The biggest and best 3D movies on cinema screens this year, from animation to sci-fi and beyond.
Whether you love them or just grudgingly accept them, stereoscopic 3D movies are here to stay. They continue to bring in huge audiences and top the box office, and filmmakers are increasingly moving beyond the gimmickry and exploring the artistic potential of stereofication. Here, we take a look – in no particular order – at the biggest and best 3D movies to hit the big screen this year.
Giant Japanese lizard Godzilla has been thundering on to our screens for 60 years now - first appearing in Ishirō Honda's eponymous 1954 movie and more recently in the 1998 Hollywood remake from Roland Emmerich. This year the iconic monster was brought into the 21st century in glorious 3D - and it was clear there was plenty of life left in the radioactive beast yet.
Directed by Gareth Edwards, starring Breaking Bad's Bryan Cranston, and with effects courtesy of top-class VFX agencies including MPC and Double Negative, this was always going to be one of the biggest 3D movies of the year. The creative community responded with a number of monstrous design tributes and we loved the film so much, we added it to our list of the 8 best movie monsters of all time.
To find out more about how the movie was made, read our revealing interview with Guillame Rocheron, MPC's VFX supervisor.
02. The Lego Movie
If you're a regular visitor to the site, you'll know about our obsession with Lego – just check out our round-up of the best Lego art. And so you won't be surprised to hear that we loved The Lego Movie beyond words. Directors and co-writers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller did a brilliant job of crafting a fast-paced, dayglo yarn that both entertained the little ones and delivered the kind of satirical wit that kept adults smiling too.
With voices from Chris Pratt, Will Arnett, Elizabeth Banks, Will Ferrell and Morgan Freeman, and animation and visual effects courtesy of Animal Logic, The Lego Movie truly lived up to its title song, 'Everything is Awesome'.
The Lego Movie was built brick by brick – almost literally. For the commercially and critically acclaimed CG feature, animation and VFX facility Animal Logic created 3,863,484 unique rendered Lego blocks that were reused in multiple scenes to make up different characters, sets and props.
As well as trying to ensure that each scene could be built with actual bricks, the studio meticulously recreated the feel of stop-motion. Working with editor and animation co-supervisor Chris McKay – a veteran of stop-motion series Robot Chicken – its team in Sydney developed a non-traditional style of computer animation that co-directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller felt best represented the movement of the iconic toy characters.
"Our mantra was 'stay true to the medium', for everything from animation style to pipeline design," says CG supervisor Aidan Sarsfield. "We developed the most efficient brick rendering facility the world has ever seen and the result is an entirely brick-built film. There are no cheats here: it’s all bricks, millions of them!"
After the success of 2007's historical actioner 300, director Noam Murro took the reigns for the sequel. Based on Frank Miller's graphic novel Xerxes, '300: Rise of an Empire' starred Game of Thrones' Lena Heady as well as Eva Green, with VFX courtesy of a range of studios including Scanline, MPC, Cinesite, The Third Floor, Halon and Gener8.
Snyder returns to produce and to re-create the comic book aesthetic, the team at Hybride Technologies and Animal Logic, used a combination of superimposition, matte painting, blue screen and more advanced CG techniques to give the movie a visual style that evoked the original comic artwork.
This was not the most intellectually demanding movie of the year, of course. But if you were after stylish gore, massive maritime melees and gloriously epic battles, you weren't going to get much better than this.
2010's surprise animated hit How To Train Your Dragon saw audiences fall in love with the boy Hiccup and his adorable dragon Toothless. This year, Dreamworks returned to the island of Berk, where our favourite animated characters discovered a secret ice cave. The entire voice cast was back in force, including Kristen Wiig and Jonah Hill, with Dean DeBlois returning to the director's chair and Dreamworks golden boy Simon Otto heading up character animation.
The result was a beautifully crafted and entertaining movie that again appealed to young and old; not with smart in-jokes, but just strong characters, beautiful visuals and an uplifting story – both literally and metaphorically.
Ageing the characters was a key technical and creative challenge for the studio, which wanted to 'grow' the universe without losing the charm of the original. Head of character animation Simon Otto says the team had much more clarity of vision from the outset than on the first movie, which helped it tackle the more challenging aspects of the production.
A movie that comes along and redefines how stories can be told in mainstream cinema is a rare thing indeed. 2005's heavily stylised, neo-noir thriller Sin City was one such release. But could its second installment work in three dimensions?
Thankfully, with Prime Focus providing the bulk of the comic-book-style environments, sets and CG props, number two in the series didn't disappoint. Based on Frank Miller's graphic novel series, and co-directed by Miller and Robert Rodriguez, the artistic vision of the original remained uncompromised. And surprisingly, rather than feeling gimmicky, the stereo 3D seemed to give the murky world of Sin City added room to breathe.
One of the most anticipated 3D movies of 2014 saw Disney tell the Sleeping Beauty tale from the perspective of the villain, Maleficent. With one eye on the success of ABC's post-modern Once Upon A Time, and with Angelina Jolie in the leading role, this epic live action fantasy looked at the events that hardened Maleficent's heart and drove her to curse young Princess Aurora.
The heavyweights of VFX, including MPC, Digital Domain and The Senate, created some spectacular visuals to bring this stunning fairytale world to life. But it was the brilliant use of motion capture that most impressed us, propelling the film to number three in our all-time list of the 7 marvels of motion capture.
No list of top 3D movies would be complete without at least a couple of nods to Marvel, whose comic-book adaptations have dominated the box office throughout the decade. And this year saw the welcome return of Captain America (Chris Evans) as he battled a new threat from old history: the Soviet agent known as the Winter Soldier.
As ever, the all-American hero from the 1940s came packaged for a 21st century audience, with some spectacular set-pieces and explosive effects. Read our interview with Monty Granito, supervisor at leading previz Proof, to find out how they were originally conceived, here.
Talking of Marvel, Guardians of the Galaxy had many a hardcore comic-fan in a flurry, with 2014's eponymous movie being the first time the story has come to the big screen. The rest of us were a little nonplussed... until the opening bars of a 10CC song in the very first frame drew a collective "Okay. This is going to be GOOD." (And without adding any more spoilers, it was. Go see it.)
Directed and written by James Gunn, the entertainingly silly sci-fi adventure was packed full of acting talent, with Zoe Saldana, Chris Pine, Bradley Cooper and Benicio Del Toro in the cast. But it was the two CG characters – a genetically spliced racoon and a talking tree, voiced by Vin Diesel – who really stole the show.
Of course, it took a bevy of brilliant VFX firms conjured up some astonishing visuals to bring it all together. To learn how they did so, check out some of the early previs artwork by Proof Inc here and read our interview with Framestore here.
09. Rio 2
The 2014 sequel to the surprise hit of 2011 saw Blu and Jewel fleeing Rio with their three children in two, bound for the wild jungles of the Amazon.
Brazilian director Carlos Saldanha and a team of top animators, led by Blue Sky Studios' senior animator Joseph Antonuccio, kept up the high standards set by the original. With great performances from Anne Hathaway and Jesse Eisenberg, it all added up to a colourful concoction of comical set-pieces that kept the whole family happy.
Back in 2011, the idea of reviving the 1970s Planet of the Apes franchise seemed to many to be scraping the bottom of the nostalgia barrel. Then came Rise of the Planet of the Apes, one of the smartest and most engaging reboots of the decade so far - and one that benefitted hugely from the advances in motion capture techniques developed by Andy Serkis's Imaginarium Studios.
This year's sequel, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, tells the story of the early stages of a clash for survival between humans and apes after an apocalyptic virus has devastated the world's population. Directed by Matt Reeves, it's currently storming cinemas around the world thanks to its thoughtful script, engaging characters and wonderfully convincing army of CG apes.
What movies did we miss? Let us know your favourites in the comments box below!