8 ESSENTIAL FILMS IN THE HISTORY OF COMPUTER ANIMATION
Groundbreaking movies that changed the industry and inspired special effects master Ben Kilgore ’04

1-tron

tron-1

Tron marked the dawn of the CG era for big-budget films,” Kilgore says. The movie now looks dated, but the special effects wowed audiences whose virtual existence was limited to Atari-era video games like Pac-Man and Frogger. The designers who created the famous Light Cycle sequence went on to found Blue Sky Studios—and when Kilgore worked at Blue Sky, he saw Tron memorabilia on display in the lobby. [© Walt Disney Pictures/Courtesy of Photofest]

2-abyss

abyss

In the most spectacular scene in James Cameron’s film about an aquatic alien species, a face appears on the end of a tentacle made of water. According to Kilgore, that tentacle was the first fully computer-generated character integrated into a live-action scene. “It looks pretty dated now, but for the time, it was a stunning VFX achievement and a clear precursor of Terminator 2.” [© 20th Century Fox/Courtesy of Everett Collection]

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terminator2

Terminator 2 was the reason Kilgore went into the industry. The liquid metal T-1000 was the first realistic computer-generated human in film history. “It felt like it was actually in the shot with the actors,” he says. “It blew my mind.” [© TriStar Pictures/Courtesy of Photofest]

4-jurrasicjurassic

To animate the dinosaurs in this modern classic, Steven Spielberg was planning to use “go motion”—like stop motion except less herky-jerky. But when he saw a computer-generated T. rex animated by Industrial Light & Magic, George Lucas’s visual-effects firm, he changed his mind. The film ultimately combined go motion and physical dinosaur models with the new CG technology. [© Universal/Courtesy of Everett Collection]

5-toystorytoy-story

“Pixar makes the pop music of movies,” Kilgore says. “People love their work because it strikes a very human chord.” Toy Story was the first fully computer-generated film—but more important, it demonstrated that computer animation wasn’t just beautiful, it was a medium for high-quality storytelling. [© Walt Disney Pictures/Courtesy of Everett Collection]

7-matrix

matrix

The Matrix had groundbreaking ideas told with revelatory visuals, transporting the watcher to another world,” Kilgore says. In particular, the film popularized the “bullet time” shot, super-slow motion created using an array of still cameras. The trick soon became a cliché, but at the time, watching bullets inch past Keanu Reeves was a true pleasure. [© Warner Bros./Courtesy of Photofest]

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lordrings

These adaptations of Tolkien’s beloved epic were packed with computer-generated wizardry. All the mythical beings—the talking trees, the giant spider, the evil wolves, and of course, Gollum—were digitally drawn. Director Peter Jackson had founded Weta while making his 1994 film Heavenly Creatures, but the Tolkien trilogy grew the company into an industry giant. In the early aughts, Kilgore was considering dropping out of FIT to take a job at an ad agency, but after getting positive feedback from some of the lead artists on this project through an internet listserv, he decided to stick it out. [© New Line/Courtesy of Everett Collection]

8-avatar

avatar

Avatar was, first and foremost, an animated film,” Kilgore says. “Even the shots with human actors were full of animation.” Weta Digital did most of the visual effects, and the company made Kilgore an offer right after it came out. “It was the final element that propelled me to move halfway across the world to take the job.” [Mark Fellman/TM and © 20th Century Fox. All rights reserved/Courtesy of Everett Collection]

Read a profile of Computer Animation and Interactive Media grad Ben Kilgore here.