Remember the opening credits to our favorite superhero movie, Deadpool? The credits weren’t about the names of actors or directors or producers, but rather the stereotypes of movies that we’ve grown way too accustomed to: God’s perfect idiot, a hot chick, a British villain, the comic relief, a moody teen, and, of course, a CGI character. We’ve become so used to CGI characters taking over our movies that we hardly bat an eye at them anymore. Remember the days of Terminator 2, when a character that spent half their time as a real person and half their time as an entirely computer generated image was revolutionary and flabbergasting? Now, we’ve got entire movies built around CGI characters, like all the aliens we encounter in Star Trek and Star Wars and some of our favorite superheroes, like Rocket Raccoon and Groot, hardly have any human characteristics, except for the voice actors that come in for a couple days of work.
But we’re not here today to talk about the CGI characters that are obviously CGI; there’s no mistaking, for instance, that Baby Groot is completely digitally created. We’re here to talk about the CGI characters that you had no idea were CGI, the ones that look like humans, sound like humans, even seem to be the humans that you’ve seen in other movies or shows, but are not those humans. Here are fifteen of your favorite characters that you had no idea were, in fact, CGI, not really real actors.
15. Proximo – Gladiator
In the epic movie Gladiator, there were so many characters to keep track of throughout the film that some got a bit lost in the mix if you only saw it once. Proximo, a slave owner that oversees many Gladiatorial battles and one of the few non-gladiatorial characters who interact with our main character, Maximus (played by Russell Crowe), was one of many such characters. Played by the actor Oliver Reed, the directorial and production team faced quite the dilemma approximately halfway through filming. Oliver Reed, unfortunately, passed away in 1999 due to a heart attack while he was taking a break from filming. This caused some serious problems because many of his scenes had yet to be shot. Unless they chose to reshoot all of his scenes with a new actor, a distasteful and expensive decision, they’d have to change up the script. So they digitally created a flawless replica of Proximo to insert in various places where the script still called for him; half the time you’re seeing Proximo, you’re actually watching a CGI copy of him.
14. Ego – Guardians of the Galaxy
This movie is brand spanking new, so we want to make sure you have ample time to scroll away if you don’t want spoilers. We repeat, if you don’t want spoilers for Guardians of the Galaxy 2, scroll away with all the might of a dancing baby Groot!
The antagonist in this epic sequel is none other than Peter Quill’s father, a man who goes by the name of Ego. Turns out Ego is kind of a Godly entity that can achieve immortality, so long as he’s able to sustain and spread his life source. Ego was played by Kurt Russell, this dashing man in the picture above. But if you know anything about the real Kurt, you know he hasn’t looked this good in decades. The real Kurt is 66 years old — and we don’t want to be rude, but he looks it. CGI masters got into every shot of Kurt and digitally imposed his younger features over his current so he looks as real as possible, even if you compared this shot of him to his younger days in Stargate or Tango & Cash. But it’s certainly not real.
13. Neo – The Matrix
We’re not sure when or why it happened, but at some point, The Matrix series became less about the story and more about the action. The first The Matrix movie was killer because the story was an epic and beautiful piece of science fiction that seemed to blindside hungry audiences out of nowhere — PLUS it had some wicked Kung Fu, slow-motion fights, and battle sequences. It became pretty obvious in the sequel, The Matrix: Reloaded, and then even more glaringly obvious in The Matrix: Revolutions, that CGI was being used far more than Keanu Reeves was. But did you realize just how much of him was CGI in the first movie? We’ve got to give the production team props because virtually all of the Kung Fu fight between Neo and Morpheus was real, but almost every other action sequence involved a high level of CGI, digitally recreating bodies pummeling each other — and none of the actors ever did fight choreography again after the first moneymaker hit theaters.
12. Sunny – A Series of Unfortunate Events
Actually, these days, if you’re looking at a baby or an extremely young child in any movie (other than, perhaps, a chick flick or kid movie) that has any kind of a decent budget, you’re likely to see a CGI or otherwise fake version of that baby at some point. Having babies on set is expensive, dangerous, and difficult — there’s a lot of red tape protecting kids in Hollywood, and it’s for good reason. So when Nickelodeon made a movie of A Series of Unfortunate Events, they had to find a good baby to play Sunny and then find a way to avoid using her as much as possible. Basically, every time you see Violet or Klaus simply standing and holding the baby (or if she’s seated in a car), that’s one of the twins that was cast to play her. Almost every other time — when she’s being carried or doing something with her teeth or has an actual stage direction — she’s a CGI baby.
11. All the Black Swans – Black Swan
Natalie Portman herself, who played the Prima Ballerina in Black Swan, was not CGI — most of the time, at least. On a couple of occasions, CGI was used to make her fingers look weirdly elongated, or to create the impression of her losing her mind or becoming a swan herself — you know, normal psycho-thriller themes like that. But we’re not talking about the main character of Nina Sayers; we’re talking about all her creepy little hallucinations that get weirder and stranger and creepier as the movie goes on. Did you ever notice how the line of ballerinas exiting after Nina in the mounting of the ballet (in the scene after the white swan is lifted) all have her face? Actually, the ballerinas are really just CGI clones of Nina herself, prancing along behind her. Nina does a tiny panicked double take but quickly moves forward as she is right in the middle of a mental breakdown.
10. Darth Vader Unmasked
The original Star Wars trilogy came out in a time when CGI wasn’t as dependable as it is today. The production team really couldn’t rely on CGI to do much of the heavy lifting at all, so elaborate models and extensive makeup were used whenever possible to do all that CGI wasn’t yet able to. However, one of the times that they still needed the help of CGI was when they finally unmasked Luke’s father, Darth Vader. While that’s indeed the actor David Prowse that we’re looking at, you can hardly tell due to all the makeup and CGI being used on his face. While the makeup did make him look a little more weathered, it’s the CGI that washed out his face, gave his burn wounds, and permanently took off his eyebrows. No wonder he was hiding that ugly mug under a helmet for so long, huh?
9. Ava – Ex Machina
If you have yet to get a chance to see Ex Machina, a movie about a young and fairly naive programmer who’s selected to study and analyze the development of this beautiful piece of artificial intelligence, you should be making a trip to your nearest RedBox or, at the very least, hopping onto your Netflix account to see if it’s available. Sure, the story is pretty good, but it’s made even better by Alicia Vikander, who plays the sensual and slightly sentient robot in question, Ava. In the above picture, it kind of just looks like Alicia is wearing an elaborate bodysuit, right? And there must be some kind of wig cap and elaborate makeup around her face? Wrong. Alicia wore very little in filming, and all of the gray bodysuit material around her face, head, and neck was added in digitally to make this human lady look robotic.
8. Lex – Jurassic Park
Okay, give us a chance to elaborate. No, the character of Lex wasn’t all completely digitally added in. Even if the producers had wanted to do that, the CGI technology back in 1993 could never have accommodated that kind of artistic choice. No, Lex was real and was played by the actress Ariana Richards. The actress was very gung-ho and willing to do a lot herself, but there was just one shot that the director wanted that he knew he couldn’t actually use her for: remember when Lex falls through the drop ceiling tiles and a raptor jumps up and tries to grab her as she’s lifted up by her comrades? That Lex was all completely CGI (as was the raptor, if you didn’t know). However, the computer-generated images had enough of her actual facial expressions and movements to go off of that everything came out looking pretty flawless.
7. Grendel’s Mother – Beowulf
A lot of us are still shaking our heads at the Beowulf movie that released in 2007. Literary buffs everywhere were kind of excited to see just how this ancient text would be brought to life — and then we saw the trailer and all shriveled at the sight of how they were butchering our classic book. The production team wanted to provide a thick layer of CGI over everything at all times, so we were never really looking at any actors but a CGI reproduction of them. Same went for Angelina Jolie, who played Grendel’s Mother (who is supposed to be a horrifying monster, not seductive or tantalizing in the slightest, but we’re pretending we don’t care). While we got to see a lot of Angelina’s tasty figure, we weren’t really looking at her at all but some computerized attempt at her — a bummer in the highest order, if you ask us.
6. A First-Class Beast
When X-Men: First Class was announced, a lot of us got really excited. We knew we’d be going back in time to the meeting of Erik Lensherr (also known as Magneto) and Charles Xavier (aka, Professor X); we also knew we’d be getting to see some of our favorite X-Men, like Mystique and Banshee and Beast, in a whole different context. So we were really excited to meet Dr. Hank McCoy before he was all blue and fuzzy — and to figure out how he got there. And we got the juicy story: that Hank wanted to cure his mutation but ended up accidentally amplifying it, resulting in his new form. But we were very disappointed to see how he looked. CGI designers tried to surround the cute and lovable Nicholas Hoult features with the azure fur and leave a soft but tough face akin to a monkey’s, but it wound up looking terrible and downright goofy at the wrong moments. CGI designers did better at perfecting his look in following movies, but the point is: Dr, McCoy’s appearance was a CGI atrocity that needed a lot more work.
5. Logan’s Logan
This might be one that you never expected to see on this list. Logan was a wonderful addition to the X-Men franchise that centered all around the Wolverine himself, Logan. He gets himself caught up in some trouble while trying to take care of Professor Xavier when he runs into a little girl named Laura, and things aren’t exactly what they seem. Hugh Jackman looks like his typical Wolverine self in the movie, though obviously a bit worn and weathered from all of his trying work. However, the Logan we’re looking at is not the one that showed up to set every day. Hugh got his makeup done and did all his filming looking like the image on the left — the CGI rendering that we all saw in theaters was the guy on the right. Really, the entire movie, we weren’t looking at Hugh Jackman at all! We were looking at his computerized, tired, old clone!
If you’re nerdy enough to call yourself a fan of the Lord of the Rings series, and you didn’t already know this bit of knowledge, we ought to give you a firm slap on the wrist! Gollum/Smeagol was the lovely little apprentice that Frodo and Sam dragged around Middle Earth in their attempts to reach Mount Doom. Of course, Smeagol had been driven to insanity and depravity after decades of being corrupted by the ring and spent most of his time fretting over how to get it back. Andy Serkis played Gollum, and it was his joy to make the character as realistic, creepy, and chilling as possible; but we never really got to see Andy Serkis. Andy wore a suit and had CGI facial capture stickers on his face at all times while filming so that his movements and facial nuances could be transferred right onto Smeagol — who was entirely a digital recreation. Though Serkis probably could’ve played Smeagol outright, the digital rendering was so much creepier.
3. Davy Jones
Davy Jones (and his creepy crew) was quite a feat for Disney Studios and the producers behind the Pirates of the Caribbean series. Making his first appearance in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, Davy Jones was quite the villain played by Bill Nighy, a seasoned and amazing actor. And while most of us thought that Bill likely had to spend hours and hours in a makeup chair every morning to get his face literally put on for the role of Davy, he actually spent very little time doing so at all. Most of us thought that the only CGI in play on Davy Jones involved the movement of the tentacles that spawned off his face and that the squid face was generally a real makeup mask that was applied daily to him. Wrong! It was all CGI, and it all worked flawlessly to create a creepy, icky, evil Davy Jones!
2. Doc Oc
Remember Spider-Man 2? Not the terrible recent sequel to The Amazing Spider-Man but the one in original series when Tobey Maguire was playing the hero and we still kind of liked the franchise? Yeah, the one when he was fighting against Doctor Octopus! Well, we probably don’t have to tell you that his mechanical arms were indeed added via CGI, as were most of his huge attacks on Spiderman in the streets of New York City. But there was quite a surprising use of CGI that none of us expected or realized until after the fact. Remember when Dr. Otto Octavius sacrifices himself to destroy the machine he’d created in his vindictive state? He floats into the depths of the Hudson Bay after it’s destroyed him, and we get a closeup of his dead face, followed by his tentacles, as he floats downward. That was all CGI! Not just the tentacles, but even the immaculately and finely precise recreation of actor Alfred Molina’s face! It’s perfect, down to each eyelash!
1. Grand Moff Tarkin
Finally, we reach the pinnacle of shockingly amazing digital recreations, and it was a very recent one: Grand Moff Tarkin in the recent addition to the Star Wars series, Rogue One. Don’t know why he’s so special? It’s because the actor that’s “playing” him died years ago. This actor/character was in the original Star Wars trilogy; he was the one behind destroying the planet of Alderaan, and he was also one of the biggest supporters of the creation and aggressive use of the Death Star to squelch any rumored rebel activity. It only made sense to bring him back in Rogue One, but how could they since the actor that played him died in 1994? They digitally revived him using renderings of his face and voice from previous movies and superimposing them over Guy Henry’s body. It’s caused quite a bit of controversy, but we’re all still pretty shocked that CGI designers were even able to do it! Pretty amazing what technology can do, right?
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