Five Modern Movie Effects You Didn’t Realize Were Hand-Built

Everything is CGI in the movies these days, right? Not so much. Computers may rule trailers, but when it comes down to it, many filmmakers prefer to create real effects on the set, handcrafted from the ground up. For example:

Inception: The Spinning Room Fight

Marking more or less the exact moment Joseph Gordon-Levitt became a badass, the legendary “spinning room” fight was entirely done with real effects. The room was built out of structural steel on a gimbal, and the fight choreographed to roll with the spins.

Nolan prefers handcrafted effects and stunts: The opening of The Dark Knight Rises, for example, where a plane is sawed in half, was also completely done with practical effects.

The Lord of the Rings: Fitting in Hobbits

Peter Jackson wanted his actors to be on set when they performed, not recorded in separate rooms. But, of course, some of them had to seem much shorter. So, Jackson and his effects company Weta designed, from the ground up, a forced-perspective system that put both actors in the scene, not pasted them in.

The Amazing Spider-Man: Web-Slinging

Sure, the Spider-Man movies were full of CGI, but the movies didn’t hire legendary stunt coordinator Vic Armstrong, the man dragged behind the truck in Raiders of the Lost Ark, to sit on the sidelines. Armstrong created an elaborate pulley system that connected the actor to a wire roughly the thickness of a bootlace. When they jumped off a building, the pulley would roll down a track, creating a smooth, swinging arc.

Iron Man: The Hand-Built Suit

Sure, it doesn’t fly or carry repulsors, but Iron Man’s suit is otherwise 100 percent real. Built by Shane Mahan and a crew of seventy, it’s used in close-ups. Mahan also hand-built all the other technology you see in the Iron Man movies, from Whiplash’s suit to the drones. In other words, he’s more or less what you get when you hire Tony Stark.

Skyfall: Bond Versus Trains

James Bond has little luck with trains in Skyfall, but one particular sequence was particularly dangerous. Daniel Craig has a bomb set off twenty feet behind him, immediately followed by a London subway car crashing through the ceiling and nearly killing him. And all of it was done by hand, life-size.

For another example of handcrafting out of L.A., check out Cameron Weiss, a watchmaker bringing handcrafted timepieces back to America, in the first episode of Human.