The 91st annual Academy Award nominations for Best Visual Effects are Avengers: Infinity War, Christopher Robin, First Man, Ready Player One, and Solo: A Star Wars Story. What do all of these have in common? A lot — and I mean A LOT — of computer-generated imagery (more commonly known as CGI).

What happened to good, ol’ fashion custom prop fabrication? What happened to the skilled craftsman who worked tirelessly with their hands to create beautiful, realistic custom props? What has become of the custom prop builder? Most of them now sit in front of computers, carefully adding up vectors and layering elements of CGI into all of your favorite blockbuster movies.

While practical effects have amazed and dazzled audiences for over 60 years, more and more movies are turning to CGI because it can be cost effective for very large set pieces and landscapes.

Today, we are going to look at a few movies that were transformed — for better or for worse — due to the use of either practical effects, CGI, or both. If you want to elevate the level of visual effects for your movie, no matter the size of your budget, be sure to visit Big Apple Props in Brooklyn, New York. Our dedicated team of custom prop builder is sure to satisfy any and all of your practical effects and 3D custom prop needs. Call us today at 718-865-8609.

Custom Prop Fabrication in 2003

Arguably, 2003 was one of the most fantastic years for practical effects. The Academy Award for Best Visual Effects nominations were The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Master and Commander: Far Side of the World, and Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.

All three of these movies were masterpieces in regards to practical effects. For the two naval-themed movies, all of the boats used were replicas — sea-worthy replicas that were fully restored to represent the rigging, ornamentation, and equipment used in each movie’s respected time period.

When you watch these movies, it feels unmistakably real. From the explosions to the precisely crafted custom 3D props, all of these movies are incredibly immersive. Beautiful aerial camera pans show the authenticity of the boats, and the characters benefit from using these real set pieces as well. Master and Commander’s Academy Award for Best Cinematography arguably owes plenty to the use of real-life, authentic props that transformed the way cinematographers could immerse the camera in any given scene.

The final installment of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy is also an absolutely exceptional monument to the power of practical effects. All of Peter Jackson’s movies, from The Lord of the Rings to King Kong to The Hobbit film series, use a wealth of practical effects. Over the years, in Jackson’s latest movies, Weta Workshop — his legendary special effects studio — has slowly utilized more and more CGI, blending the two styles of special effects into a cohesive and immersive experience.

While The Hobbit film series was certainly a visual spectacle that received polarizing criticism, few can argue about the effectiveness of The Lord of the Rings Trilogy’s practical effects. The Orc masks and actors are incredibly real, and more intense scenes like the Fall of Isengard or cinematic pans and sweeps of landscapes did utilize CGI, but rarely were characters and props rendered on a computer. It was the masterful custom prop makers and fabricators who made The Lord of the Rings movies come to life.

Practical Effects Today

In the last five years, one movie that stands out as exceptional in its efforts to stay true to practical effects: Mad Max: Fury Road. Fury Road is notable because it used intense and immersive practical effects for all of the driving scenes.

Almost all of the scenes involving cars did not use CGI. The incredible stunt team and actors utilized a pole system to utilize real cars racing at high speeds. The only notably large piece of CGI came from the dust storm that descends upon the caravan in the movie.

Most of the cars and trucks used in Fury Road had many post-apocalyptic modifications made to them. Everything from spikes to speakers had to made to be functional and real, and it took incredible custom prop makers to make this movie come to life.

While most movies today rely almost exclusively on CGI, there are a few occasional standouts, like Fury Road, that always delight and dazzle audiences because of the realness of practical effects. If you need a custom prop maker or are looking for specific 3D custom props, be sure to contact Big Apple Props in Brooklyn, New York. We are dedicated to elevating practical effects in visual arts, so call us today for a free consultation at 718-865-8609.