VFX breakdowns are those videos you find yourself watching over and over (and over) that show the difference between the final shot of the film and the pre-CGI take. Forcing you to reappraise what you thought was real and what you thought was not, it’s typically reserved for big blockbusters – except when it’s not, as this list of our 25 favourites proves.
Incidentally, there are plenty more mini-docs that deal with similar topics – such as this Gravity gem or this great Guardians Of The Galaxy piece – but as they have voiceover and VFX breakdowns typically don't, we've stuck to the simple before-and-after montages.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Directors: Anthony and Joe Russo
What we learnt: Jenny Agutter really did kick ass, kind of, during her / Scarlett Johnasson’s fight sequence (2.30).
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
What we learnt: You’d think a whodunit on a plane wouldn’t require much digital jiggery-pokery, but it really does. Guns don’t just fly into the air for Liam Neeson to catch and fire simultaneously by accident, you know.
The Great Gatsby (2013)
Director: Baz Luhrmann
What we learnt: Everything but the cars and the costumes was created in a CGI lab, with DiCaprio and company having to play pantomime in a variety of blue and green-walled rooms. What a life, eh old sport?
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Director: George Miller
What we learnt: What’s most impressive about Mad Max’s FX work is the lack of CGI, rather than the abundance of it. That firestorm, though – that’s not real. Nor the canyon, believe it or not…
Transformers: Dark Of The Moon (2011)
Director: Michael Bay
What we learnt: Watching 10 minutes of the robot worm – our term – wiggling through skyscrapers over and over and over is... intoxicating.
The Avengers (2012)
Director: Joss Whedon
What we learned: OH MY GOD IT’S THE HULK! No, wait, it’s a green box with red blotches on it and what could be interpreted as arms, but are probably just stick things.
John Carter (2012)
Director: Andrew Stanton
What we learned: Ant-based stuntmen – stantmen? – are surplus to requirements. Taylor Kitsch simply has to flail around alone in a desert (2:33) and thousands of lovingly-rendered ant monsters can be added in digitally for him to massacre in brutal and spectacular fashion.
Expendables 2 (2012)
Director: Simon West
What we learned: The famous tank (0:38) destroyed by Chuck Norris during his 45 seconds of screen time did not require a real tank, or a cardboard cut-out, or a man holding a sign saying “TANK HERE” – just CGI. The trucks driving through the airport at 8:14 and Terry Crews’s shirt-busting pecs, however, are very much the real thing.
Director: Gareth Edwards
What we learned: Kaiju aren’t real. Darn.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)
Director: Gavin Hood
What we learned: Hugh Jackman's naked backside is not fake. Repeat: not fake. His adamantium claws, however, are.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)
Director: Peter Jackson
What we learned: Andy Serkis (1:33) must be a very strange on set presence for the other actors, especially when he’s also telling you what to do as second-unit director. And pity poor Ian McKellen, as lonely as a one-man improv in a green room, with green curtains, pretending he’s at a party full of dwarves. Cheers!
Life Of Pi (2012)
Director: Ang Lee
What we learned: Knowing for certain Suraj Sharma never had to share his tiny boat with an actual tiger is definitely a good thing. Side note: imagine the meerkats as “Compare The Market” meerkats. Nightmarish.
Maze Runner (2014)
Director: Wes Ball
What we learned: NOTHING IS REAL. Obviously nobody expected Wes Ball to build a fully functional giant labyrinth – he’s not The Goblin King, for Bowie’s sake – but it appears that 90 per cent of the shoot had talented young ‘uns running towards, away from, or alongside various blue-screen constructions.
Wrath Of The Titans (2012)
Director: Jonathan Liebesman
What we learned: For a movie that didn’t amount to much, Wrath Of The Titans had some titanic concept art. Watch out for the soldiers being knocked over by a big green wedge made of pillows (2:23) standing in for a ravenous monster.
X-Men: Days Of Future Past (2014)
Director: Bryan Singer
What we learned: Mystique’s transformations are crazily, beautifully complicated. Less breathtaking is the sight of Beast (Nicholas Hoult) going to town on a big green blob-onna-stick (8:01).
Pacific Rim (2013)
Director: Guillermo del Toro
What we learned: The whole military base is a digital creation. Presumably, they ran out of money after paying to treat the whiplash caused by the Jaeger pilot rigs (0:35).
The Wolf Of Wall Street (2013)
Director: Martin Scorsese
What we learned: The real yacht was just not big enough for Jordan Belfort – he needs a digitally stretched monstrosity. Compensating for something, perhaps?
White House Down (2013)
Director: Roland Emmerich
What we learned: No White Houses were harmed in the making of this film. Playing around with a rocket launcher outside the leader of the free world's gaff is not really an option, we’re told.
Director: Brett Ratner
What we learned: Check out 1.33 to see Dwayne Johnson missing a flying stuntman by inches with his giant club. It seems he really did pick up and throw a horse, mind (2:26). Fucking centaurs.
World War Z (2013)
Director: Marc Forster
What we learned: The colourist obviously decided that everything needed to be greyer to make the film feel bleak, except for Glasgow (the stand-in city for Philadelphia), which is already too grey and needed to be brightened up a bit.
Director: Ridley Scott
What we learned: For filming the escape from the falling, rolling, doughnut-with-a-bite-taken-out-of-it spaceship, Noomi Rapace got chased by some guys on quadbikes (3:44), presumably to make sure she looked sufficiently frightened of being crushed.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)
Director: Marc Webb
What we learned: You look silly being attacked by electric eels (and gaining superpowers) whether there’s a blue glow around you or not.
The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies (2015)
Director: Peter Jackson
What we learned: The moving platform used for Thorin and Azog’s fight on the ice looks like it was a riot to push people off.
Thor: The Dark World (2013)
Director: Alan Taylor
What we learned: Some stuntmen get yanked around pretty viciously (1:22). Show them some love! The diving slash at 0:45 looked like a lot of fun though.
The Harry Potter Film Series (2001-2011)
Directors: Chris Columbus (1-2), Alfonso Cuarón (3), Mike Newell (4), David Yates (5-8)
What we learned: A LOT of magic goes into these movies. There’s too much in here to pick a favourite moment but watch out for the Goblet Of Fire…