10 Groundbreaking Uses of Special Effects Makeup


'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button' (2007)

The movie poster for 'Benjamin Button' shows Button at left as a very old man. In the film this was generated completely by computers. TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA/AFP/Getty Images
The movie poster for 'Benjamin Button' shows Button at left as a very old man. In the film this was generated completely by computers. TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA/AFP/Getty Images

Over the past couple of decades, increasingly sophisticated computer-generated special effects have become a staple of multiplex blockbusters. One of the most extensive uses of the technology was in 2007's "Benjamin Button," a magic realism story of a man who ages in reverse. Special effects supervisor Eric Barba and his team spent several years creating an elaborate motion-capture system that used 28 cameras and scores of sensors to track the subtle movements of actor Brad Pitt's face in 3-D space, so that they would be replicated in several animated elderly versions of him.

The effect was so convincing that for the first 52 minutes of the film, the Benjamin Button character's head that viewers see is entirely computer-generated, with "zero real Brad," as writer, filmmaker and visual-effects expert Lee Stranahan noted in a Huffington Post article. This CG head was used along with various "body actors" to portray Button in his elderly years [source: Seymour].

Author's Note: 10 Groundbreaking Uses of Special Effects Makeup

When I was a young reporter in Pittsburgh in the early 1980s, I once had the chance to interview makeup and special-effects virtuoso Tom Savini. It was surprising to discover that the person who'd created the grotesque zombies from George Romero's "Dead" movies and Jason from "Friday the 13th" actually lived within walking distance of my apartment, in a simple row house in a working-class Italian neighborhood that he shared with his elderly father. For someone who dreamed up such grisly mayhem on the screen, Savini turned out to be a pleasant, soft-spoken guy who spoke reverently of other makeup and special-effects masters' work -- I recall that he was impressed, for example, with the animatronic apes in the 1984 film "Greystoke."

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