From superhero movies to visually stunning fantasy epics, these days, CGI is to blockbusters as Laura Dern is to… anything Oscar-related!
Computer-generated imagery (CGI) is the process of “rendering special effects on a computer rather than physically,” per Insider, and it’s evolved a lot since its first use in 1973’s Westworld (a slightly disastrous, huge-budget film which saw Kevin Costner get… fish gills). According to Slate, in 1977, the technology was still so expensive that George Lucas could only afford to create a 90-second sequence using CGI. But by the 2000s, things had sure changed. “More than 75 percent” of the Lord of The Rings trilogy, per Slate, was created at least partly on computers, “including about 200,000 soldiers.” More like “you shall pass”… as realistic!
Today, CGI is everywhere, and it’s not just for background actors or mind-blowing set-pieces, either. Sometimes, main characters are CGI-altered, from their body type to their facial hair to even how nude they appear. Of course, the results may vary (we’ll get to that), but clearly, the technique is everywhere. Not every filmmaker has the ambition (or budget) to create humungous practical effects a-la Christopher Nolan’s amazing spinning hallway in Inception!
Anyway, here are some astounding and surprising uses of CGI on actors from enhanced muscles to swapped bodies that will make you (mostly) say, “isn’t technology amazing?” Scroll down for the celebrities you didn’t know had their appearances changed on-screen using CGI.
Superhero movies alter stars' bodies all the time
Stars in both the Marvel and D.C. Cinematic Universes have certainly been digitally altered. Take Gal Gadot, who became a household name after 2016’s Wonder Woman. According to Health.com, Gadot gained “a whopping 14 pounds of muscle” for the film, exercising for six hours a day for six months. But for re-shoots, production had a slight dilemma as the actress was five months pregnant. According to Entertainment Weekly, her suit was updated with a bright green triangle section so editors could alter her figure in post-production. “On close-up I looked very much like Wonder Woman,” Gadot told the outlet. “On wide shots I looked very funny, like Wonder Woman pregnant with Kermit the Frog.” Ha!
Chris Evans needed to look extra thin for Marvel’s Captain America: The First Avenger, as his character was still the meager Steve Rogers, not yet its titular hero, in its first scenes. “The beginning part of the movie is so crucial to get the audience invested in who Steve is, I didn’t want to share that part of the performance with another actor,” Chris Evans told Reuters. Thus, filmmakers “used a ‘shrinking’ technique,” per the outlet, erasing areas around Evans’ buff body digitally to create “Skinny Steve.” (Interestingly, Reuters notes that Evans’ face was sometimes grafted onto “body double” Leander Deeny.)
Meanwhile, Henry Cavill’s mustache was removed digitally for Justice League, as per Empire Online, as the star was filming another movie simultaneously.
Not every actor wants to bare all on-screen
Some actors simply chose not to do fully nude scenes that films or TV shows ask for, whatever their reasons may be. Luckily, there’s CGI for that!
Take the Season 5 finale of Game of Thrones, in which Cersei Lannister, played by Lena Headey, is infamously forced on a “walk of atonement” through King’s Landing entirely nude. For whatever reason (some reports, per Express, suggested the actress was visibly pregnant at the time) Headey chose not to do the scene in the buff. Instead, her head was CGI-ed onto a body double for the scene. “Our fantastic body double was just so brave,” co-star Hannah Waddingham told Vulture. “I had a lot of respect for her.” According to Vulture, the reasoning may have also been that Lena Headey has a lot of tattoos, but regardless, it was, as the outlet put it, a “long,” “humiliating” walk!
Meanwhile, Jessica Alba was digitally altered to be nude for her shower-emerging scene in 2010’s Machete. Because of her Catholic upbringing, “Jessica has been steadfast in her resolve not to appear nude in films from the beginning of her career,” as Alba’s publicist told Entertainment Weekly. More power to her! Oh, and for the 2011 movie The Change-Up, Olivia Wilde was digitally altered to be nude for a scene as well. “I wasn’t actually naked, but now I appear naked,” Wilde said on Jimmy Kimmel Live! (via Entertainment Weekly). “They CGI-ed me naked,” she added.
Where extreme CGI is concerned, results may vary
As far as big swings with CGI go, sometimes, the results are amazing, other times, they’re not so purrr-fect. Brad Pitt played the titular role in 2008’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, a fantasy film about a man who ages backwards. Of course, for the scenes where Brad Pitt was really old (well, young… it’s confusing), his face and body were altered using CGI. The drastic results were pretty impressive at the time, and the film won Best Makeup and Best Visual Effects at the 2009 Academy Awards.
On the other hand (or paw), 2019’s Cats was critical flop, and its CGI graphics were… no comment. Stars like Idris Elba and Taylor Swift were morphed into half-cat, half-human characters, which could have been great in theory, but it made fans… want to claw their eyes out. The film had to release multiple cuts, as the first had continuity errors in need of even more CGI, like Judi Dench wearing her own wedding band in some shots, per Stylist. Meanwhile, outlets like Variety called Tom Hopper’s film adaptation of the beloved musical, and its “digital fur technology,” “creepy.” No wonder Taylor Swift may have potentially thrown shade at the film on her 2020 album evermore, singing on the title track, “Motion capture [a CGI technique] / Put me in a bad light.”
CGI is so widespread, the technique made it into a Taylor Swift song!
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