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Cinema's Greatest Effects Shots Picked By Hollywood's Top VFX Specialists
From Metropolis to T-1000, we discover the effects that inspired today's VFX masters

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The Pseudopod (The Abyss)

The Abyss



After 16 years at Rhythm & Hues culminating in an Oscar win for the groundbreaking VFX work of Life Of Pi, Dutchman Erik De Boer is now busy on dystopian sci-fi Maze Runner at Method Studios' Vancouver office.

"I grew up in Holland far away from cinemas and it was only when I moved to London at the end of the '80s that I started going to the movies. I first remember being blown away by the pseudopod watching The Abyss, I think it was in Leicester Square, and suddenly realising what a cool, exciting industry it was that I was about to enter. The integration with live-action, the scanning of the actors' faces – I was working with the same software, Alias, so I knew how they did it – and the fact that there was physical connection between Elizabeth Mastrantonio and the character were all breathtaking. She sticks her finger into that character and tastes it! You can't really get a more physical connection than that. That whole production blew me away, from the fact that they filmed and lit it underwater to those stories of suffering on set. Even silly stuff that you rarely think about, like these black beads that they put on the water to keep the light out, because they couldn't use a tarpaulin on the surface in case someone needed to surface. It was mind-blowing to realise what lengths people went to just to get a shot."

Nominee for this year's First Women award, and in 2012, the only female VFX supervisor to make it to the Academy's short list for Best Visual Effects, Sue Rowe is a ten-year veteran of the effects industry. She has lent her on-set expertise as VFX supervisor on The Golden Compass, John Carter, X-Men 3: The Last Stand and Troy.

"As a teenager I was fascinated with stop-frame animation, especially Harryhausen's skeleton army, but the biggest influence on me was The Abyss. I remember watching it on my parents' 14" TV back in Wales, and it was one of the first pieces of computer animation I'd ever seen. It was like watching something impossible being created on screen in a way that looked photoreal. ILM created CG water that transformed into a female face, and the moment its surface is touched, the magic is broken and the water splashes to the ground. A perfect combination of VFX, good editing and practical effects. A few years later I put myself through university for my master's degree in computer animation and the path was set. I'm proud to be a part of visual effects. Life on film set is a privilege. I work with a range of talented people – directors, animators and producers – and every day is different. Some days I sit in a dark room animating aliens; other days I am out on set and blowing shit up. Good times."

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I'm more of a fan of practical effects rather than CGI: don't get me wrong, some of the CG effects today are sensationally stunning, like the tiger in Life of Pi, and useful for crowd shots etc, but I prefer the more old fashioned effects. I use Star Wars as a great example of this: Original trilogy with it's wonderful stop-motion and puppets with a few CG effects to enhance everything. Then the prequel trilogy. In fact, just look at what happened to Yoda: he felt so real in the original trilogy, yet in the prequel it just looked too streamline and ruined it a little. Yoda is a quirky little guy so having him as this sleek, Jedi master (even though he was one) just spoilt it a little for me! Great picks on the list, though, agree with all of them for the most part! More

Posted by Biolally92 on Thursday September 26, 2013, 18:39

2 Superman (1978) Helicopter Rescue
Stunning combination of traditional effects with emotional impact for Superman's first appearance to the world. I used to be very interested in special effects work pre-digital when clever and innovative engineering was to the forefront. Now I find that articles on effects (E.G. in Cinefex) are all very similar discussing how this or that was rendered by software, etc.. More

Posted by cdrPieton on Tuesday September 24, 2013, 10:08

3 Blair Monster.
The Thing will always be in my mind for effects that make me want to create movie magic. More

Posted by gerizekalu on Saturday August 31, 2013, 10:34

4 Bullet Time (Matrix)
Missed it by innovation More

Posted by mariofilho on Sunday August 25, 2013, 15:48

5 Dark City (1998)
The awe of the city folding upon itself, the atmosphere and the sound effects was a precursor to more modern VFX films. You could see origins from past ground breaking sets such as Metropolis and the influenced on future ground breaking works such as The Matrix (they reused some of the same sets) and Inception (sound and lighting atmosphere). Interesting that the cinematographer Dariusz Wolski also worked on the Pirates of the Caribbean films. More

Posted by Anderton2013 on Saturday August 24, 2013, 04:40

6 Time travel in 2001? Nope.
It was a stargate, Dave Bowman was travelling through space, not time. More

Posted by clivex on Friday August 23, 2013, 18:55

7 The Thing.. The Whole movie
All of Rob Bottin's work on John Carpenter's The Thing. Especially this scene, they guy went through hell top produce such high quality effects often with damage to his own health. More

Posted by artemus on Friday August 23, 2013, 16:54

8 RE: Can't any of you people read?
Some great choices, and I was glad to see mention of that opening shot from ‘Contact’. It reminded me of the stand-out effects scene from that film which is still a stunning moment. The bombing of The Machine is played out so beautifully and some brilliant editing switching between real time and news-studio footage, plus the effective distance from the scene and its slow unfolding lend it an air of genuine realism. More

Posted by Tullothy on Friday August 16, 2013, 14:14

9 RE: Effects that inspired
Oh, and Inception of course. Indeed that corridor fight was a real humdinger. One of those moments in the cinema where you could practically hear everyone's jaws hit the floor. More

Posted by Mr Gittes on Friday August 9, 2013, 20:32

10 RE: Effects that inspired
Too many to mention: The Matrix just about took my scalp off when I saw it; the animatronics in The Thing and American Werewolf In London still hold up; Jurassic Park is a perfect mix of all kinds of effects; and I agree with a previous poster about A.I. - jaw-dropping stuff. Of course, Metropolis, 2001 and Blade Runner have spectacular effects too, but my personal favourites are from the original Star Wars trilogy. The Hoth attack and the asteroid field sequences are amazingly well-realised, and the space battle in Return Of The Jedi is outstanding, but it's the Death Star attack in the first one that takes it for me; that POV trench run shot might just be my all-time favourite special effects shot in film history. Just so much creativity in those original three films. Nothing in the prequels comes close. More

Posted by Mr Gittes on Friday August 9, 2013, 20:27

11 RE: ...
The lack of mention of The Matrix & LOTR is criminal, especially when half of this list is forgettable crap. Also Titanic, Avatar, Revenge of the Sith, The Mummy etc More

Posted by NeoBrowser on Tuesday August 6, 2013, 21:05

12 RE: Terminator
Quite surprised to see the bathroom scene from The Terminator listed here - while it's a great film & some of the effects are pretty darn good considering the (relatively) low budget, The Arnie puppet never really did it for me, even at the time - always looked a bit, well, crap & certainly not one of the great Stan Winston's finest hours (he more made up for it with the exo-skeleton at the end tho!) More

Posted by Brundlesflies on Monday August 5, 2013, 10:30

13 RE: Matrix + Jedi
I'm glad I'm not the only one who noticed the exclusion of Matrix and Jedi! Matrix lobby scene is still amazing nearly 15 years on. The 'it's a trap' moment in Jedi is probably still the best space fight in films to date! More

Posted by eddybaby83 on Friday August 2, 2013, 14:33

14 RE: Just CGI?
L: silenttheo So its a CGI only list? If not where is 'The Thing' incredible prosthetics! Also surprised to see Davey Jones over Golum considering the praise and awards thrown at the filthy little ring snatcher! o, there are a few non-CG things pictured and many more discussed. These are all the choices of the VFX artists mentioned so it's not an exhaustive list, nor is it intended as such. More

Posted by Helen OHara on Thursday August 1, 2013, 13:59

15 Just CGI?
So its a CGI only list? If not where is 'The Thing' incredible prosthetics!   Also surprised to see Davey Jones over Golum considering the praise and awards thrown at the filthy little ring snatcher! More

Posted by silenttheo on Tuesday July 30, 2013, 20:20

16 RE: inception corridor scene
Great list. For me Jurassic Park is still 'the one'. Watched it the other day and still blown away by it. I wish they could incorporate animatronics like they used to, the blend was perfect, especially in the T Rex/Jeep scene. I could rant all day about the overuse of CGI but I'm not. What I will say is that one of my favourite uses of CGI was in Hidden/Cache when the chap cuts his throat, I wil NEVER forget it. More

Posted by Boyden on Tuesday July 30, 2013, 13:31

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