Digit takes a look at the inexorable march of the digital actor through history.
Young Sherlock Holmes
The first true all 3D character to debut in a mainstream film. The CG knight, which was tasked with bursting through a stained-glass window, was created by Pixar, and deployed the then-new 32-bit painting and motion blur.
Aside from the movie’s general effects, the scene where some bad guys ran through an X-ray machine, revealing animated skeletons, was the first attempted use of motion-capture. It failed, and rotoscoping was deployed instead by Metrolight Studios.
Arnie was back, chased by the utterly cool T-1000, which was a liquid-metal effect that needed to morph into a walking person in many shots. Crafted by Industrial Light & Magic (ILM).
By now, ILM is leading the way with CG characters, and its dinosaur creation is simply awesome. ILM creates 80 character effects, and Jurassic Park is noted as the first movie in which a digital double gets killed.
Casper The Friendly Ghost
Hard to imagine, but the first CG lead in a movie was Casper – the ghost with child appeal. ILM created over 200 character FX shots, and the translucent ghost impressed audiences worldwide.
Big milestone for animal effects, and further cementing ILM’s lead in the area. The film demanded the creation of fur and hair effects for 3D animal actors and – despite the lack of box office success – achieved unsurpassed animal realism.
Tippett Studios gets in on the act, and creates virtual actors
in the shape of giant bugs. While about as far as you can get from a virtual human, the movie is the first time that puppeteers are able to animate CG characters in real-time.
Digital Domain champions the role of the virtual actor in a series of large-scale walk-on parts. Wide shots of the ship reveal a complete digital crew and passenger roster
of virtuals following pre-determined paths.
Mighty Joe Young
The often-overlooked effects masterpiece, created by ILM, features complex close-ups of the hero in true CG. Some shots of the giant ape were completely CG, but blended in with the rest of the shots extremely well.
Star Wars Episode 1
Featuring no less than 66 CG characters, fact fans, most home in on the poor acting and annoying character of Jar Jar Binks. But other characters fare better, such as Boss Nass, and the movie shows virtual actors have come of age. ILM, again, ups the realism stakes.
Proving that 1999 was a watershed mark in virtual actors, Stuart Little – the little mouse that could – is the first photorealistic star of a movie. Created by Imageworks, the character sports advanced fur techniques, and cloth effects.
Imageworks ups the ante with what was then the most comprehensive, digital human actor. The skeletal Kevin Bacon effect – shown as he transforms – is a fairly complete CG human down to bone and muscle layers. Took 300 people two years to produce.
It bombed, the hair of the main character sucked, and the story was about as woolly as a prehistoric mammoth convention, but Final Fantasy is a landmark. It’s the first – and only – time that a complete 3D human cast has been assembled for an entire feature.
The Two Towers
The debut of Gollum saw audience’s jaws drop, and the pinnacle to date of the virtual actor. Weta Digital developed the character over the three movies, and the last film in 2003 sported the most advanced Gollum yet.