Hollywood’s Biggest Blockbuster Moments & Their Green Screen Counterparts
From bringing Jurassic World’s all-too-real raptors back from extinction to rendering Black Panther’s Wakanda in dizzying detail, the use of green screens in the field of visual effects (VFX) helps create unbelievably "real" movie magic.
Using this special technique, two distinct images or video streams can be layered (or, as the pros say, composited) together, allowing filmmakers to put anything they can dream up on screen. Take a peek behind the scenes of your favorite Hollywood blockbusters to see what iconic moments look like before the VFX team works their magic. Spoiler: It’s ridiculous!
Tiger and Scenery from Life of Pi
Directed by visionary filmmaker Ang Lee, 2012’s Life of Pi earned more than $609 million worldwide and clinched 4 of its 11 Oscar nominations. In the film, a young Indian man named "Pi" Patel tells a novelist his life story.
Rocket Raccoon in the Guardians of the Galaxy and Avengers Films
The fast-talking, (arguably) saltiest member of the Guardians of the Galaxy is Rocket Raccoon. Smart and easily annoyed, he is voiced by Bradley Cooper, but all of his lines are recorded in a studio — far away from maquettes and green screens.
Almost Everything in Gravity
This 2013 space thriller was directed by Alfonso Cuarón and starred Oscar winners Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as astronauts who become stranded in space after their space shuttle is destroyed. Unsurprisingly, the seven-time Academy Award-winning film cleaned up when it came to special effects.
Dinosaurs in Jurassic World — Before
Sci-fi adventure film Jurassic World (2015) is the fourth film in the Jurassic Park series, which debuted way back in 1993. Set 22 years after the classic Steven Spielberg film, Jurassic World holds to a similar premise: A theme park full of cloned dinosaurs is plunged into utter chaos when a dangerous dino escapes from its enclosure.
Dinosaurs in Jurassic World — After
In the original film, the VFX were done by George Lucas’ Industrial Light & Magic — the technical wizards responsible for the amazing visuals in the Star Wars films. A new technology was introduced for Jurassic Park — Dinosaur Input Devices, which were models that fed information into computers, allowing them to animate the creatures like stop motion puppets.
Heroics in Spider-Man: Homecoming
Even your friendly, neighborhood Spider-Man needs a helping hand at times. For Spider-Man: Homecoming, the VFX teams wanted to reach new heights and even studied translucent polar bear hair to give Spidey’s webs a realistic look.
The Wolves in the Twilight Saga
Whether you’re "Team Edward" or "Team Jacob," you can definitely agree that this behind-the-scenes shot from the Twilight films is… uncomfortable. Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) pats Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner) on the head — because that’s way more comfortable than patting a stand-in dog or a maquette, right?
Mustafar Lightsaber Duel in Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith — Before
The Star Wars prequel films clue fans into a lot of important information, but, above all else, they center on Jedi Anakin Skywalker’s (Hayden Christensen) descent to the dark side. Episode III promised to transform the young Jedi Knight into the legendary Darth Vader, which was no small feat.
Mustafar Lightsaber Duel in Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith — After
To prepare for the nearly eight-minute long sequence, McGregor and Christensen trained relentlessly to get the choreography down pat. Fighting with wooden dowels, the duo climbed around on wooden blocks and jumped from green object to green object.
Josh Brolin’s Thanos in Avengers: Endgame
In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the ultimate "big bad" of the long-running collection of films ends up being Thanos (Josh Brolin), a destroyer of universes. Thanos searches the galaxy for the Infinity Stones, hoping to use their power to magically snap away half of the universe’s population.
Cyborg in Justice League
Of all the heroes in DC Comics’ long-awaited Justice League, Cyborg (Ray Fisher) may be the least known of the crime-fighting characters. Although he does appear as a member of the Justice League at times, Cyborg has more often been associated with the League’s young adult counterparts, the Teen Titans.
Beast from Beauty & the Beast
Tale as old as time, right? Well, maybe not. While other versions of this story rely heavily on practical makeup effects — or the pencils of talented Disney animators — the 2017 remake, which stars Emma Watson and Dan Stevens as the titular duo, leans into motion capture.
Portals in Doctor Strange
Compared to Captain America or Iron Man, Doctor Strange is certainly one of Marvel’s less mainstream characters, but the character’s mystical time-space-bending powers allow for some pretty neat — and rather complex — visuals.
Quidditch in the Harry Potter Series — Before
From the boy wizard slaying a basilisk to the main trio being attacked by giant, enchanted chess pieces, there’s a lot of awesome technical (witchcraft and) wizardry to point to in the Harry Potter series. But who didn’t want to hop on a Firebolt broomstick and try their hand at Quidditch?
Quidditch in the Harry Potter Series — After
When shooting a Quidditch match, the crew filmed each actor separately and from multiple angles. Afterward, all that footage had to be pieced together to form a fluid game. Most actors used the mechanical rigs Radcliffe wasn’t fond of, but it meant filmmakers could control (or "steer") the "broom" for the shots.
Fight Sequences in The Matrix — Before
Written and directed by the Wachowskis, 1999’s cyberpunk action film The Matrix took the world by storm. (Kind of literally?) The sci-fi masterpiece depicts a dystopian future in which humanity is unknowingly trapped inside a simulation of reality — a.k.a. the titular Matrix.
Fight Sequences in The Matrix — After
In leaning into these visuals, the writer/director duo also capitalized on the use of fight choreographers and the "wire fu" techniques that were popularized by Hong Kong action cinema. In addition to using rigs and wires to create gravity-defying fights, The Matrix is also known for popularizing "bullet time."
Quicksilver’s Speedy Antics in X-Men: Days of Future Past
In X-Men: Days of Future Past, super-speedster Quicksilver (Evan Peters) puts his powers on full display during one of the film’s most memorable scenes, where he dashes around the Pentagon kitchen to reposition and disarm the guards pursuing him and his cohort.
All Those Fight Sequences in 300: Rise of an Empire
"This. Is. Sparta!" And by "Sparta," we mean the land of green screens. In 300: Rise of an Empire, the film keeps the stylistic flair of its predecessor — as well as what can best be described as a filter those who are new to Instagram run all their posts through.
THAT Final Battle in Avengers: Endgame — Before
A 21 film lead-up meant that the anticipation for Avengers: Endgame was high — dangerously high. We all knew it would end in a climactic battle, but, somehow, the folks behind the Marvel Cinematic Universe exceeded our wildest expectations.
THAT Final Battle in Avengers: Endgame — After
One of the most exciting shots shows Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie, a character introduced in Thor: Ragnarok, on her trusty winged steed. In reality, that horse was just a saddle-like structure that allowed for a bit of movement, supported by some folks dressed in green suits.
Luke Skywalker’s Robotic Hand in Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi
In Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back, Luke Skywalker loses his hand during a lightsaber duel with Darth Vader. In that same iconic scene, the Sith Lord also reveals that he’s Luke’s father. In many ways, Luke’s on-screen portrayal changed from that point forward.
Office Lion in The Wolf of Wall Street
Martin Scorsese’s 2013 dark comedy crime film The Wolf of Wall Street is based on Jordan Belfort’s memoir of the same name. In it, Belfort recounts his career as a New York City stockbroker and the ways in which his firm, Stratton Oakmont, engaged in debauchery, corruption and fraud.
The (Film-Long) Car Chase in Mad Max: Fury Road
Technically, Mad Max: Fury Road is kind of the anti-green screen movie. Director George Miller has stated that 90% of the effects in his post-apocalyptic masterpiece are practical. With droves of modified hot rods, loads of camera rigs and more than 150 stunt performers, Fury Road was filmed on location in Australia.
Jar Jar Binks in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace
Clumsy but well-intentioned, Jar Jar Binks tried to bring some levity to the prequel films, but for many viewers, he wasn’t lovable at all. Nonetheless, bringing the Gungan to life — CGI tongue and all — was a real feat for the ILM VFX team.
The Android in Ex Machina
Like Mad Max: Fury Road, Ex Machina defines our typical VFX expectations. In this psychological sci-fi thriller from writer/director Alex Garland, a programmer (Domhnall Gleeson) is invited by his CEO (Oscar Isaac) to administer the Turing test to an intelligent robot (Alicia Vikander) to determine her level of humanity.
Carol Danvers’ Flight in Captain Marvel and Avengers: Endgame
In 2019, Captain Marvel became the first female-led superhero film to pass the billion-dollar mark. Although Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel (a.k.a. Carol Danvers) doesn’t require the makeup that other non-human characters require, she still gets her fair share of VFX support.
Wonderland and Its Inhabitants in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland
Tim Burton’s 2010 Alice in Wonderland kicked off quite a few trends. First, it helped usher in the age of darker, gritty reboots. Second, it kick-started a trend of live-action fantasy films being greenlit by Disney. Third, it cemented Burton’s commitment to making entire fantasy worlds using CGI and green screen effects.
All Those Gritty Fight Sequences in Superman v Batman: Dawn of Justice
It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s — a lot of green screens. Superman has been around for quite some time, and back in the day, those Christopher Reeve films featured some pretty obvious composite backgrounds — a.k.a. flying Kal-El and Lois Lane were essentially pasted over background footage.
Kylo Ren and Luke Skywalker’s Duel in Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi
Rian Johnson’s entry in the Star Wars sequel trilogy brought some of the saga’s most thrilling setpieces to life. From Admiral Holdo’s (Laura Dern) sacrificial starship maneuver to Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Kylo Ren’s (Adam Driver) lightsaber battle team-up, The Last Jedi is full of flair.