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VFX MILESTONES - Searchlight's Top 10

Written by James Cheetham on 2nd October 2014

With Summer Blockbuster season at an end and the usual bombardment of CGI and Motion Capture films coming to a close, we thought we'd look at the top ten VFX milestones in cinema.



Directed by George Melies, this French silent film was one of the first forages into VFX as it depicted a group of astronauts journeying to the moon and being set upon by a race of underground lunar creatures.  



An adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle's celebrated novel, it featured Willis O'Brien's pioneering stop motion animation which led to the iconic animation in King Kong and was the inspiration to stop motion legend, Ray Harryhausen.  



One of the most influential Science Fiction films of all time, this German expressionist film used new special effects methods such as the use of miniatures (a method still utilised by directors such as Peter Jackson) and mirrors to give the impresion the actors were occupying the miniature sets, a process which became known as  the Schüfftan process.



Another film that utilised stop motion animation, and possibly one of the most famous alongisde Clash of The Titans, this epic fantasy had its special effects in the confident hands of Ray Harryhausen, one of its most iconic scenes being the skeleton sword fight. 

5. 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY(1968)


A Stanley Kubrick classic, this film pioneered the use of front projection (now replaced with green screen) which produced the backgrounds such as the desert terrain and the surface of the moon, a technique which also utilised the use of mirrors and reflections with the camera, a progression of the VFX used in Metropolis back in the 1920s. 

6. TRON(1982)


A box office failure on release, and now a cult classic, TRON was one of the first films to use extensive computer animation, although because of this they were omitted from a special effects nomination; the Oscars judging panel claimed they'd 'cheated' by using computers. 

7. TERMINATOR 2 (1991)


A huge success at the box office and the winner of Best Special Effects at the Oscars, James Cameron's Terminator sequel used a mix of painstakingly detailed models and computer animation to create the T1000 antagonist and his liquid metal morphing.

8. TOY STORY(1995)


An obvious entry, Toy Story was the first feature length computer animated film, a classic Pixar movie which paved the way for what has become the staple for family films.  

9. LORD OF THE RINGS - The Two Towers(2002)


The dawn of VFX motion capture and Andy Serkis' break through role, the mixture of Serki's Golum portrayal  and the VFX motion capture team at Weta Digital paved the way for the motion capture you see in the majority of large scale blockbusters released today. 

10. AVATAR(2009)


Taking the motion capture and green screen methods used throughout the 00s, Avatar took it to the next level and created an entire new world, motion captured each creature and character and was filmed entirely in 3D. And while it could be argued the plot was fairly standard, the VFX used through out took the industry a step forward.

So there you have it, our personal VFX milestones, but more importantly, what are yours?

Any changes or omissions you would make?

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