What is CGI in animation and movies

­­What Is CGI in Animation and Movies?

Table of Contents

What is CGI animation?

CGI stands for Computer-Generated Imagery, and it refers to the use of computer graphics to create or enhance visual elements in movies, television shows, video games, and various other forms of media. CGI encompasses various techniques and technologies to generate or manipulate images, including 3D modeling, rendering, animation, and compositing.

CGI movies effects are often used for several purposes:

Transforming Blockbusters – Cinematic Effects

CGI can create realistic or fantastical visual effects that would be challenging or impossible to achieve using practical effects alone. This includes things like explosions, creatures, weather effects, and superpowers.

Transforming Environments – The Magic World

Filmmakers use CGI to create or enhance environments. For example, they can make a real location look like a different time or place or create entirely fictional landscapes.

Bringing Digital Stars to Life – Character Animation

CGI is commonly used to bring animated characters to life. This includes both realistic characters (e.g., Gollum in “The Lord of the Rings” or the dinosaurs in “Jurassic Park”) and stylized, animated characters (e.g., the characters in Pixar movies).

Daring Feats – Stunt Performers 

CGI can be used to create digital doubles of actors for dangerous or physically demanding stunts. This helps ensure the safety of the actors.

Cinematic Magic – Visual Marvels 

CGI is often used to enhance practical effects. For instance, blood splatters, muzzle flashes, and even subtle details like removing wires or safety harnesses from shots can be achieved using CGI.

CGI has revolutionized the film industry, enabling filmmakers to create visually stunning and imaginative worlds like the top CGI animation movies, Lion King, an all-time favorite of every generation, which were previously limited by the constraints of practical effects and physical sets. However, it also requires significant skill and artistry to ensure that CGI elements look realistic and believable on the big screen.

Computer Animation and CGI

Computer animation and CGI (Computer-Generated Imagery) are closely related terms, often used interchangeably, but they refer to slightly different aspects of the same field:

How is Computer Animation used in movies?


Computer animation is a versatile and dynamic medium that allows for the creation of moving images and sequences using digital technology.

It can be categorized into two primary types: 2D animation, which includes techniques like traditional hand-drawn animation and digital 2D animation, and 3D animation, which involves creating objects and characters in three-dimensional digital space.


In 2D animation, artists create characters, backgrounds, and objects using digital drawing tools or traditional hand-drawn methods. These elements are then sequenced to create animation.

3D animation involves the creation of three-dimensional models and environments within computer software. These models are rigged with bones and controls to enable movement, and the animation is typically achieved through keyframing or motion capture.


2D animation is used in a wide range of media, including traditional animated films (e.g., Disney classics), television shows (e.g., “The Simpsons“), web animations, and advertisements.

3D animation is prevalent in animated feature films (e.g., Pixar and DreamWorks movies), video games, architectural visualization, product design, medical simulations, and more.


  • 2D Animation: Disney’s “The Lion King,” Studio Ghibli’s “Spirited Away,” and TV shows like “South Park.”
  • 3D Animation: Pixar’s “Toy Story,” DreamWorks’ “Shrek,” and video games like “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.”

What is CGI animation in movies?


CGI refers to the creation or enhancement of visual elements through computer graphics, particularly within the context of live-action scenes or footage.

It is known for its ability to produce realistic or fantastical effects and elements that would be difficult or impossible to achieve practically.


CGI techniques encompass 3D modeling (creating digital objects and characters), rendering (generating the final images or frames), animation (bringing digital characters and objects to life), and compositing (blending CGI elements with live-action footage).

Specialized software and hardware are used in CGI production, including 3D modeling software (e.g., Autodesk Maya, Blender), rendering engines (e.g., Pixar’s RenderMan), and compositing software (e.g., Adobe After Effects).


CGI is widely used in film to create visual effects, such as explosions, creatures, and environments. It is also used to enhance practical effects and retouch scenes.

In television, CGI is employed in series like “Game of Thrones” for creating epic battles and fantasy worlds.

Video games rely heavily on CGI for character animation, environments, and visual effects.


  • In movies, examples of CGI include the realistic dinosaurs in “Jurassic Park,” the alien creatures in “Avatar,” and the superhero battles in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
  • In TV, CGI has been crucial in creating dragons and other fantastical elements in “Game of Thrones.”
  • Video game examples include the highly detailed character animations in “Red Dead Redemption 2” and the immersive environments in “The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.”

How do filmmakers use CGI for visual effects?

Filmmakers use CGI for visual effects to expand the creative possibilities in storytelling and cinematic experiences. CGI allows them to craft everything from fantastical creatures and otherworldly environments to realistic simulations of natural phenomena, enhancing the visual spectacle of their films. It also enables the seamless integration of practical and digital elements, such as adding superpowers to actors or transforming real locations into historical settings. CGI’s flexibility empowers directors to create virtually anything their imagination desires, bringing their cinematic visions to life and captivating audiences with stunning and immersive visual effects.

CGI Techniques and departments in filmmaking

CGI techniques are integral to modern filmmaking, and they involve various departments and processes to bring computer-generated elements into live-action or animated movies. Here are the key CGI techniques and the departments involved in the filmmaking process:


Before shooting a scene, filmmakers often create pre-visualization (previs) using CGI. This involves creating rough digital representations of scenes, camera angles, and visual effects to plan the shots and sequences.

Digital Models

CGI artists create 3D digital models of objects, characters, or environments that will appear in the film. These models serve as the foundation for VFX work.

Texturing and Shading

Artists apply textures, colors, and shaders to 3D models to make them appear realistic. This step is crucial for achieving the desired look and feel of objects and characters.

Rigging and Animation

Digital models are rigged with a skeleton and controls to bring characters to life. Animators use these rigs to create lifelike movements and expressions for the characters.


Rendering is the process of generating a scene’s final images or frames. It calculates lighting, shadows, reflections, and other visual elements to create a photorealistic appearance.


CGI elements are integrated into live-action footage through compositing. Compositors blend CGI with real-world elements to create seamless visual effects shots.

Visual Effects

Filmmakers utilize Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) to create a wide range of visually stunning effects, such as explosive spectacles and dramatic destruction sequences, while ensuring safety on set. The transformative capabilities of CGI bring superpowers, magical spells, and other supernatural phenomena to life in vivid detail.

Motion Capture

In some cases, actors’ performances are captured using motion-capture technology, where sensors track their movements and expressions. This data is then applied to CGI characters to make their movements more realistic.


During post-production, color grading and visual effects work are integrated to ensure that CGI elements blend seamlessly with the rest of the film.

Quality Control

Filmmakers and VFX supervisors work closely to review and refine CGI effects to achieve the desired level of realism and impact.

Sound Design

Sound effects and Foley work are crucial to complement CGI effects and make them feel more immersive.

Audience Feedback

Filmmakers often test their CGI effects with test audiences to gauge reactions and make adjustments if necessary.

The Evolution of Technology and CGI in Movies and Animation

The magical history of CGI began in the 1950s when mechanical computers etched patterns onto animation cells. Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” (1958) made the first-ever computer animation cameo.

In 1972, Edwin Catmull and Fred Parke gave us “A Computer Animated Hand,” introducing 3D computer graphics. They inked 350 triangles on a hand, digitized it, and brought it to life.

“Hollywood lent a hand” in 1973 when “Westworld” showed the first 2D CGI scene—how robots saw things. It inspired a sequel and set CGI on a wild ride.

In 1976, “Futureworld” wowed us with the world’s first 3D animation in a movie, using Edwin Catmull’s techniques.

Then, in 1977, “Star Wars: A New Hope” revealed the Death Star’s wireframe, a taste of CGI’s potential. George Lucas directed, and CGI’s era beckoned.

The ’80s films brought  “The Black Hole” and “Alien” with more CGI wonders. But the real game-changer was Disney’s “Tron” in 1982, an Academy Award winner.

The ’90s saw CGI soar with “Terminator II,” “Toy Story,” “Star Wars Special Editions,” and “The Matrix.” “Jurassic Park” (1993) set the bar, blending CGI with animatronics.

1995’s “Toy Story” marked the first CGI-directed movie, while Pixar gifted us classics like “Monsters Inc.” and “Finding Nemo.”

The new millennium saw CGI’s rapid evolution, especially in “The Lord of the Rings” with Gollum, the first CGI character to interact with actors via motion capture.

The very recent example we have gone through using CGI technology in Hollywood movies, such as  “The Avengers” and “Guardians of the Galaxy.” These were the cinematic wizardry that keeps us spellbound!

Best CGI Movies Of Hollywood – Examples

The examples given below show the significance of CGI in movies, illustrating how it has evolved over the years to enhance storytelling, create lifelike characters, and transport audiences to extraordinary worlds, 

Interstellar (2014)

Interstellar harnesses CGI to vividly depict a scientifically accurate black hole, create realistic space environments, and simplify complex physics concepts. CGI immerses viewers in a cosmic adventure, proving how it can elevate storytelling and expand our comprehension of the universe within a compelling narrative.

Jurassic Park (1993)

Jurassic Park forever altered the cinematic landscape through its pioneering application of CGI. It brought dinosaurs to life with astonishing realism, seamlessly blending CGI with practical effects. The film’s lifelike dinosaurs, movements, and interactions with actors were groundbreaking, earning “Jurassic Park” multiple Academy Awards for visual effects. It marked a turning point in filmmaking and the use of CGI in creating awe-inspiring, larger-than-life creatures. 

Avatar (2009)

The masterpiece “Avatar” is a testament to the boundless creativity of CGI directed by James Cameron. It whisked us away to the enchanting world of Pandora, where CGI painted a breathtaking canvas of floating mountains, bioluminescent wonders, and the enigmatic Na’vi. Through the magic of motion capture, CGI breathed life into characters like Neytiri and Jake, making us believe in their world and love. Epic battles, banshee flights, and the luminous ecosystem of Pandora all bore the indelible mark of CGI magic. In “Avatar,” CGI wasn’t just a tool; it was the brush that painted a mesmerizing masterpiece of cinematic wonder.

The Matrix (1999)

The Matrix” is renowned for its groundbreaking use of CGI effects in movies. It introduced audiences to a mind-bending digital world, incorporating CGI seamlessly into action sequences, such as the iconic bullet-dodging scene. This film exemplifies the importance of CGI in Hollywood by pushing the boundaries of what was visually possible at the time.

The Irishman (2019)

Throughout the film, Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman” used CGI technology to de-age its actors, including Robert De Niro and Al Pacino. This demonstrated how CGI animation in movies could enhance storytelling by allowing actors to portray characters at various life stages.

Titanic (1997)

Titanic” utilized CGI to recreate the ill-fated ship’s sinking with stunning realism. The CGI effects in this Hollywood classic set a new standard for historical accuracy and immersive storytelling.

The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001–2003)

Peter Jackson’s epic trilogy showcased the best CGI animation in movies at the time. It featured intricate CGI characters like Gollum, who seamlessly interacted with live-action actors. These films demonstrated how CGI in Hollywood films could bring fantastical worlds and characters to life.

Toy Story (1995)

 “Toy Story” is a milestone in the history of CGI animation. It was the first feature-length film entirely created using CGI, revolutionizing movie animation. The film’s success paved the way for the following CGI animation movies.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

This sci-fi classic introduced audiences to the concept of CGI effects in animation with the shapeshifting T-1000 character. It demonstrated how CGI could create innovative and memorable movie characters.

Transformers (2007)

Transformers” showcased the power of CGI in Hollywood films by bringing the iconic robots to life. The seamless integration of CGI characters into live-action scenes highlighted the importance of CGI in creating visually spectacular movies.
This technology has reshaped storytelling from its origins to its present-day prominence. CGI empowers filmmakers to craft stunning visuals, bring fantastical characters to life, and transport audiences to imaginative worlds. It plays a pivotal role in de-aging actors, recreating history, and creating captivating landscapes. As CGI evolves, it remains an essential cinematic tool, a testament to human creativity, and a hallmark of the best animation companies in the USA.

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Adam is a copywriter and content strategist with years of experience covering the latest trends in technology and digital industry. Adam brings a fresh and creative approach to his writing. With his passion for writing as well as amazing research skills, he shares valuable knowledge on multiple trends.