Many things can go wrong while filming a movie, but a director’s worst nightmare above all is an unexpected death. This dilemma may seem unlikely, but it has happened many times and not all occurrences have been due to old age. Many freak accidents happen; life is unpredictable. Even though this unforeseeable travesty may seem like the end of the road for some, many directors refused to give up hope and proceeded to take on the challenge of finishing their films – without said actor or actress. With the help of camera tricks and special effects, anything is possible.
It isn’t only death that brings about the use of CGI; sometimes, a younger version of the character is needed. Other times still, actors were unavailable to portray their iconic roles.
Due to major advancements in CGI in the early ’90s, people began to witness the true power behind this evolving technology. With movies like Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Jurassic Park, CGI proved its worth in the realm of cinematography. Directors could now do the impossible; a new age of cinema was born.
Countless dead movie stars have been brought back to life in the virtual world; the possibilities CGI brought to the table were endless. From dinosaurs to recreated legends, special effects took on a new identity of what’s plausible in film. With that said, here’s a list of ten times CGI was able to able trick its viewers.
10. Nancy Marchand – The Sopranos
HBO’s long running series The Sopranos underwent the unexpected death of Nancy Marchand aka Livia Soprano during their third season. The snappy mouthed, unfavored mother of lead character Tony Soprano was recreated using CGI in a short scene where the two argued once again – except this time, Livia seemed a little vacant; let’s just say the fans weren’t too impressed.
At first glance it’s hard to notice, but if you look closely, the batty old bag seems to be super imposed onto another actress. This shoddy effort was a bit of a let-down for some of the hardcore fans, considering the quality of most HBO shows. All in all, it was better than nothing, being one of the few minor hiccups in a rather brilliant mob series.
9. Bruce Lee – Game of Death
The master of Kung Fu himself and student of renowned martial art’s master IP Man suddenly passed away at the young age of 32. Bruce Lee had only shot a few scenes for his new and upcoming film Game of Death before his passing, but the cast and crew took on the challenge of finishing the film regardless.
With the use of particle effects, stunt doubles, and even cardboard cut-outs of the famous actor, director Robert Clouse managed to finish the film manipulating the likeness of Lee. Even though some scenes may seem a little unrealistic, the turnout was impressive for a film released in 1978; the effort put in was remarkable for its time.
8. Arnold Schwarzenegger – Terminator Salvation
“I’ll be back.” The famous line spoken by Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime seems to be the case as the Terminator franchise continues. The brawny Austrian power house has managed to show up in every instalment of the series thus far, yet his presence in Terminator Salvation differed from the rest.
In this 2009 instalment, Arnold was recreated with CGI, returning as his younger self from the first movie. His entrance in the film is followed by the iconic musical theme from the early movies, making his brief yet exciting sequence all the more entertaining. The fact that he was a robot helped considering he had no lines or much expression during his short cameo.
7. Jeff Bridges – Tron: Legacy
This reboot of the 1982 Sci-Fi film Tron features Jeff Bridges once again; this time around he’s portraying a younger and older version of himself. The Oscar winning actor took on the challenge, with the help of Eric Barba, who won an Academy Award himself for his work on The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
Considering people already had an idea of what Bridges was supposed to look like playing a younger Clu from the original film, it made it that much harder to pull off the effect of age reversal. The end result was far from disappointing, featuring a younger Jeff Bridges that was believable and impressive.
6. Brandon Lee – The Crow
Much like his father Bruce Lee, Brandon Lee died in the early production of his film due to a freak accident involving a gun. After Lee’s tragic death, the film was abandoned by Paramount Pictures and was then picked up by Entertainment Media Investment Corporation who finished the picture using newly developed CGI technology and body doubles.
A staggering 600 hours was spent bringing Brandon Lee back to life. The effects team Dream Quest, who were responsible for this grueling feat, pulled off the impossible, surprising everybody with a truly seamless end product.
5. Oliver Reed – Gladiator
Ridley Scott’s epic historical drama Gladiator starred some of Hollywood’s biggest names, including Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, Connie Nielsen, and Oliver Reed. But when Reed died from a heart attack during a break from filming the movie on 2 May 1999, Scott was presented with the challenge of finishing Reed’s scenes using computer-generated imagery.
With the use of a body double and even a mannequin, Scott managed to recreate a believable, life-like version of Oliver’s character. Reed’s face appears in about only 2 minutes of film, but ended up costing $3.2 million in the end; quite a costly addition to the film.
4. Michael Douglas – Ant-Man
Marvel’s latest super hero motion picture Ant-Man stars Paul Rudd and Michael Douglas. Now, of course a lot of CGI was used in the making of this movie; after all, it’s based on a comic book. But one of the more impressive uses of visual effects in this film would have to be the de-aging of actor Michael Douglas.
The 70-year-old actor is brought back 25 years to become a younger version of himself in the film. A company called Lola VFX – who has worked with Marvel in the past – was able to pull off this stunning age transformation. This company has worked on films such as X-Men: The Last Stand and Captain America: The First Avenger, but neither of those films are comparable to the digital effects seen in Marvel’s Ant-Man.
3. Paul Walker – Furious 7
After a long running role as a main character in the Fast and Furious franchise, actor Paul Walker sadly passed away in a high speed car accident. Because he had only finished filming half of the movie prior to his tragic death, the director was then left with the pressing decision to either scrap the movie or continue filming using CGI.
Thanks to the help of Walker’s brothers Cody and Caleb, director James Wan was able to finish the film, using the likeness of Walker’s brothers to recreate the actor’s presence. The company in charge of the digital recreations was New Zealand-based WETA Digital, the same company who brought us Gollum in the Lord of the Rings trilogy and Caesar in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.
2. John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, and John Lennon – Forrest Gump
This timeless classic starring Tom Hanks won the Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Visual Effects, and Best Film Editing in 1995. So it should come as no surprise that it made its way onto this list. Throughout the roller-coaster ride that is Forrest’s life, he ends up meeting Kennedy, Nixon, and Lennon, all of whom were dead long before the making of the film.
The film’s effects crew used many different techniques, including chroma key, warping, morphing and rotoscoping in order to pull off these illusions. The fact that this film resurrected not one but three people makes it that much more impressive.
1. Brad Pitt – The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button
Everyone knows Brad Pitt spent a lot of time in the makeup chair during his work on The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button and some CGI was used to age him drastically, but did you know the first 52 minutes of the movie actually had no Brad Pitt? That’s right; the entire beginning performance was all computer generated; no 2D compositing, no makeup, just CGI.
It’s one thing to recreate an actor for a few minutes at a time, but to do so for almost an hour takes a lot of skill. The team behind this impressive feat was Digital Domain, supervised by special effects wizard Eric Barba. What makes the CG so believable in this movie are the actor’s facial expressions. Digital Domain were hard at work creating 3D computer scans of the actor’s face, as well as creating a software system for hair, eyes, and skin. The end result was astonishing, proving how far CGI has come over the years and what is possible when such technology is put in the hands of artists.
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