Last week we looked at the most shameful moments in CGI movie history. Unable to leave it on that depressing note, this week we are taking today to appreciate some of the most thoughtful, well-designed, well-modeled, and straight up believable CGI characters in just the short time the technology has been around. This list is made up of the characters that made us wonder out loud, “How did they do that?”, but also really made us feel for them. Here are the 10 Best CGI Film Characters.
10. Neytiri (Avatar) – 2009
Whether or not you think Avatar lived up to the dream that James Cameron envisioned, there’s no denying its stunning beauty. At the very center of that gorgeously detailed and imaginative world was Neytiri, the completely CGI character performed by Zoe Saldana via advanced motion capturing technology. A successful portrayal of the fearless princess of the Na’vi tribe was fundamental to the success of the love story and would require both an incredibly strong acting performance and some amazing CGI work. Zoe Saldana and the animators at Weta Digital pulled it, creating a character that—despite cliched stereotypes and a predictable plot—was wholly believable and a true achievement in CGI.
9. T-1000 (Terminator 2: Judgement Day) – 1991
Some CGI characters stand out just for their ability to instill that otherworldly “shock-factor” in viewers. One such character arrived in 1991 in another James Cameron science-fiction/action wonder, Terminator 2: Judgement Day. T-1000 was a ruthless villain who didn’t need an emotional backstory to give him depth—his mission was simply to bring death. The liquid metal effects used on this baddie were unheard of for its time and made James Cameron practically a household name.
Terminator 2 – T-1000 glitches
8. Yoda (Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith) – 2002, 2005
We still remember what it was like sitting in that theater on the opening night of Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones. The word was out: Episode I was terrible, yet we still found ourselves sitting through another one, hoping that George Lucas had gotten the memo as well. And honestly, sitting through the cheesy dialogue, stiff acting, and over-reliance on computer graphics was worth it all to see our favorite green Jedi master draw his light saber. Sure going from a static puppet in Episode I to doing gravity-defying acrobatics was a little absurd, but we still remember the people standing up and cheering in the theaters. Nowhere does a character with 30 years of hype built up around it make a more graceful transition into the digital world.
7. Master Control Program (Tron) – 1982
This one was simply irresistible. Master Control Program, the primary antagonist of the original Tron, was, to be honest, a flickering red tube with a face. However, in the hyper-digital virtual world of this cult classic, Master Control Program fit right in as an authoritarian, enslaving enemy. Like the Dark Lord Sauron, Master Control Program’s power is more based in his omnipresence and sinister ideology. On top of all that, Master Control Program was (arguably) the first computer-generated character in a feature film and inspired countless digital artists like John Lasseter to give CGI a chance.
6. Wall-E (Wall-E) – 2008
In some ways, we like to think of Wall-E as the evolution of Luxo Jr., the infamous lamp that would become Pixar’s first trademark character. John Lasseter and his animators have an uncanny talent at making seemingly lifeless things burst with character and emotion. Wall-E, the timid little bucket of bolts, is one of the best examples of this talent on screen. Without saying more than a couple of words, Wall-E remains one of the most expressive characters in Pixar’s enormous roster. And when we later come to believe in Wall-E to rescue his robo-girlfriend and save humanity, we can’t help but call Wall-E a CGI achievement worthy of our number six spot.