25 greatest CGI movie moments of all time

15. Avengers Assemble (2012)

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  • Director: Joss Whedon
  • VFX: Weta Digital and ILM

Why watch it?

The visual effects for Avengers Assemble were never going to let us down – from the opening credits to the epic battle scenes, this film is truly a feast for the eyes. However, it was the particular scene of a falling Iron Man suiting up in the all new Mark VII as he descended that we found most impressive.

ILM and Weta combined their talents to recreate Iron Man and this incredible sequence. ILM provided the Iron Man models, whilst Weta was responsible for creating clothes and hair for the digidoubles with their own shaders and textures. Weta used plenty of motion capture techniques, whilst the animators were responsible for the flying scenes. You can read more about the Avengers Assemble effects in 3D world issue 157.

Killer sequence...

Iron Man jumps from Stark Tower unsuited, only for his Iron Man suit to follow and dress him with centimetres to spare.

14. District 9 (2009)

  • Director: Neill Blomkamp
  • VFX: Weta Workshop & Image Engine

Why watch it?

With a modest budget of $30million, District 9 still manages to make it onto an array of top CGI movie lists thanks to the hard work of Weta Workshop. It takes a great design team to come up with a ship design that will stick and the mothership featured in the film pleased many a sci-fi fan. Image Engine completed 311 visual effects shots for District 9 and whilst these shots were predominantly of digital aliens, the studio also developed the mothership.

In the cases where shots required both a background ship and foreground character animation or other visual effects, Weta would pre-comp the ship and provide the completed comp to the relevant facility. You can read more about the special effects used in the film in 'The Art of District 9'.

Killer sequence...

The mothership of the 'prawns' is revealed and hovers about Johannesburg, South Africa for three months.

13. Gladiator (2000)

  • Director: Ridley Scott
  • VFX: Mill Film Ltd

Why watch it?

Rome wasn't built in a day and neither were the academy award nominated special effects created for this epic Ridley Scott Roman tale. Visual effects supervisor John Nelson quoted that "it was always our concept to treat the Colosseum like it was the Super Bowl, in that you're going out on the field with the players and you have 40,000 people screaming for your head".

A model of the colosseum was about one storey high and didn't even complete the full circle. To recreate the 3D colosseum, Nelson and his team used the blueprints from designer Arthur Max and added a further two storeys, a roof, the outside wall, the back end of the colosseum and of course, the crowds. They photographed the textures, the patina and stucco used on the actual colosseum and then added those textures to the CGI movie version. The 540 degree camera shot in the film really shows off their skill.

Killer sequence...

Maximus Meridius (Russell Crowe) fights to the death in a re-imagined colosseum.

12. Spiderman 3 (2007)

  • Director: Sam Raimi
  • VFX: SPI

Why watch it?

The movie is packed full of knock-out effects – many of which include its other two villains, Venom and the Green Goblin – but the 2,700-frame, three-minute 'birth of Sandman' sequence manages to top them all. The Sony Pictures Imageworks team spent a year in R&D working on the tools that would enable them to fully achieve the complicated effect for Flint Marko's new form.

To visualise Sandman's varying states, they used a mixture of particle and fluid/gas simulations, plus SphereSim – a custom simulation engine that helped generate natural-looking sand piles. This technology, combined with Houdini and RenderMan plug-ins, makes the VFX sequence one of the most emotional and impressive moments of the entire trilogy.

Killer sequence...

'Unlucky' Flint Marko stumbles across the world's only experimental particle physics site, turning him into the invincible Sandman.

11. Inception (2010)

  • Director: Chris Nolan
  • VFX: Double Negative

Why watch it?

Inception is a surreal story about dreams within dreams that keeps the audience awake with its truly masterful VFX. When architect Ariadne starts to "mess with the physics of it all" within her own dreamscape, she casually folds up Paris in one of the film's most complicated and impressive sequences.

To achieve the intricate effect, the Double Negative team spent two weeks taking thousands of stills and working from millimetre-accurate scans provided by LIDAR services to replicate a photorealistic model of four Parisian apartment blocks. Digital cars and people were also added to the upended cityscape and the Ptex mapping technique used to avoid the burden of UVs. The team also had to devise a series of cheats to fully achieve the shots needed, including hiding intersecting buildings behind other geometry and a set of careful camera moves.

Killer sequence...

Ariadne gains confidence in her dreamscape and folds Paris into a cube, naturally.

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