Top 4 CGI Films of Today

CGI Continues to Improve

This summer has been huge for CGI. From the new Lion King to Toy Story 4, to Spider-Man: Far from Home, the number of times we were impressed was not what we expected. Somehow, The Secret Life of Pets 2 and Pokemon Detective Pikachu even made it on the list of top 10 movies this summer (not saying we enjoyed these movies, but someone must’ve).

We can easily conclude that audiences of all ages are attracted to animation movies for a variety of reasons, whether they’re arguably “good” or not. Maybe it’s a nostalgic feeling for adults from watching cartoons on Sunday morning as a kid, or a light-hearted way for children to follow along and relate to their surroundings. And it’s not just CGI movies making an impact on the industry, the top TV show this year, and over the past 10 years, was Game of Thrones, with a maximum budget of $15 million per episode for CGI alone. And with new releases of CGI every season, our expectations continue to become greater. But before we can look at our top picks of CGI of all time, it’s worth appreciating how far animation truly has come.

Taking a Look at CGI Today

When we take a quick glimpse into history at how animation has evolved, it’s worth noting that this style of art has been around longer than most people think. For thousands of years, people have been using images to tell stories, and they realized a deeper story could be told with more than just a single drawing. Take for example this Egyptian drawing that depicts a wrestling match taking place. By drawing images on multiple pieces of paper, artists can display character movement with images like the Egyptian wrestling match by quickly flipping through the pages.

Skipping ahead, many of us remember the early days of animation on TV with Steamboat Willie and Mickey Mouse. With hand-drawings, these shows used animation created with cel animation using transparent sheets. See how it was made in this short piece

Steamboat Willie screenshot of Mickey Mouse on a boat hand drawing

Just in the past decade, animation has continued to evolve, encouraging companies to keep up by pushing the limits of their designs. In fact, the overall CG market is expected to expand to $147 billion by 2021. While newer movies may look better than their predecessors, we’re giving an ode to the films that have truly made an impact on changing and challenging the CG industry.

This month, we’re taking a closer look at how animation movies have evolved over time and why these three movies are our favorite CGI films of all time. Character animation has taken huge strides since the beginning, and with movies like Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse, Lego Movie, Love Death and Robots and Bumblebee, we’re looking forward to seeing what the future holds for CG.

Our 4 Favorite CGI Films

#4: Bumblebee

Bumblebee movie screenshot of yellow robot standing

He’s not your typical yellow Volkswagen. Bumblebee, like most films in the 21st century, had a plotline that was expected, but the beautiful design and animation made up for it.

“Bumblebee was a nice turn in direction from the Micheal Bay series,” said Shawn Letendre, technical specialist. “It seemed like they went back to the original cartoon for inspiration for the robot designs. Even though the story was predictable, the movie was very entertaining.”

#3: Love, Death and Robots

Love, Death and Robots Screenshot

“Love, Death and Robots was a confusing, eclectic mash of styles and stories rolled into a neat anthology,” said Phong Tran, technical supervisor, and VR specialist.

“While I thought some of the stories and context were really out there, I did appreciate the range of art styles shown, some of which felt like the studios had a lot of fun experimenting. Unsurprisingly I loved the visuals of ‘The Witness’, which shared the same style as ‘Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse.’ ‘Beyond the Aquila Rift’ also had some impressively photoreal digital humans.”

#2: Lego Movie

Lego Movie Screenshot with light coming in from right side

“Lego movie was not only enjoyable, but it was so realistically rendered,” said Zak Katara, 3D generalist. “I had trouble determining if it was stop motion or CGI. The major factor in the realism they achieved was a breakthrough in the rendering engine they used, they were actually able to capture the full exposure range (or F-Stop range) of a physical camera.”

The movie did an impeccable job of using creative lighting in an unexpected way. 

“The new tech they used is called ACES, or Academy Color Encoding System,” said Katara. “This allowed them to use the actual physical light intensity of the sun in their scenes without having the rest of the scene be thrown into darkness or over-exposure due to a limited dynamic range. That paired with the incredible use of color in their lighting made for a breathtaking experience.”

#1: SpiderMan: Into the Spiderverse

Spider Man: Into the Spiderverse Photo

“The style direction in this film was all sorts of amazing,” said Tran.

“I really fell in love with the technical choices they made throughout the film. Everything from the way the characters were animated with a mix of one’s and two’s, to the hand-drawn outlines, and everything else they did to give this film a new take on an illustrative style without the uncanniness that is hard to avoid when mixing 2D techniques in a 3D world,” said Tran. “Technical merits aside, I thought the movie had a wonderfully vibrant atmosphere and a story that wasn’t afraid to poke fun at itself.”

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Top Lion King image: Disney Enterprises