Top 7 Iconic CGI Characters
September 9, 2022
In this article, we will take a look at 7 CGI characters that have captured your imagination.
Just a little over 20 years ago, most CG creatures in movies and TV shows were incredibly awkward and far from photorealistic. You could easily tell with no doubt that those were made using computer graphics: the way they moved was a little odd, their bodies looked a little flat, and overall it seemed like they were slapped onto real-life footage like some stickers.
Of course, at that point, both the software and the hardware used for CGI production had certain limitations, and the level of realism digital artists can deliver today was impossible to achieve back in the 1990s-early 2000s. Plus, 3D animation and VFX used to be quite expensive both for FX production teams and filmmakers.
In the 2000s, though, digital art started to develop at an unimaginable speed, CGI became more affordable, and fully digital creatures began to appear in nearly every fantasy movie and TV show you can think of. Some of them were so memorable they became a staple of the entertainment industry.
Even if you haven’t seen the movies, you’ve probably seen these 10 iconic CG characters at least once.
Alien is one of the most popular sci-fi franchises that has grown into an entire universe of films, video games, novels, and comics. It began with a 1979 movie titled Alien and is still going strong with more films officially being in production.
The most recognizable creatures of the entire franchise are the spine-chilling aliens a.k.a. xenomorphs - tall skinny monsters with enormous heads that have no eyes, giant fangs, long tails, and shiny black skin. However, the famous scary creatures were not CGI until the fourth movie.
In the first three films, xenomorphs are pure SFX, and in Alien Resurrection we finally see the computer-generated monsters designed by Blue Sky Studios. Ever since then, the movie franchise never went back to xenomorph puppets and costumes.
This 2009 movie written and directed by the sci-fi genius James Cameron is a truly revolutionary piece in the history of CGI. Thanks to advanced 3D motion capture techniques used throughout the filming process, Avatar’s CGI still looks good even though computer graphics have changed dramatically since 2008.
It took a total of $237 million and over 1800 digital artists to make the movie, which is, according to James Cameron himself, about 60% CGI. Weta Digital was the main company responsible for visual effects in Avatar and it had to expand its crew to around 900 artists to handle a workload this heavy.
Still, at one point the production crew had to reach out to more FX studios including ILM, BUF, and Framestore. Unsurprisingly, the movie won 73 awards with more than 20 of them celebrating Avatar’s outstanding computer graphics.
To be fair, this list could have been an ode to Marvel with every single character being a part of the MCU. It is undeniable that Marvel’s CGI is top-notch and has been consistently good for years, making it hard for smaller movies to even try to compete.
One of the most well-recognized CG characters created for the Marvel Cinematic Universe is Thanos. Even though this tough purple guy who likes to collect gemstones does not have as much screen time as Hulk or Iron Man, he is a memorable character and a perfect example of grade A CGI.
Thanos makes a major appearance in three MCU movies: Guardians of the Galaxy, Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers: Endgame. The ambitious warlord who is trying to save the universe is portrayed by Josh Brolin.
Character design and animation were carried out by Luma Pictures (for Guardians of the Galaxy) and Digital Domain (for Infinity War and Endgame). Advanced motion capture and impeccable look development make Thanos look freakishly real and arguably more believable than Hulk also created with the use of mocap.
Game of Thrones Dragons
Game of Thrones was a game-changer for fantasy TV series and probably one of the most influential shows overall. The 8-season-long fantasy drama set in the middle ages is loaded with stunning visuals including astounding environments, amazingly realistic creatures, and all kinds of fluid, fire, and smoke simulations.
However, the most well-known CG beasts of the Game of Thrones universe are the dragons. In the series, we watch Khaleesi’s cute little dragon babies grow into gigantic powerful creatures who can burn entire cities to the ground.
Even though several FX teams, including Rodeo FX and Scanline VFX, created visual effects for the series, the dragons were designed by Pixomondo. The German-based studio has been working on the iconic fire-breathing creatures since the very first seasons and made both the baby versions and the mature dragons for the show. The show won dozens of awards for its visual effects, animations, and compositing between 2011 and 2019.
The 2005 King Kong movie directed by Peter Jackson is the second remake of the story of the giant ape from Skull Island. Created by Merian C. Cooper in 1933, the 2005 version of the film is the first one to feature CGI.
Both in the 1933 and 1976 King Kong, the main character is made using practical effects. The first movie used a huge gorilla puppet with metal levers and an air compressor that allowed it to control Kong’s movements.
In the second one, Kong is portrayed by Rick Baker wearing a gorilla suit. Finally, in the 2005 remake, the scary creature is designed using mocap.
Andy Serkis who played Kong went to Rwanda to study gorillas in the wild and mimic their behavior as accurately as possible. Weta Digital’s artists made the first ever CG version of Kong come to life and even though they did that 17 years ago, the digital creature still looks beyond impressive.
Stranger Things has been one of the most successful shows on Netflix ever since the release of the first season in 2016. By season 4 premiere, it had already become one of the best-known series globally.
In just a little over 5 years, it has grown into a mega universe with books, comics, mobile games, clothing collections, and Lego toys being released along with the original series. Though the world of Stranger Things is full of petrifying monsters of all sorts, the one that became the most iconic creature of the Upside Down and got its pretty face all over the official merchandise products is the Demogorgon.
The tall monster with pale slimy skin and a head shaped like a rafflesia flower with dozens of sharp teeth is the first villain introduced in season 1. Though originally the Duffer brothers wanted to avoid CGI and use practical effects as much as possible, tight deadlines called for computer graphics.
So in the first season, in most of the scenes, the flower-headed monster is played by Mark Steger who’s wearing a Demogorgon costume, while in season 4 the creators went for motion capture.
The famous evil little monster from J. R. R. Tolkien's novels is one of the most notable CGI creatures in the movie industry. Gollum is extremely unlikable: in the books, he is characterized as “a small slimy creature” with “big round pale eyes” and “paddle-feet” who looks “like a starved frog”.
Weta Digital’s artists who created Gollum for the movies nailed every bit of this description and made the character look exceptionally hideous. Gollum makes his first grand appearance in 2002 The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.
He also becomes one of the central characters in 2003 The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King and 2012 The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Weta Digital created Gollum for all three movies using primarily motion capture.
The irreplaceable master of motion capture performance Andy Serkis is the actor behind Gollum’s movements and facial expressions as well as his voice. Both Andy Serkis and the FX department did a phenomenal job creating Gollum and won multiple awards for best digital performance and best visual effects.
CGI is beyond any doubt a form of art: the skill and artistry that goes into creating digital creatures, environments, and other elements is immense. Sculpting, texturing, and animating a single CG character sometimes require the efforts of dozens of digital artists.
So frankly, this list only features a tiny portion of CGI creatures that made the viewers’ jaws drop and there are way more remarkable digital characters in the movie and TV industries. Now that CG is becoming more accessible and technologically advanced, fantasy, action, and superhero genres are on the rise, so one can only guess how mind-blowing CG characters in the upcoming movies and shows are going to be.
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