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.
Next page: the next five top 3D movies of 2014