The worst CGI in big budget movies and television

There are very few problems in this world that cannot be solved with the proper application of obscene amounts of cash. When an emotionally stunted and chemically stimulated screenwriter or director wants to film a scene that the unfortunate restrictions of reality would prevent, the solution often is to send a dump truck full of money to a visual effects studio and slap some CGI over their problem. But even with VFX studios burning through cash faster than a parolee at the Moonlight Bunny Ranch, the end results of their CGI work can be a little ... baffling.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was a film that was made, and it's time to accept that nothing we do will ever change that. Prior to its release, the film seemed to have everything going for it. Harrison Ford and Steven Spielberg were onboard, nostalgia fatigue was not yet a thing, Shia Labeouf was not yet a cannibal, and its impressive $185 million  budget was more than enough money for the production to build an actual ancient city from the ground up to film in.

But one of the many areas where the film drops the ball is in the CGI department. During an infamous chase scene, Shia Labeouf does a rather unconvincing Tarzan impression as he swings from vine to vine, and a small army of animated terror monkeys keeps pace with him, while an aging Harrison Ford prudently remains seated. All of this takes places against the unconvincing background of a green screen while multiple vehicles play a game of Frogger along the edge of a cliff.

The real tragic part of this scene is that it could have been shot on location. There wasn't a government on this planet that wouldn't have sacrificed a few hundred acres of pristine wilderness in exchange for the bragging rights that came with having an Indiana Jones film shot in their backyard. Unfortunately, by that time, the days of Spielberg and Ford shooting on location were long behind them, and now those monkeys will haunt our dreams for the rest of time.

Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole

Legend of the Guardians. The Owls of Ga'Hoole is remembered more for a throwaway joke in 30 Rock then the anthropomorphic hero's journey that turned out to be pretty good. When it came time to film this coming of age story starring a bunch of talking owls wearing metallic armor, the shadowy cabal of business and marketing interests the run Hollywood determined that Zach Snyder—director of Dawn of the Dead, Watchmen, and 300— would be the one to bring this story to life. Snyder did a pretty respectable job ... in the battle scenes. Close-up scenes involving dialogue are an entirely different matter.

Instead of using their massive budget to genetically engineer talking owls (thank you?) the producers opted to go with CGI owls instead. Born from eggs nested smack dab in the middle of the uncanny valley and composed of nightmare fuel, the Owls of Ga'Hoole will haunt their viewers forever and always. Close-up shots of the owls draw the viewers toward the all-too-human looking eyes trapped in animated owl bodies from another dimension. The story told in the film is a really good one, but that story is obscured by an ensemble cast of creepy talking owls. The only way these owls could be more terrifying was if Tim Burton rebooted the property. (Please Tim: don't.)

Deep Blue Sea

Except for one scene, the CGI in the 1999 film about super intelligent sharks poised on the brink of world domination has aged remarkably well. Unfortunately, that one scene overshadows the rest.

In one of Samuel L. Jackson's most memorable monologues and onscreen deaths, Jackson passionately appeals to the cast to stop fighting each other and start fighting the sharks terrorizing them. Mid-monologue, a giant shark that looks like it was animated with Microsoft Paint jumps out of a conveniently open hatch and swallows a good portion of Mr. Jackson's torso.

Prior to becoming shark food, when Jackson had to be content with being raptor food—we are starting to see a theme here—Steven Spielberg understood the limits of CGI technology and had the decency to kill him off-screen. Just because a director can have one of their actors eaten by a CGI shark, doesn't necessarily mean that they should have one of their actors eaten by a CGI shark.

The Walking Dead

For seven seasons, The Walking Dead has pushed the limits of practical special effects technology in television while leaving viewers to wonder how exactly any of these characters were smart enough to remain alive during the zombie apocalypse this long. The show's special effects make-up artist supervisor, Greg Nicotero, practically invented modern zombie makeup, and each episode creates some of the most revolting and memorable zombies ever seen. For Nicotero and his crew, their work is a labor of love ... some very disturbing and troubling love.

On the flipside of the coin, the digital effects department has turned "phoning it in" to an artform. Walking Dead fans went berserk after a recent episode when a deer from the 1999 arcade version of Big Game Hunter wandered on the screen. As bad as that deer was—and it was really bad—the bad CGI in the episode "New Best Friends" surpassed the deer in every possible way.

In the clip featured above, the head of Rick Grimes unnaturally floats in the foreground while an expansive and painfully fake garbage dump fills the background. To make matters worse, an airplane zooms across the background during this shot in a show set after an apocalypse! A human who dresses themselves every day and probably drove to work had to look at each individual frame of that shot and didn't notice an airplane?

The thing is, this shouldn't be a difficult shot to make. The USA has oodles and oodles of garbage, but these guys couldn't find one landfill to film in?

Zoo

The CBS series Zoo, based on a James Patterson novel—the writer your parents won't shut up about—centers around an investigative team that was crafted to appeal to every marketing demographic that's burdened with disposable income. The team visits various locations around the world, most of which resemble Vancouver, to investigate the escalating and often fatal attacks on humans by various cute and cuddly animals. Lots of real science-sounding words are used during each episode to give the show a veneer of academic respectability.

With the logistical difficulty of filming various hostile animal species, combined with the Screen Actors Guild's buzzkill concerns with performer safety issues, the producers heavily rely on CGI to get the job done. For the most part, the CGI works, until scenes like the one above happen and the producers get a wild hair to recreate scenes from Jumanji. The scene is supposed to be terrifying but fails on almost every level, with animals unnaturally popping out of the screen. The show may be about mysterious animal attacks, but the real mystery that needs to be solved is how a show with Sharknado-level CGI can regularly pull in a large audience.

Terra Nova

Terra Nova, the time travel family drama featuring dinosaurs and one of the most epic bromances for the ages, had a lot going on during its brief run on broadcast television. Filmed in Hawaii, produced by Steven Spielberg, and weighed down with a ton of special effects, Terra Nova holds the distinction of being one of the most expensive television flops in history. When it flopped, it flopped hard.

Terra Nova's big problem, bad writing and a fatal drinking game worth of tropes notwithstanding, was the painfully bad CGI dinosaurs. Nearly 20 years after Jurassic Park introduced CGI dinosaurs to the nightmare playlist, Terra Nova did its best to make sure no one would ever fear dinosaurs again. While the digital effects department pulled out all the stops for the first episode, the B-Team took over for the rest of the series run. In scene after scene, the dinosaurs unnaturally pop out of the foreground and push the limits of suspension of disbelief well past the boundaries of sanity. The dinosaurs were a crucial plot point that poor CGI neutered. Luckily, Hollywood would learn its lesson and poorly rendered CGI dinosaurs would never grace a screen again ... for six years.

In Time

In Time was the movie that bravely asked to whether an audience would want to watch a movie starring only young and attractive actors in a dystopian setting. 2011 was a simpler time.

In Time had some serious acting behind it, a solid premise, and a director with a talent for bringing high-concept ideas to the screen in a visually appealing way. What In Time did not have was money left in the budget for some decent digital effects. One scene in particular with Justin Timberlake and Olivia Wilde is perhaps one of the most egregious use of CGI in a car accident outside of the Fast and the Furious series.

As the duo is speeding alongside a flood control canal, the Timberlake character looks away from the road in a manner normally reserved for a PSA about driver safety, before the car hits a spike strip and somersaults into the canal. As the car is flipping, the actors and their CGI stand-ins are noticeably absent for a brief second before an abrupt cut back to the car, which suspiciously seems to have slightly less damage than it did a second earlier when it was somersaulting into the canal.

Hollywood has been running cars off cliffs for over a century now, and this is the best that the production could pull off? Not one producer wanted to teach their spoiled brat a lesson by driving their car into a ditch? Not one?

Once Upon A Time

For six seasons and counting, the ABC show Once Upon A Time has followed the lives of fairy tale characters who live in a fictional town in the "real world." Living in conditions similar to the Federal Witness Protection Program, the fairy tale characters often clash with one another over old grudges and the nature of their existence. When they cannot settle their differences using logic or reason—because that would be really boring—they're quick to lob fireballs at each other in practically every episode, as featured in the clip above.

CGI fire is one of the most difficult digital effects to render. It's slightly easier to use CGI to create super intelligent apes or giant transforming robots than it is to create realistic looking digital fire. Because of that, directors and writers know to use CGI fire like one would use nuclear weapons: very sparingly. The digital effects artists who work on Once Upon A Time know this too, and it looks like they have decided that making realistic looking fire is not worth the effort.

It's a little reassuring that some actions, like making good looking digital fire or reanimating a frozen corpse of a captain of industry with fascist tendencies, are outside of the power and abilities of the Disney Corporation.

Gods of Egypt

The cinematic problems facing Gods of Egypt could fill up an entire article and in fact already does. Whitewashing, confusing plot points, and unlikeable characters aside, a group of very smart and very rich individuals thought it would be a good idea to spend $140 million for reasons that will never be fully explained or understood.

The scene featured above starts out promising, when a forced perspective shot shows Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (known to the rest of us as Jamie Lannister playing a giant Egyptian god) and his forgettable mortal sidekick being caught by surprise when two giant snakes try to eat them. There's no consistency to any of the effects in this chase scene. In one instant, practical effects are used to show the snake heads trying to eat Coster-Waldau up close, and while those snakehead mockups look impressive, they look nothing like their CGI counterparts in the wider shots. For the remainer of the scene, the duo dodges a bunch of obstacles while the worst green screen this side of a Saturday Night Live sketch fill the background. Nothing about this scene is exciting or convincing. Remember, screenwriters of the world: green screen is a privilege, not a right.