An amazingly detailed and comprehensive list of visual effects milestones that span from Eadweard Muybridge's THE HORSE IN MOTION in 1878 to present.
Honored and humbled to have contributed to 7 films on this list.
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2001)
"The film was hailed for having photo-realistic, life-like images. It was the first feature film to use motion capture to create realistic digital humans."
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)
"CGI-imagery was combined with "motion capturing" (of the movements and expressions of actor Andy Serkis, who also served as the voice) to produce the supporting character of Gollum (originally known as Sméagol) - noted for saying: "Myyy PRECIOUSSS!" A motion capture suit recorded the actor's movements that were then applied to the digital character. A more laborious visual effects process digitally "painted out" Serkis's image and replaced it with Gollum's. [The same technique was repeated in I, Robot (2004), with Alan Tudyk as the robot Sonny.] "
Spider-Man 2 (2004)
"Spider-Man 2 won the Oscar for Best Visual Effects (its only Oscar win from three nominations), defeating I, Robot (2004) and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004).
The most spectacular scenes were the struggle between Spider-Man (Tobey Maguire) and the tentacled major villain Doctor Otto Octavius ("Doc Ock") (Alfred Molina) on the side of a skyscraper during a bank robbery, atop the Westside bell/clock Tower, and then on the roof (and side) of a moving, runaway, overhead subway train that Spider-Man had to brake before it plunged over the end of the track."
Superman Returns (2006)
"This sequel used realistic, dramatic CGI...Visual effects artists also created a completely realistic, digital body double of the title character with a digital cape."
"This Robert Zemeckis-directed film, an adaptation of the Old English epic poem, used advanced motion-capture technology to transform live action into digital animation, resulting in a 100% CGI film. The technique was first used in Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002) for the character of Gollum"
Spider-Man 3 (2007)
"This was the third in the series of superhero films featuring Marvel Comics' Spider-Man, with a record 900 visual effects shots in the film.
The most impressive visual FX sequences were... the birth of the Sandman (a three-minute segment with almost two minutes non-stop), and the giant Sandman's theft of an armored car as he battled NYPD officers. It took three years to create the visual effects required to portray the Sandman's shape-shifting powers."
"In this filmed adaptation of Alan Moore's graphic novel (a 12-issue publication by DC Comics between 1986 and 1987) by director Zack Snyder, the photo-realistic, all-CGI character of the all-powerful, blue-glowing "atomized" scientist Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup) was created with the process of motion capture. Dr. Manhattan's character appeared in approximately 38 minutes of the entire film.
Crudup wore a specially-designed motion capture suit covered with pattern markers and face markers - he was filmed with two to four HD "witness" cameras (in addition to the film's master camera) to capture his overall full-body movements and facial expressions. All the cameras were synced so animators could then triangulate Crudup's performance in-frame.
The number of black facial markers on the suit was a record 165 spot points, allowing the animators to track his expressions through video and then use that data as a jumping-off point to hand-animate Manhattan's face. Crudup's suit was also equipped with 2500 LEDs to create Manhattan's diffuse blue glow."
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Greatest Visual-Special Effects (F/X) Milestones in Film History: From even its earliest days, films have used visual magic ("smoke and mirrors") to produce illusions and trick effects that have startled audiences. In fact, the phenomenon of persistence of vision (it was first described to some degree in 1824 by British physician Peter Mark Roget) is the reason why the human eye sees individual frames of a movie as smooth, flowing action when projected.
The earliest effects were produced within the camera (in-camera effects), such as simple jump-cuts or superimpositions, or were created by using miniatures, back projection, or matte paintings. Optical effects came slightly later, using film, light, shadow, lenses and/or chemical processes to produce the film effects. Film titles, fades, dissolves, wipes, blow ups, skip frames, bluescreen, compositing, double exposures, and zooms/pans are examples of various optical effects.
Cel animation, scale modeling, claymation, digital compositing, animatronics, use of prosthetic makeup, morphing, and modern computer-generated or computer graphics imagery (CGI) are just some of the more modern techniques that are widely used for creating incredible special or visual effects.