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The first decade of the 21st century saw computer-generated movie effects start to move from novelty to the mainstream. And with the rise of social media and YouTube led to a brand new type of 'making of' video, to bring the work of the VFX wizards front and centre.
Quickly digestible and instantly shareable, the 'VFX breakdown' video pulls away the magician's curtain to reveal the constituent elements of our favourite CG scenes. Often without commentary or explanation – a true case of 'a picture tells a thousand words' – they offer a fascinating insight into how some of the biggest movies were put together.
Here we select eight of the best examples of the VFX breakdown video from the 2000s, while you can find the best of the 2010s here.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Movie effects are usually associated with epic, overblown scenes, from disaster movies to sci-fi battles. But there's a gentler side to the work of the visual artist too. This five-minute video shows just how the young, tall and vibrant Brad Pitt was transformed into a small, wizened old-age pensioner in the 2008 fantasy drama.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
This 2007 movie was the fifth in the schoolkids-and-sorcery series, but the franchise was showing no signs of flagging: from the trial of Harry to the climactic battle over the bottled prophecy, it's a thrilling ride from start to finish. This VFX breakdown takes a number of the shots that MPC created for the movie, and pulls them apart piece by piece, including scenes set in the Ministry of Magic, the Great Hall and more.
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
This 2005 big screen version of CS Lewis's children's book brilliantly captured the essential Englishness of the story and harnessed the best of 21st century digital effects to make the fantastic seem real. This VFX breakdown from Sony Picture Imageworks reveals how one small shot in the movie – the Witches Castle Reveal – was built up, layer by layer.
The Dark Knight
2008's The Dark Knight confirmed that superheroes were no longer just kids' stuff. Christopher's second take on the Caped Crusader, following origin movie Batman Begins, was dark, brooding, intelligent, and utterly thrilling. This short-but-sweet VFX breakdown from BUF gives a revealing look behind some of the effects sequences they created the movie. See more examples of BUF's work here.
If you include 2012's The Avengers (aka Avengers Assemble), then Iron Man becomes the most commercially successful franchise in movie history. And from a VFX point of view, it's had a pretty successful run as well. The first outing for Tony Stark was nominated for Best Visual Effects Oscar in 2008, as were the sequels in 2010 and 2013 respectively. This nine-minute video from ILM features a range of footage, broken down by VFX, plus interviews with the film-makers.
X-Men: The Last Stand
2006's X-Men: The Last Stand was the third in the mutant superhero series but it showed no signs of running out of steam. Indeed, the fast-moving plot and action-packed scenes drew in a greater audience than ever before, assuring a future for the franchise that remains staggeringly popular to this day. This VFX breakdown from MPC takes a series of shots and exposes from the film and shows just how they were put together.
There are times when it feels like blockbuster effects movies are starting to all look and sound the same, and some of the CG magic starts to lose its sheen. And then something like District 9 comes along and blows away all the cobwebs.
The not-so-subtle 2009 Apartheid parody was fiercely original and shockingly honest about man's inhumanity. And although made on a smaller budget than most, its visual effects were stunningly convincing. This video – in two, eight-minutes parts – provides a detailed technical breakdown of how the movie's effects were created using Nuke.
It's fair to say the jury was still out on stereo 3D cinema in 2009. Then Avatar changed everything. FXGuide TV's two-part documentary gives a detailed technical breakdown of Weta Digital's VFX work on the movie, with a focus on the specific challenges stereo 3D presented. For details of what the Avatar sequels have in store, check out our interview with producer Jon Landau.
Masters of CG: voting now open!
In recent weeks, our Masters of CG contest has challenged you to create a new title sequence, film poster, main shot or ident for 2000 AD character Rogue Trooper.
Now all the entries are in, and we're pleased to reveal the shortlist for all to see. View the entries here! The competition will now enter a public voting phase, and we're asking you to help us the select the very best entries via the Masters of CG website. To entice you to vote, we're offering you the chance to win an HP Slate 7 Plus (*EU residents only).