around the turn of the millennium.

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings – One of the greatest achievements of this film was the ability to make the Hobbit actors appear much smaller than the performers around them.   This was done through the use of duplicate sets, large and small scale doubles, and even forced perspective.  The result is an immersive experience, allowing the viewer to become completely engrossed in the authenticity of events on the screen.  And don’t forget about the film’s impressive opening battle sequence, where an innovative CGI system dubbed “MASSIVE” allowed thousands of animated warriors to act independently.

King Kong – Men stumble around Skull Island and get devoured by prehistoric monsters.  A giant ape runs loose in the city of New York.  Is there any doubt why this one made the list?

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World – To depict naval combat during the Napoleonic Wars, the filmmakers used a real-life ship at sea, a full-size replica in a massive water tank, and a scale model.  The results are fantastic, allowing director Peter Weir to give audiences an up-close look at the brutal nature of life on the high seas in the early 19th century.

Spider-Man 2 – A hero who slings webs and sails through the New York skyline takes on a villain who wields four deadly mechanical tentacles.  Their various pursuits and battles never look fake, a large part of the reason why this film received the Academy Award for Visual Effects in 2004.

Star Wars Episode II: The Attack of the Clones – The technology on this film was so advanced that traditional storyboards weren’t even used.  Instead, production assistants and family members acted out scenes in front of a green screen, rough background footage was added in, and then the whole thing was sent off to Lucas for his notes and approval.  Massive battles using nothing but CGI were pulled off seamlessly, and even a showdown between Yoda and an 80-year-old Christopher Lee comes off as dramatic.

Gladiator - From recreating the Colosseum to turning 2,000 actors into a crowd of 35,000, Gladiator is filled with all manner of visual effects wizardry.  When actor Oliver Reed died of a heart attack before filming was complete, the filmmakers were even able to use a digital body double to finish out his remaining scenes.  The above artistry, combined with a number of thrilling fight sequences, helped earn this Ridley Scott film an Oscar for Best Visual Effects in 2001.

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King – If you thought the first film in the series had impressive visual effects, then get a load of this one.  The Return of the King has three times the visual effects shots of the first (a total of 1,488), many of which come during the stirring battle of Pelennor Fields.  A 1:72 scale miniature of Minas Tirith was also made, and the film makes frequent use of morphs between actors and their digital counterparts.  That makes three Peter Jackson films on this list, and The Two Towers could’ve easily made a fourth.

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While it’s great to be deemed among the 10 best visual effects in movies in the last decade, some films rely more on characterization.  That’s where Movie Characters.org, comes in.  They take a daily look at the great movie characters of all time, even breaking it down by individual actors or actresses (such as Brad Pitt, Will Smith, and Julia Roberts).  If cool movie characters are your thing, be sure to click on the link and give it a try.

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, January 6th, 2010 at 4:22 pm and is filed under Thoughts on Film. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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