June 14, 2018 | Ryan
Movie effects, from practical to digital, have dazzled audiences for over a century. Filmmakers have utilized a variety of techniques to trick viewers into thinking they’re actually seeing something impossible, when it’s really just wires and green screen. Even before computer graphics revolutionized the industry, special effects teams would spend months, sometimes years, building puppets, models and costumes that looked so real it’s hard to tell the difference. But behind the scenes, it occasionally takes more than just traditional means to pull of a effect.
In this article, we’ll reveal unbelievable movie hacks that will cause you to rethink your favorite moments. From new releases to classics, these secrets range from minor tweaks to some of the most complicated cinematic sequences to date. Many involve the crew doing extra creative things during the production, to things that took forever to figure out before the cameras even started rolling. We’ll also look at some fun easter eggs that were hidden in plain sight, until now. Look closer at the first image, can you see the copy and past effect used to create the post-destruction street scene? And that’s nothing…
The Long Take
A long take is a technique that only the best moviemakers can pull off. This is when a camera doesn’t cut for an extended period of time, allowing the audience to be fully engaged with the continuous shot that often involves complicated dialogue, choreographed action and multiple locations. To pull off a long take, directors and their teams have to plan everything ahead of time, using various types of equipment all at once and just hoping the actors don’t mess up their lines or movements, because if they do, everyone has to start over.
Some of the most famous long takes are from classics like Goodfellas, Old Boy, and Children of Men. More recently, the Rocky spin-off Creed, starring Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone, utilized the long take in one of the movie’s incredible boxing matches, creating what is arguably one of the most realistic fight scenes ever. The Raid 2 also features a seemingly impossible long take that happening during a complicated chase sequence, where the camera actually goes into a moving car without cutting. They did this by having a camera man disguised as a car seat in the back and another one strapped to the side of the vehicle.
Behind the Screens
First of all, it should be said that pretty much any time you see a screen in a movie, whether a character is watching tv or using a computer, there’s not actually anything playing. Cameras distort whatever’s being projected, so screens are left blank and the content is added later in post. Most of the time, the post-production teams make sure not to have any noticeable errors, but every once in a while audiences can catch something so distracting it almost ruins the shot completely.
For example, check out the computer screen above from 2010’s Unthinkable, which is supposed to be being used to defuse a bomb. It’s not hard to see that the Excel sheet is just filled with random letters, and what’s even crazier about this, is that it happens in movies more than you think. The next time you’re watching something with a television or computer monitor in the background, pause the movie and see what the filmmakers added. There’s a definite possibility you’ll be shocked at what probably shouldn’t be there.
When it comes to hidden elements and things that take multiple viewings to catch, there’s really no better example than Fight Club. Based off the novel by Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club is packed full of random references, secret edits and seamless CGI effects. Viewers have discovered all kinds of crazy cuts, like random flashes of Brad Pitt’s character in the background of shots that happen before he’s actually introduced. And that’s nothing compared to…
Fight Club is definitely a commentary on consumer culture, with Edward Norton’s main character starting off his journey obsessed with Ikea and other popular brands. This sensibility comes straight from the book, but director David Fincher wanted to add his own personal touch to this aspect of the story. One of the ways he did this was by making sure there was a Starbucks cup somewhere in every scene.
Toy Story changed everything. As one of the first fully CGI animated movies, it combined Disney’s heart with Pixar’s technological advancements to create a truly memorable experience for adults and children alike. And it’s one of the rare trilogies that maintained its quality, and some would argue that it even got better, from one film to the next. But there’s something that happened later in the series that everyone missed…
Sidney “Sid” Phillips is the villain of Toy Story, as Andy’s evil neighbor who is almost responsible for the destruction of the toys. While he’s mentioned by Buzz in the sequel, Sid has a cameo in Toy Story 3 that a lot of viewers didn’t catch. The garbage man, seen above, is grown up Sid, even wearing the same shirt as he did in the original. And he made an appearance in some of the Monsters, Inc comic books.
The Matrix revolutionized cinematic special effects, introducing things like slow motion bullet time and incredible CGI landscapes that have been recreated countless times since it was released. But not every trick in the movie was hidden as well as the others. In one scene that featured a creative shot of the characters reflected off a door knob, a camera can be seen sticking out from underneath a jacket. At least they tried to hide it.
Keanu Reeves is great at picking roles in action movies that push the limits of the genre. Over a decade after his portrayal of Neo in The Matrix, he played John Wick in two movies, with a third one planned, that utilize fight scene choreography in amazing ways. With Keanu doing all of his own stunts, these films are fan favorites and critical successes, showing that Keanu can still hold his own even this late in his career…
Sequels require a lot of attention be payed to continuity, making sure all the elements from the original transition seamlessly to the follow up, especially if the events take place directly after. As awesome as the John Wick movies are, in terms of action and effects, an amazing aspect is captured in one of the series most important settings. Even though they were filmed years apart, the outside of the Continental looks exactly the same.
The Lion King
Before Toy Story, the Lion King was probably the most beloved Disney movie of all time. The story of Simba growing up following the tragic events of his childhood featured an amazing soundtrack, won countless awards, and even inspired a Broadway musical. One reason for the film’s success was its memorable characters and the actors cast to portray them, from Timon and Pumbaa to Nala and the hyenas, but maybe the most important was the villain…
The previous image shows Zazu in The Lion King, saying that Scar would “make a very handsome throw rug.” He’s defeated at the end of the movie, and most viewers wouldn’t expect to see him again. But a few eagle-eyed fans spotted Scar in a different Disney movie that calls back to that line in The Lion King. In Hercules, seen above, Scar makes an appearance as, you guessed it, a very handsome throw rug.
The Floating Pen
Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey blew people away when it was released in 1968. One of the more memorable effects sees a pen floating around the inside of the spaceship, which is even more impressive considering this was way before modern CGI. They pulled this off by gluing the pen with transparent duct tape to a giant glass and moving it around, with the camera focused on the center of the glass so viewers can’t see the edges.
Another practical effect that most confuse with CGI was seen in the first cinematic appearance of Spider-Man. While learning how to use his powers, Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker catches a bunch of falling food items on a tray in his school’s cafeteria. Yes, this was real. Using a sticky surface and a lot of practice, the scene took 156 takes. Before they got the shot, the studio wanted it cut because it was taking so long.
Back to the Future
One of the most iconic film franchises of all time is the Back to the Future series, with movies that are so beloved studios haven’t dared reboot them. They combined amazing effects, a great story and perfect casting to pull off a pretty crazy adventure. Any movie that deals with time travel has a lot of hurdles to jump, from continuity errors to plot holes, but this device also allows for some fun hidden elements…
The first film in the franchise, which came out in 1985, actually foreshadows Doc hanging from the hands of the clocktower in one of the movie’s final climactic scenes. If you watch closely at the very beginning of the film, a picture can be seen in Doc’s lab that recreates the image well before, or after, it takes place on screen. Edgar Wright also does this kind of foreshadowing in his Cornetto trilogy.
Jurassic Park, like Back to the Future, benefitted from the addition of Steven Spielberg, the brilliant producer/director behind many iconic films with groundbreaking special effects. He’s left his mark all over the cinematic landscape, with the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park potentially representing the pinnacle of his influence. When it came out in 1993, no one had ever seen practical effects and CGI combined in this way, and it still holds up today…
One of the most memorable moments in the movie doesn’t involve high-paced action or realistic dinosaurs, but instead, captures a super subtle effect that sets the scene for what’s to come. A cup of water vibrates concentric rings as a result of the T-Rex’s approaching footsteps. Spielberg created this by placing a guitar string through the car and plucking it. As cool as that is, it’s nothing compared to what one viewer noticed…
Another reason for Jurassic Park’s success is all of the fantastic characters. The film’s human villain, Dennis Nedry, played by Seinfeld’s Wayne “Newman” Knight, plays a pivotal role in the story. His actions essentially cause the chaos that takes place in the second and third acts. But beyond his performance and motivation, his wardrobe is actually a reference to another Spielberg project…
The Goonies, which was produced by Steven Spielberg, came out in 1985 and has been a fan favorite for decades. One of the most memorable characters supplied one of its most memorable moments: Chunk’s truffle shuffle. So it makes sense that Spielberg would want to call back to The Goonies protagonist, interestingly enough using the wardrobe of Jurassic Park’s antagonist. And he didn’t stop there…
Corey Feldman, one of the most popular and successful stars of the ’80s, played The Goonies fast talking Mouth, who sported a signature jacket that was then worn by Jurassic Park’s Dennis Nedry. The Goonies was written by Chris Columbus, from Spielberg’s story, and directed by Richard Donner, who also produced alongside Spielberg and Harvey Berhnhard. Surely the rest of the team was aware of these fun references…
And finally, Wayne Knight’s character had to have a nod to Mikey, played by Sean Astin, who was the true hero of the ’80s classic. Fun fact: his brother was played by Josh Brolin. The Goonies grossed $9 million in its opening weekend in the US, second on the charts behind Rambo: First Blood Part II. It grossed more than $61 million that year, placing it among the top ten highest-grossing films of 1985 in the US.
Another ’80s classic that revolutionized special effects was Tron, a science-fiction action film that saw Jeff Bridges as a computer programmer who is transported inside the software world of a mainframe computer where he interacts with programs in his attempt to escape. The movie blew audiences away with its crazy visuals, but you’ll be surprised at how they pulled it off, especially considering Tron was made all the way back in 1982…
Tron was memorable in part because of the colorful depiction of its technological setting. But it was actually shot in black and white. The sets were made of black fabric with white duct-tape for markers, and the glow was later hand-painted onto every frame. That’s a lot of post production animation. The image above shows some of the original footage.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory took on the impossible task of recreating the magic of the original film, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. With Johnny Depp replacing Gene Wilder, the cast and crew had to really go above and beyond to even compete with how audiences felt about the classic. One of the remake’s best scenes saw a bunch of squirrels throwing nuts into holes, which many would assume was CGI, but…
The squirrels weren’t computer animated. As unbelievable as this sounds, animal trainer Michael Alexander and his team, seen above, actually spent 19 weeks teaching 40 squirrels to sort the nuts. They also had to teach them things to be able to pull off the attack scene. The trainers and performers had to wear masks to protect their bodies and faces from the squirrel’s sharp claws.
Terminator 2: Judgement Day
Now this incredible movie hack is definitely one of the most memorable and creative. Terminator 2: Judgement Day was a massive hit when it came out and is still applauded today for it’s excellent effects and powerful performances, but this scene’s secret involved no CGI at all. Looking at the image above, it’s hard to imagine what could possibly be going on that isn’t clearly visible. Prepare to be shocked…
The image above speaks for itself. In order to pull off this scene, James Cameron used Linda Hamilton’s twin sister and some well-executed practical effects to create the illusion of a mirrored image. When Sarah cuts a hole in the T-800’s head, it’s just a model, while the real Schwarzenegger plays his own reflection, and Linda’s twin sister mimics her movements. The movie is full of amazing practical effects, but this one might be the best…
As iconic as many of the movies in this article are, nothing really compares to Star Wars. When it came out in 1977 the sci-fi adventure by George Lucas captured audiences’ imaginations in ways that they’d never thought possible. From lightsabers to space battles, the effects in the original trilogy set the standard for all films like it to follow. But there’s one hidden effect that you might’ve missed…
The first image in the first Star Wars movie, and every one since, is the opening crawl. A block of text floats through space and lets the audience know what’s happening in the story. While this looks like a digital effect, the filmmakers actually used a camera moving along a physical model of the text that was slightly tilted. It wasn’t easy to get a smooth scrolling effect, and on top of this, they needed one for each language.
When the Star Wars prequels came out almost two decades after the original trilogy ended, a lot of fans were disappointed that many of the life-like effects were abondoned for CGI. And not just a little CGI, the entire prequel trilogy is almost completely filled with digital effects that removed some of the movies’ magic. So when JJ Abrams was tasked with Episode 7, he made it a point to return to the practical effects of the originsls…
Many of the characters and sets in The Force Awakens were practical, making the movie feel much more like the original trilogy. One of the moments that could’ve easily been pulled off with CGI, actually wasn’t, but most audience members had no idea. The bread scene took three months to come up with. They molded an inflatable bread, which sat deflated underneath the liquid and then was slowly inflated as the liquid was sucked out with vacuum pumps.
Lord of the Rings
Of all the fantasy films that have been made over the years, many of which broke box office records, none were more critically celebrated than the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which even won Academy Awards. One of the reasons these films were so special was how the filmmakers brought JRR Tolkien’s beloved books to life. With a world featuring characters of all different sizes, it’s amazing how the team behind the scenes pulled this off…
The trick that made the Hobbits look smaller was brilliantly achieved with practical effects, where many would assume it was CGI. As you can see above, while Frodo and Gandalf appeared to be sitting in the cart side by side, they were actually pretty far apart. To simulate this effect, the cart was built in a way that sat Frodo further from the camera, so he looks smaller. They did this throughout the entire series…
This article has discussed movies from multiple decades, with secret effects ranging from massive set pieces to almost hidden moments. John Carpenter was definitely one of the best directors of the twentieth century, with Halloween, The Thing, They Live and Big Trouble in Little China all coming out within a decade of each other. Another one of his hits was Escape From New York, which involved one of the craziest hacks yet…
Escape From New York
Escape From New York sees Kurt Russell’s Snake Plissken flying a stealth glider into Manhattan Prison, while his navigation displays show what appear to be computer-generated wireframe images of New York City. To do this, the team built three miniature models of Manhattan that corresponded to Plissken’s flight path. To make the navigation readouts appear on screen as wireframe renderings, the buildings were constructed out of black material, with the edges and corners painted white…
This was a crazy-expensive effect to pull off back then, and was a part of what was John Carpenter’s most ambitious and pricey film to date. It certainly helped that James Cameron was on the effects team, which, following the aforementioned construction of the cityscape, applied reflective tape to the matte-black model of the city. They then used ultraviolet lights and flew a camera over the model.
Chloe Grace Moretz
This movie hack doesn’t involve a single scene or individual effect, but instead captures a young actresses’ entire filmography, specifically the movies that involve action. Chloe Grace Moretz has been in some pretty exciting movies, like Kiss Ass and The Amityville Horror, that see her characters going through quite a lot on screen. What audience don’t know is that she actually has been doing all of her own stunts since she was 8 years old.
Following the success of the R-rated Deadpool movie, the filmmakers of Hugh Jackman’s final Wolverine film, Logan, decided to make theirs rated R, as well. It was a huge hit, and involved a lot of hidden hacks. As we’ve seen in many of the previously discussed examples throughout this article, sometimes the best effects are the ones that you’d never guess aren’t real. The team behind Logan definitely pulled this off with a lot of Jackman’s scenes…
Throughout Logan, Hugh Jackman was often replaced by a body double, who was used to drive a car in a chase and run through the forest in attack mode. The special effects team later digitally inserted Jackman’s face onto the double, and the effect was so seamless no one had any idea it wasn’t Hugh in every shot of his final portrayal of the character.