Film Scenes So Fancy, It’s Hard To Believe It’s Not CGI

For modern-day films, computer-generated images (CGI) seems to be the name of the game. Throw the actors in front of a green screen and BAM! They’re now running for their lives through some jungle trying to escape a horde of vicious lions. Then there are those times where studios decide to do their special effects in the old-fashioned and practical way.

Take First Man; the filmmakers went through lengths to get specialized light bulbs to make an “authentic” sun during the moon landing. Apparently, regular light bulbs aren’t bright enough. So, real, or not real, truly is the question when it comes to movie effects that look like CGI!

The Infamous Tray Catch In Spider-Man

The Infamous Tray Catch In Spider-Man Took Many Takes
Sony Pictures
Sony Pictures

While Spider-Man is supposed to have some of the quickest reflexes ever, Toby Maguire isn’t technically Spidey. So, it isn’t unusual for people to think the heavy CGI-based film used a bit of computer animation to make the cafeteria tray-catch scene perfect. As it turns out, McGuire did that all by himself.

Using superglue on the tray, so Maguire was able to hold it along with co-star Kirsten Dunst, the Spider-Man actor had to perfectly time out each object in order to catch them and have them stay put. Amazingly, Maguire was able to do it! Of course, it was the 156th take when it happened.

Squirrels Were Trained For Charlie And The Chocolate Factory

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Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

Tim Burton’s Charlie And The Chocolate Factory is creepy and yet whimsical at the same time, as are most of his films. And while there are a few aspects where there was no choice but to use CGI for the desired effect, the nut-sorting squirrels was not one of them.

Would you believe that all of the squirrels in the film were real?! The animals were trained for months, and the nuts they sort are made of metal, so they didn’t eat them. They were also trained to attack Veruca Salt’s stunt double. But, don’t worry, she wore a mask, so she didn’t get clawed.

The Orcs In The Lord Of The Rings Wore Full-Body Makeup

The Orcs In The Lord Of The Rings Wore Full-Body Makeup
New Line Cinema
New Line Cinema

While the adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit had total CGI villains, it’s amazing to learn that the orcs and Uruk-hai in The Lord of the Rings trilogy were a bit more than meets the eye. Instead of having the creatures be full-on CGI, such as Andy Serkis’ Gollum, they spent hours in makeup.

Take the big Uruk-Hai leader from Fellowship of the Ring, for example. Actor Lawrence Makoare had to sit through ten hours of makeup and prosthetics, while all Serkis had to sit through was putting on a green suit with dots for the animators.

Rey Eats Actual Bread In Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Walt Disney Studios
Walt Disney Studios

It might amaze some people, considering it looked as close to CGI as anything else in the Star Wars universe, but the Portion Bread Rey eats as her in The Force Awakens is actually real! Production designer Chris Corbould told MTV during an interview that it took the team three months to come up with the correct “ingredients” for the bread.

He said, “It started off with the mechanics of getting the bread to rise and the liquid to disappear, but then there was the ongoing problem of what color should the bread be… consistency? Should it have cracks in it?”

Xibalba – The Fountain

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Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

One of the most visually pleasing films on this list is probably Darren Aronofsky’sThe Fountain. What looks like a movie shot solely in front of a green screen is actually an experiment with a certain type of photography that allows the atmosphere of the setting to look psychedelic.

To do so, the visual effects team brought in outside help in the form of macro photographer Peter Parks. To create the crazy looking nebula of Xibalba, he photographed chemical reactions. During an interview with WIRED, he said, “When these images are projected on a big screen, you feel like you’re looking at infinity.”

The Casino Royale Stuntman Broke A Barrel Role Record!

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Sony Pictures Releasing

There’s no denying the number of crazy stunts that happen throughout the James Bond franchise. And while most are performed in front of a green screen with stunt doubles, there is one scene that was actually performed with practical effects: the car roll in Casino Royale.

Not only was the stuntman Adam Kirley putting all of his trust in the crew to retrofit Bond’s Aston Martin DBS with a nitrogen cannon, helping it perform the correct number of rolls and not hit him, he actually broke a record. Kirley broke the world record for the number of barrel rolls in one stunt, coming out at seven.

Iron Man 3 Had A Skydiving Team For The Plane Jump

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Walt Disney Pictures, Marvel Entertainment
Walt Disney Pictures, Marvel Entertainment

As with all of the Marvel film, CGI is the name of the game. But when it comes to a few things in Iron Man 3, that you have to ask yourself, is this real or not real? One scene, in particular, you might be surprised to learn is actually shot in real-time and not in front of a green screen.

The scene where Iron Man swoops in and saves people falling from a plane explosion is real and not CGI. The people are actually part of the Red Bull Skydiving Team, and their outfits were rigged with parachutes underneath. The scene took eight days and 600 jumps to perfect!

Tom Cruise Actually Held On To The Airborne Plane In Mission: Impossible –Rogue Nation

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Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures

Tom Cruise has the reputation of being quite the stuntman, especially when it comes to the Mission: Impossible films. He has dangled from ceilings and hung off the sides of cliffs. But it was Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation where he did the most daring stunt of all.

In the film, Cruise hangs off the side of an airborne plane! While many would assume the studio would never allow such a high-profile actor to perform the risky stunt, Cruise insisted. Attached to wires and wearing protective lenses, so he’s able to open his eyes, Cruise hangs on to the side of a plane while it takes off; no CGI needed.

Interstellar‘s TARS And CASE Was Controlled By A Puppeteer

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Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures

It might be hard to believe since Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar is chock-full of special effects, but the humanoid military machine TARS and CASE are actually real machines. Of course, this is the perfect example of something that would be “easy” to use CGI instead of going through the process of building.

But that is exactly what Nolan did. He decided since the machine was going to be voiced by an actor, then it needed to be real, as an actor. So, he came up with the blueprint of the machine that would be puppeteered during filming. Of course, the puppet master was then removed during post-production.

Arc Reactor – Iron Man

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Walt Disney Pictures, Marvel Entertainment
Walt Disney Pictures, Marvel Entertainment

The first Iron Man movie paved the way for one of the most successful franchises in cinematic history: The Marvel Cinematic Universe. And while the film obviously uses CGI for a number of scenes, including every time Tony Stark flies in the Iron Man suit, it also has a few practical effects.

One such scene fans might be surprised to learn isn’t CGI, is the poorly thought-out surgery between Pepper Pots and Tony, when she is replacing his arc reactor. Instead of using a green screen shirt, actress Gwenyth Paltrow actually pulled props out of Robert Downey Jr.’s prosthetic chest!

Those Were Real Flames Coming Out Of The Mad Max Guitar

Those Were Real Flames Coming Out Of The Mad Max Guitar
Warner Bros

Director George Miller is a perfectionist who prides himself on going the extra 10,000 miles to create the best film possible. So, when Mad Max: Fury Road was released in 2015, it was no wonder it was nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. And one of the many reasons it was so well-received was due to Miller’s use of practical effects.

One such effect was Doof Warrior’s flame-throwing guitar. But, let’s be real here, folks. In a movie with actual car chases, why wouldn’t a fire guitar be real?! Apparently, Miller likes to go big or go home. And a flame-spitting guitar is definitely going big.

It Was Actually The Empty Streets Of London In 28 Days Later

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Fox Searchlight Pictures
Fox Searchlight Pictures

Zombie films are typically full of special effects, gory makeup, and interesting cinematography. So, it probably comes as no surprise that 28 Days Later follows the same “formula,” if you will. Only, with this film, people might be interested to know that the scene where Jim is wandering around the empty streets of London is actually real and not CGI.

You might be wondering how on Earth the director was able to shoot an empty London. Well, they opted to shoot this scene extremely early in the morning, before the commuters were on the road. They also asked anyone walking or driving by to take an alternative route.

Fire In New York – Independence Day

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Twentieth Century Fox
Twentieth Century Fox

Independence Day made a huge splash when it was released to theaters in 1996. The visual effects were stunning, with aliens, space crafts, a laser beam taking out the White House, and the resulting fire that wipes out all of New York City. But you might be interested to know that while most of the effects were CGI, the fire as actually real.

Of course, the effects team didn’t set fire to New York! Instead, a model of the city was built on a sound stage, installed pyrotechnics beneath it, and then flipped the entire stage of its side while the flames engulfed the model.

The Matrix Reloaded Used Cannons, Ramps, And Rigs

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Warner Bros. Pictures
Warner Bros. Pictures

The Wachowskis’ Matrix trilogy is no stranger to crazy effects, CGI or practical. One of the most famed being Neo’s slow-motion bullet dodge while being parallel with the ground. Crazy! But what fans don’t realize is that oddly enough, a majority of the effects in the beloved sci-fi series are actually practical, with minimal help from CGI.

Take the freeway chase in The Matrix Reloaded, for example. While the actor jumping from car to car was added later, the explosions and car flips are all practical effects. The crew used cannons, special rigs, and ramps for the desired outcome, removing all of the equipment later using CGI.

The Moon Landing In First Man Was Filmed In A Quarry

The Moon Landing In First Man Was Filmed In A Quarry
Dreamworks Pictures
Dreamworks Pictures

The 2018 film First Man was a fictionalized telling of the Apollo 11 moon landing. So, the question remains, what in the film was actually CGI and what wasn’t? For us, it was amazing to learn that the actual moon landing scene wasn’t CGI, but the creativity of visual effects supervisor Paul Lambert.

This scene was filmed in a quarry in Atlanta, Georgia, and not in front of a green screen. By using specialized light bulbs to illustrate the sun while on the surface of the moon, the quarry’s hills and craters acted as the surface. Insert some expert cinematography and voila, a moon landing worthy of an Academy Award.

Zoe Bell Knew How To Hang Onto A Car For Death Proof‘s Chase

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The Weinstein Company
The Weinstein Company

It’s no secret that stuntmen and women do a lot of dangerous work on films, with no actual face time to be had. So, it’s nice to see when they become full-fledged actors, such as Zoe Bell. While filming Death Proof, Bell was lucky enough to perform her own stunts, since she is a trained professional.

While one might think the epic car chase in the film is nothing but CGI (because who wants to risk one of the actors?) it is actually Bell hanging onto the hood of the car! It truly takes a veteran to know how to hang on a racing car properly!

Paris Cafe – Inception

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Warner Bros. Pictures
Warner Bros. Pictures

If you’ve seen Christopher Nolan’s masterpiece inception, then you’re aware of the cool special effects that are riddled throughout the movie. But what Nolan does differently than other directors is the use of practical effects in favor of CGI. One such scene that looks CGI but is actually all practical is when the cafe in Paris seemingly explodes in slow motion.

To get the desired effect, we see on-screen, production designer Chris Corbould and cinematographer Wally Pfister used a series of air cannons while filming the scene at 1,500 frames-per-second with a specialized camera. Talk about going all in!

Jurassic Park Used Cutting-Edge Animatronics For The Dinos

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Universal Studios
Universal Studios

While some film effects seem to get dated as time passes, Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park is not one of them. In a movie that could have utilized CGI for, let’s be honest, practically its entire run-time, Spielberg opted to use something else altogether.

The dinosaurs that are basically part of the movie cast are actually animatronic, built using revolutionary technology. Once the dino-suits were built, the last piece of the puzzle was to have people inside the suits and puppeteer the creatures. So, the next time you watch Jurassic Park, just remember, there are people inside, controlling that gigantic T-Rex.

The One-In-A-Million Shot In Alien: Resurrection

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20th Century Fox
20th Century Fox

The Alien series is no stranger to special effects. We mean, have you seen the saliva dripping from the alien’s gigantic teeth? That is no easy feat. And while some of the effects are brought to the screen using CGI, there is one scene that people might be surprised to find out is all the actor’s doing.

During a scene, while the crew is playing basketball, Sigourney Weaver’s character makes a one-in-a-million over the head backward shot. And while the director wanted to use CGI, Weaver was adamant about doing it herself. The talented actress sunk the shot after just a few takes!

The Crew Built The Ark In Evan Almighty

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Columbia Pictures
Columbia Pictures

The film Evan Almighty not only uses CGI, but it also brings practical effects into the equation in the most unlikely places. While building a huge wooden ark seems like something the studio wouldn’t want to use their budget on, that’s exactly what they did.

In the middle of a Virginia housing development, the crew working on the movie built a 250-foot long wood monstrosity that reached 50 feet high and 80 feet wide. And the ark wasn’t the only real thing in the film. The animals that were to board to ark were also real. The crew brought in 200 live animals for the movie.