Now with the 2000s behind us, VFXWorld looks back over the past 10 years to showcase the best in visual effects work. The 2000s were the time for digital effects. Advances in digital cinema have leapt forward. The films on this list have set the groundwork for new forms of cinema in the 2010s.
Special Jury Prize: The Dark Knight and Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
With all the digital overload that overtook the 2000s, there were also great examples of filmmakers embracing a combination of digital and practical effects for a seamless effect. The Oscar-nominated work on The Dark Knight and Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World are perfect examples of the trend.
But, it's just compositing. Yes, but it's a lot more. 300 set the stage for freeing filmmakers to realize a vision without the constraints of on-set filming. Every shot in the film was a visual effect. Zack Snyder's film raised the bar for next-gen films with a mashup of graphic novels, movies and videogames.
The reason people went to see this film was for the visual effects. Fans wanted robot on robot violence and Michael Bay provided them what they wanted. Even though they were giant robots they felt like they were within their environment. ILM ratcheted up hard body surfaces for the best bots ever created on film.
The Spider-Man series raised the bar for superhero feats, thanks to extraordinary character animation, virtual environments, cloth sim and fluid dynamics by Sony Pictures Imageworks. From the first film, the productions improved on digital characters with each entry. In it's villains it also broke new ground. Doc Ock combined a real actor with photoreal digital animation. In the third entry, Sandman represented an amazing step forward in particle simulation and Venom's symbiote ooze made fluids a life of their own.
Starting in the 1990s, the Star Wars prequels harkened in the age of digital cinema. George Lucas and ILM elevated the hybrid film with groundbreaking character animation and virtual environments even more with Episode II and III. Just watching the improvements from Clones to Sith shows the leaps and bounds the industry made in the 2000s. From Yoda to General Grievous to R2-D2, the animators created believable digital creations alongside human actors. And the opening space battle in Sith still stands as one of cinema's most thrilling start.
The Harry Potter series is one of the defining series of the 2000s. Each entry broke ground in different areas. The Chamber of Secrets brought Dobby to the world, a big step forward in CG character acting. The Prisoner of Azkaban made Dementors a frightening sight. The Goblet of Fire changed the way fire effects were done and also breathed life into cinema's best dragons. Moreover, the series single-handedly transformed the London VFX industry with state-of-the-art character animation and virtual environments.
King Kong made us cry. Peter Jackson and Weta took performance capture to the next level with Kong while expanding their virtual sandbox. Combining performance capture and character animation, the giant ape became a character we cared about. The film set the groundwork for other films to dare to put a digital creation at the center of their emotional story. And the vfx artists put Kong in beautifully constructed environments on Skull Island and 1930s New York City.
The Pirates of the Caribbean series brought new landmark cinematic wonders with each installment. In The Curse of the Black Pearl, the moonlight revealed skeleton pirate crewmembers. ILM had its own performance capture wonder in Davy Jones, right in the middle of the action with a small footprint, thanks to Imocap, in The Dead Man's Chest. And don't forget The Maelstrom, which raised water simulation beyond Poseidon, in At World's End.
Digital Domain sets up camp in the Uncanny Valley, according to David Fincher, with its amazing CG human that ages backwards. With advancements in skin sim and lighting, Brad Pitt was transformed into a young old man and aged to his youthful looking self from earlier films like Thelma & Louise. The effect was startling and impressive. The entire film's success rested on the success of these visual effects. With an Oscar win for Best Visual Effects and a nomination for Best Picture, its success on a technical and emotional level was rewarded.
When you think of the visual effects accomplishments of the Lord of the Rings series, the first one that comes to mind of Gollum. Weta Digital made the first great performance capture leap with Gollum, transforming Peter Jackson's imaginative adaptation of Tolkien. The visual effects artists also made captivating worlds all across Middle-Earth. From the first film to the last, the production combined old school film tricks with cutting-edge digital filmmaking to make normal-sized actors appear Hobbit sized and put real humors and digital creations seamlessly into the frame together like never before.
James Cameron's epic sci-fi adventure closed out the 2000s as the industry game changer. Right from its release, it revolutionized virtual production and stereoscopic spectacle, thanks in part to Rob Legato and Weta Digital. Visual effects allow filmmakers to take viewers to worlds they have never seen. In Avatar, Pandora is a world like no other and each element is flawlessly integrated breaking away any need for suspension of disbelief. And you can forget about the Uncanny Valley after Zoe Saldana's remarkable performance as Neytiri.
Rick DeMott is the director of content for Animation World Network, VFXWorld and AWNtv. Additionally, he's the creator of the movie review site, Rick's Flicks Picks, which was recently named one of the 100 best movie blogs by The Daily Reviewer. He has written for TV series, such as Discovery Kids' Growing Up Creepie and Cartoon Network's Pet Alien, the animation history book Animation Art, and the humor, absurdist and surrealist website Unloosen. Previously, he held various production and management positions in the entertainment industry.