DID YOU READ

10 Incredible Special Effects You’d Swear Were CGI

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Armchair Neil deGrasse Tysons put on their debunking caps as last year’s box office smash Interstellar recently made its way to Blu-ray. Following the plight of humanity as a group of scientists attempt to save the planet via wormhole surfing, the movie is mostly a solemn adventure — aside for a couple breakout characters. (No, not the moon landing-denying guidance counselors.) We’re speaking, of course, of the blocky and plucky robots, TARS and CASE.

Simple, efficient, and not much more than slabs of stainless steel in their default state, TARS and CASE are a far cry from the mechanically complicated automatons we’ve come to expect from futuristic space flicks. Nevertheless, it’s surprising to learn that, in many of the scenes, both bots weren’t CGI creations but literally slabs of stainless steel operated by on-set puppeteers. Take a look at how the special effects team pulled it off.


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But the Metallic Duo isn’t the only effect that tricked audiences into thinking it was all just a bunch of ones and zeros. Here are 10 dazzling special effects you’d swear were CGI.

10. The T-Rex Attack, Jurassic Park

Part of the reason why the dinosaurs in a 20-year-old movie still look realistic is the impressive blending of CGI and practical effects. For the T-Rex attack, Spielberg and his crew seamlessly matched a head-to-tail graphical rendering of the beast with a massive animatronic puppet. (No easy task, since the latex skin kept getting soaked by the rain and caused reality-busting tremors.) While the CGI effects were breathtaking, the meticulous shots and edits of the puppet made audiences think there was no way to pull all of that off in real life.


9. The Hallway Brawl, Inception

The same practical effects that put Lionel Richie on the ceiling also tossed Joseph Gordon-Levitt and a hotel guard around a deco hallway. Rather than simulate the subconscious freefall using a green screen and a couple of harnesses, director Christopher Nolan constructed a 100-foot rotating hallway with a locked-down camera, effectively simulating a constantly shifting space by… making it constantly shift. The end results make it one of the most memorable moments in a film filled with fantastic visuals.


8. The Robotic Head, Total Recall

Get ready for a surprise: The transforming robotic head that Arnie uses as a disguise was actually a transforming robotic head. (Well, the scene required five heads in total.) As the woman begins to twitch and “malfunction,” we see the first mechanical prop head with an extending ear and then switch to the memorable second head with staggered retractable sections. The machinery that ran this prop was so heavy that it had to be lifted by hydraulics, requiring a mold of Arnold’s head to be positioned underneath as if he’s lifting the mask off. Then the wider angle shows Arnold slowly lowering a fourth mold, which he tosses to authorities for a simple matte effect before the explosion, which required a fifth head. It’s an amazing sequence of shots that a modern film would undoubtedly rely on (and ruin with) CGI to complete.


7. The T-800’s CPU Reset, Terminator 2

Speaking of fake Schwarzenegger heads, director James Cameron was no stranger to a few in his career — namely ones attached to a time-traveling cyborg. One such head was put to great use in a very creative and cost-cutting shot for Terminator 2 that was unfortunately left on the cutting room floor. (The scene was preserved as a supplemental for the DVD release.) In it, Sarah and John Connor operate on the T-800’s cranial CPU in front of a mirror as the camera swoops around for a closer look. The effect was pulled off with a false mirror, Linda Hamilton’s twin sister as her reflection (who mimicked her sister’s movements on the real Arnold), and a fake Terminator head used for close-ups in the foreground — all done with practical effects for a scene that would probably cost millions more if done with CGI.


6. The Star Gate, 2001: A Space Odyssey

Released 33 years before its title suggests, 2001: A Space Odyssey was produced long before CGI could take the majesty out of actual miniature spacecrafts. However, one colorful sequence appears to be a few decades ahead of its time. From a visual perspective, it was — but it was also pulled off without a single keystroke. The “Laserium” effect of the star gate was accomplished by painting psychedelic patterns on a piece of glass, backlighting it, and filming it through a slit on a second, blacked-out pane of glass. The results look like the de facto proto-screensaver of the cosmos.

5. The Car Chase, The Raid 2

If stunt coordinators ruled the world, then everything would look like The Raid movies. Filled with extraordinary practical effects and stunts, the movies’ plots take a backseat to the action-packed eye candy. And in one such instance where reality appears to be simulated, a camera appears to soar through a car window, into the interior, and out the other side. The truth: it was. With a camera operator disguised as a car seat, the gear is handed from one crewmember to another in one fluid motion.


4. The Transformation, An American Werewolf in London

When CGI is done well, the audience shouldn’t even notice it. When done poorly, well, it looks like 1997’s An American Werewolf in Paris — a sequel that just underscores how perfectly the movie’s predecessor handled the special effects. And through a series of prosthetics, heavy makeup, a false floor, and in-camera effects, the groundbreaking werewolf transformation in An American Werewolf in London didn’t require a single computer graphic to accomplish.


3. The Defibrillator Scene, The Thing

Expertly evoking the feelings of isolation, paranoia, and all-out dread, John Carpenter’s The Thing turns every member of an Antarctic research team into an alien suspect. And when their identities are revealed, it’s far too late, as seen in the incredible arm-chomping, head-walking transformation during the defibrillator scene. Even as the gooey green-tendoned Vance grows jaws in his chest and segmented legs from his head, every mutation was done on set courtesy of special effects master Rob Bottin, who filled in for Stan Winston when the practical effects workload became too heavy. As you can see, Bottin didn’t need Winston or a computer to make it look great.


2. The 3D Wireframe City, Escape from New York

While it might be hard to fathom for those who grew up with Google in their pocket, it was prohibitively expensive (or darn-near impossible) for a Hollywood film to do a simple wireframe rendering of Manhattan on a 1981 computer. So, to pull off what would take mere seconds in a modern-day system, director John Carpenter enlisted the help of a twenty-something James Cameron to complete the effect on set. Cameron strategically applied reflective tape to a matte-black model of the city, flipped on some ultraviolet lights, and “flew” the camera over the model — creating what appears to be a perfectly rendered CGI wireframe New York City.


1. All of Innerspace

There isn’t a single use of CGI in Innerspace. Not one. Not for the miniaturized pod, not for the bloodstream waterslides, not for the half-shrunken Kevin McCarthy, not for the incredible Robert Picardo-Martin Short transformations. Director Joe Dante pulled all of these off with practical, real-time, or in-camera effects, ranging from forced perspective to prosthetics to incredibly detailed miniatures — and the results are spectacular. For their work on this madcap sci-fi adventure, the special effects team won an Academy Award. Rightfully so, because even today no CGI could make everything look as good as that team did in 1987.

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Grow TFU

Adulting Like You Mean It

Commuters makes its debut on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Jared Warner, Nick Ciavarella, and Tim Dean were once a part of Murderfist, a group of comedy writers, actors, producers, parents, and reluctant adults. Together with InstaMiniSeries’s Nikki Borges, they’re making their IFC Comedy Crib debut with the refreshingly-honest and joyfully-hilarious Commuters. The webseries follows thirtysomethings Harris and Olivia as they brave the waters of true adulthood, and it’s right on point.

Jared, Nick, Nikki and Tim were kind enough to answer a few questions about Commuters for us. Here’s a snippet of that conversation…

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IFC: How would you describe Commuters to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Nick: Two 30-somethings leave the Brooklyn life behind, and move to the New Jersey suburbs in a forced attempt to “grow up.” But they soon find out they’ve got a long way to go to get to where they want to be.

IFC: How would you describe Commuters to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jared: It’s a show about how f*cking stupid people who think they are smart can be.

IFC: What’s your origin story? When did you all meet and how long have you been working together?

Jared: Nick, Tim, and I were all in the sketch group Murderfist since, what, like 2004? God. Anyway, Tim and Nick left the group to pursue other frivolous things, like children and careers, but we all enjoyed writing together and kept at it. We were always more interested in storytelling than sketch comedy lends itself to, which led to our webseries Jared Posts A Personal. That was a show about being in your 20s and embracing the chaos of being young in the city. Commuters is the counterpoint, i guess. Our director Adam worked at Borders (~THE PAST!!~) with Tim, came out to a Murderfist show once, and we’ve kept him imprisoned ever since.

IFC: What was the genesis of Commuters?

Tim: Jared had an idea for a series about the more realistic, less romantic aspects of being in a serious relationship.  I moved out of the city to the suburbs and Nick got engaged out in LA.   We sort of combined all of those facets and Commuters was the end result.

IFC: How would Harris describe Olivia?

Jared: Olivia is the smartest, coolest, hottest person in the world, and Harris can’t believe he gets to be with her, even though she does overreact to everything and has no chill. Like seriously, ease up. It doesn’t always have to be ‘a thing.’

IFC: How would Olivia describe Harris?

Nikki:  Harris is smart, confident with a dry sense of humor but he’s also kind of a major chicken shit…. Kind of like if Han Solo and Barney Rubble had a baby.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Nikki:  I think this is the most accurate portrayal of what a modern relationship looks like. Expectations for what your life is ‘supposed to look like’ are confusing and often a let down but when you’re married to your best friend, it’s going to be ok because you will always find a way to make each other laugh.

IFC: Is the exciting life of NYC twentysomethings a sweet dream from which we all must awake, or is it a nightmare that we don’t realize is happening until it’s over?

Tim: Now that i’ve spent time living in the suburbs, helping to raise a two year old, y’all city folk have no fucking clue how great you’ve got it.

Nikki: I think of it similar to how I think about college. There’s a time and age for it to be glorious but no one wants to hang out with that 7th year senior. Luckily, NYC is so multifaceted that you can still have an exciting life here but it doesn’t have to be just what the twentysomethings are doing (thank god).

Jared: New York City is a garbage fire.

See the whole season of Commuters right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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C'mon Fellas

A Man Mansplains To Men

Why Baroness von Sketch Show is a must-see.

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Mansplaining is when a man takes it upon himself to explain something to a woman that she already knows. It happens a lot, but it’s not going to happen here. Ladies, go ahead and skip to the end of this post to watch a free episode of IFC’s latest addition, Baroness von Sketch Show.

However, if you’re a man, you might actually benefit from a good mansplanation. So take a knee, lean in, and absorb the following wisdom.

No Dicks

Baroness von Sketch Show is made entirely by women, therefore this show isn’t focused on men. Can you believe it? I know what you’re thinking: how will we know when to laugh if the jokes aren’t viewed through the dusty lens of the patriarchy? Where are the thinly veiled penis jokes? Am I a bad person? In order: you will, nowhere, and yes.

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Huge Balls

Did you know that there’s more to life than poop jokes, sex jokes, body part jokes? I mean, those things are all really good things, natch, and totally edgy. But Baroness von Sketch Show does something even edgier. It holds up a brutal funhouse mirror to our everyday life. This is a bulls**t world we made, fellas.

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Oh Canada

After you watch the Canadian powerhouses of Baroness von Sketch Show and think to yourself “Dear god, this is so real” and “I’ve gotta talk about this,” do yourself a favor and think a-boot your options: Refrain from sharing your sage wisdom with any woman anywhere (believe us, she gets it). Instead, tell a fellow bro and get the mansplaining out of your system while also spreading the word about a great show.

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Dudes, that’s the deal.
Women, start reading again here:


Check out the preview episode of Baroness von Sketch Show and watch the series premiere August 2 on IFC.

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Happy Tears

Binge Don’t Cringe

Catch up on episodes of Documentary Now! and Portlandia.

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Photo Credit: GIFs via GIPHY

A brain can only take so much.

Every five minutes, all day, every day, ludicrously stressful headlines push our mental limits as we struggle to adapt to a reality that seems increasingly less real. What’s a mind to do when simple denial just isn’t good enough anymore?

Radical suggestion: repeal and replace. And by that we mean take all the bad news that keeps you up at night, press pause, and substitute it with some genuine (not nervous, for a change) laughter. Here are some of the issues on our mind.

Gender Inequality

Feminist bookstore owners by day, still feminist bookstore owners by night, Toni and Candace show the male gaze who’s boss. Learn about their origin story (SPOILER: there’s an epic dance battle) and see what happens when their own brand of empowerment gets out of hand.

Healthcare

From Candace’s heart attack to the rise of the rawvolution, this Portlandia episode proves that healthcare is vital.

Peaceful Protests

Too many online petitions, too little time? Get WOKE with Fred and Carrie when they learn how to protest.

What Could Have Been

Can’t say the name “Clinton” without bursting into tears? Documentary Now!’s masterfully political “The Bunker” sheds a cozy new light on the house that Bill and Hill built. Just pretend you don’t know how the story really ends.

Fake News

A healthy way to break the high-drama news cycle is to switch over to “Dronez”, which has all the thrills of ubiquitous adventure journalism without any of the customary depression.

The more you watch, the better you feel. So get started on past episodes of Documentary Now! and Portlandia right now at IFC.com and the IFC app.

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