The History of CGI in Movies

(This is an old post. We’re in the process of updating the information and republish soon.)

We have come a long way in the years since the first Star Wars film.

Watching the old videos really puts it all in perspective as we tend to have a chuckle when remembering just how high tech some of these films seemed at their release.

In this post, we take a look at the History of CGI in Movies. We take you through the technological advances that we have seen in CGI and provide some videos.

Star Wars (1977)

An animated 3D wireframe graphic is used for the first time in the first Star Wars film.

This new technology was used for the trench run briefing sequence in the first Star Wars film. Larry Cuba, who worked out of the Electronic Visualization Laboratory (EVL) at the University of Illinois, explains his part in the computer graphics for the first Star Wars in the video below.

Alien (1979)

The first Alien film rendered the navigation monitors in the landing sequence using a raster wireframe model.

Dire Straits: Money For Nothing (1985)

The first computer-generated music video.

The video used computer animation to illustrate the song’s lyrics and was one of the first uses of computer-animated human characters. The animators later went on to found the computer animation studio Rainmaker Animation (formerly Mainframe Entertainment) which is responsible for ReBoot, the first-ever CGI animated series.

Labyrinth (1986)

The 1986 fantasy film Labyrinth showed off the first use of a realistic CGI animal. A flying digital owl is seen in the opening credits.

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)

Star Trek IV showed the first 3D morphing and contained the first use of the Cyberware 3D scanner. The Cyberware 3D scanner produced the heads of William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy as disembodied cyber-sculptures.

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The Abyss (1989)

In 1989 science fiction film The Abyss used the first digital 3D water effect. The watery alien creature was the first example of digitally-animated, CGI water and was the first computer-generated 3D character.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

Used the first all-digital composite, the process of digitally assembling multiple images to make a final image. The all-digital composite was used to show the rapid aging and eventual death of Walter Donovan. (Starting at 3:27 in the video clip below)

Total Recall (1990)

The Governator’s 1990 film Total Recall included motion capture for CGI characters. Motion capture is the process of recording movement and translating it to a digital model. This was used for the skeletal CGI characters behind an X-ray screen in a subway shootout scene.

Backdraft (1991)

Backdraft included the first use of photorealistic CGI fire.

Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)

Terminator 2: Judgement Day has the first realistic human movements on a CGI character and the first use of a PC to create 3D special effects in a major movie.

Jurassic Park (1993)

The first installment of the Jurassic Park series included the first photorealistic CG creatures. The film used a mix of animatronics and computer-generated dinosaurs.

Toy Story (1995)

The first movie from the Toy Story series was the first feature-length film made entirely with CGI animation. This was the first film from Pixar Animation Studios, a California-based CGI computer animation production company that went on to produce many groundbreaking animation films in partnership with Disney.

Titanic (1997)

Titanic at the time of its release was the most expensive film ever made. It was the first use of open-source Linux rendered elements in a feature film. The film also included unprecedented advancements especially in the depiction of flowing water. Both CG and miniature models were used to portray the ship as it sank at the end of the movie.

The Matrix (1999)

The 1999 science fiction film The Matrix included the first use of CG interpolation in Bullet Time effects. Bullet Time refers to the slowed-down rotating action sequences. CG interpolation was used to enhance actors on wires filmed with motion capture and multiple still cameras shooting from all angles.

Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2002)

The first LOTR movie gave us the first use of AI for digital actors. The character of Gollum seen later on in the Lord of the Rings trilogy was the first photorealistic motion-captured character for a film. A motion capture suit recorded movements that were then applied to the digital character.

The Polar Express (2004)

The Polar Express was the first film to use motion-captured character technology for every single actor in the movie.

Elephants Dream (2006)

Elephants Dream, released in 2006, was the first CGI short movie released as completely open-source. All 3D models, animatics, and software are included in the DVD release free for use under the Creative Commons license.

Monsters vs Aliens (2009)

Monsters vs Aliens was the first computer-animated feature film to be shot directly in stereoscopic 3D. 3D CGI films were previously made in non-3D version and then dimensionalized.

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