CGI and digital effects aren’t just for explosions and sci-fi flicks. Filmmakers have all kinds of tricks – from makeup, to lighting, to costumes – for making actors look their best on screen. But sometimes they have to bring in some fancy backend digital editing to get the character to look just right on screen. The impressive technology movie studios use can hide everything from baby bellies to acne to facial hair if need be, and can even be utilized to enhance muscles, change actors’ body types, and superimpose another person’s face onto a stunt actor’s body. Just what can’t technology do these days?
While sometimes digital effects are rather obvious, many fly under the radar, even to movies’ biggest fans and critics, and need to be pointed out. Here are some movie and TV stars whose bodies you maybe didn’t know had to be digitally edited for the movie’s final cut.
The team behind Wonder Woman had to hide Gal Gadot’s pregnancy
It took Gal Gadot six months of training to get in shape to play Wonder Woman in the 2016 film of the same name, hitting the gym, training for fight scenes, and riding horses for hours a day, as reported by Elle. But when it came to reshoots, she couldn’t do much about her shape — since she was five months pregnant and couldn’t hide the baby bump in her form-fitting costumes. So, according to Entertainment Weekly, they updated her suit with a bright green triangle section so they could change her figure after getting the shot. "On close-up I looked very much like Wonder Woman," Gadot said. "On wide shots I looked very funny, like Wonder Woman pregnant with Kermit the Frog."
For Dakota Johnson’s character in Fifty Shades of Grey, something had to be edited in
Gadot had to have digital edits in wide-shots, but for Dakota Johnson in Fifty Shades of Grey, it was a more intimate edit that needed to be made. The film definitely had its fair share of nude scenes, and the actors wore flesh-colored covers over their "special areas" during filming so they weren’t actually naked. But it wasn’t editing something out that created a challenge in editing, it was editing something in. More specifically, adding in pubic hair for Johnson’s character.
In an interview with The New York Times, cinematographer Seamus McGarvey revealed one of the challenges of post-production. "Dakota [Johnson] had kind of a patch that went over her [privates], and right round her whole body," McGarvey said. "We were in the curious situation, in post-production, of adding [hair down there]. I wouldn’t say it was one of the highlights of my career, but it certainly was one of the most surreal scenarios."
Not just women are digitally edited
It’s not just women who get digital edits. Henry Cavill, star of Justice League, had already started filming Mission: Impossible – Fallout when reshoots for Justice League started. The problem was, for Mission: Impossible – Fallout, he’d grown a mustache. And Superman doesn’t have a mustache. It took some back and forth between the two production companies until it was on Justice League to edit out the mustache instead of Cavill shaving and then growing it back out for Mission: Impossible – Fallout (via Empire).
Speaking about "mustache gate," Cavill told Empire (via Comic Book), "I was slightly surprised. When we decided to go for the mustache [in Mission Impossible – Fallout], I certainly wasn’t expecting all the events to unfold as they were going to unfold. I wasn’t expecting Justice League reshoots to be as extensive as they were."
Chris Evans was given a skinny body in Captain America
Anyone who has seen the Marvel movie Captain America: The First Avenger is sure to remember how Steve Rogers, played by Chris Evans, began as a tiny, super scrawny young man. After a scientific experiment turns Rogers into the ultimate superhero, Captain America, Evans spends the rest of the film looking perfectly proportioned and, well, like a superhero!
However, in order to play the early version of his character, Evans would have had to lose a ton of weight. As Reuters noted, the early Steve was just 90 pounds! Instead of asking Evans to lose (then regain) weight for the role, or use a body double, the producers decided to use CGI. As Joe Johnston, the film’s director, said, "Chris moves in such a unique way; he doesn’t move like anybody else." This means that a body double simply wasn’t convincing. The CGI technique involved "shrinking" Evans’ real body by essentially removing sections of his body as seen on screen using computers. Apparently, the process was pretty difficult as it involved adding in background around the smaller Steve in each shot. We have to admit — their hard work definitely paid off!
Jeremy Renner’s arms were CGI’d in Tag
The 2018 movie Tag, based on men who play a month-long game of tag, had an all-star cast, and Jeremy Renner played Jerry Pierce, one of the game’s players. While you wouldn’t think a movie with a simple premise like this would require much CGI, an accident made CGI a crucial part of the movie. As Jon Hamm, one of the other actors in the film, revealed on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Renner actually broke both of his arms just three days into filming. "We had 40 more days to go," Hamm explained.
He went on to explain that instead of waiting for his arms to heal, Renner wore "green screen casts that were … eventually painted out in the edit." Wow, it’s pretty impressive that Renner managed to keep filming this action flick with not one but two casts!
It’s also a pretty impressive editing job. Of course, it wasn’t completely perfect. As The Ringer noted, Renner frequently wore long sleeves to cover his casts. And in one shot, his cast is clearly visible. And when the CGI team did try to recreate his arms, they sometimes looked a little, well, fake.
Several actors’ pimples on Glee were magically erased
When you’re watching movies and TV, it can sometimes feel like all actors have effortlessly flawless complexions all the time. However, it turns out that they’re only human just like us — and sometimes, they get the odd blemish. Luckily, CGI has progressed to the point where technology could magically touch up just about any skin problem. Claus Hansen reportedly helped create this technology at Method Studios, a professional retouching company. As he told Mashable, "Nobody looks like what you see on TV and in the movies — everybody is altered." Apparently, "beauty work" is done on just about everyone, but usually, it’s done in secret.
According to Vulture, this technique was used quite frequently on the show Glee to remove any traces of normal teenage skin. One director explained, "There was a pimple pass on most episodes."
Deborah Snyder, a movie producer, explained that this "beauty work" was designed to keep audiences engaged with what was going on. "Maybe that unsightly zit on their chin becomes a distraction, and the audience is looking at it instead of focusing on the intention of the scene." In some ways, it’s pretty reassuring to learn that none of these Glee actors were as perfect as they seemed on TV!
Jessica Alba was digitally altered in this Machete scene
In the 2010 film Machete, Jessica Alba appeared completely nude in a shower scene. However, as the Daily Mail revealed, the scene was actually CGI’d. As a photo showed, the actress actually wore white underwear and a white bra while filming the scene, which were edited out in post-production.
Apparently, Alba has always been resolute in her no-nudity policy. She told Scarlet magazine, "I’ll never do a nude scene." As she went on to explain, it was her Catholic upbringing that made her uncomfortable. "I can handle being sexy with clothes on but not with them off," she said.
After the photo of Alba wearing underwear in the shower scene emerged, Alba’s publicist released a statement to Entertainment Weekly that said, "Jessica has been steadfast in her resolve not to appear nude in films from the beginning of her career. The decision to digitally remove the underwear from the shower scene in Machete was one she and Robert Rodriguez made together, which would serve his vision for the film, as well as honor her personal convictions regarding nudity." Fair enough! We can’t blame her for not wanting to work completely naked!
Claire Danes and Morena Baccarin’s baby bellies were hidden in Homeland
Claire Danes and Morena Baccarin both starred in the CIA-focused show Homeland. Both actresses became pregnant while filming the show, and both times, their bellies were edited out. Apparently, getting pregnant and starting a family wasn’t part of the game plan for either of their characters.
As Baccarin revealed to the Los Angeles Times in 2013, editing out a baby belly isn’t really as hard as it sounds, "what with all the technology and everything."
Danes also opened up about what it was like playing a character who wasn’t pregnant, while being heavily pregnant in real life. During a roundtable with The Hollywood Reporter, Danes said, "I was pregnant for the second season of Homeland, and as my baby progressed, the show got more action-packed." She went on to describe a scene where her character got kidnapped. "I was chained to a pipe, it was 4 a.m., I was 7½ months pregnant, and I was like, ‘This sucks,’" the actress recalled. But you wouldn’t know all that based on what she looked like in the show!
Brad Pitt’s aging body in Benjamin Button was all thanks to movie magic
Brad Pitt played the titular role in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, a film about a man who lives his life backwards. So, naturally, Pitt had to portray Benjamin at all stages of life — even when he’s really, really old. In order to make the transition from old to young convincing, the producers of the film used CGI to alter Pitt’s face and body.
In a TED Talk about the impressive CGI in the film, digital editor Ed Ulbrich explained how it was done. Apparently, for the first hour of the movie, the character’s head was 100 percent "computer-generated from the neck up." As Ulbrich explained, they cast little people to play the old version of Pitt’s body, then create a version of Pitt’s head. To achieve it, they first tried using marker-based motion capture, which is able to capture three-dimensional movements and translate them digitally. However, this didn’t give a realistic-enough face. They ended up reconstructing Pitt’s facial performance, recreating it digitally, and adding it to the body actor. It’s pretty impressive to see what this digital team managed to do!
In Ghost Rider, Nicolas Cage’s tattoos and maybe his abs were altered
In the 2007 film Ghost Rider, Nicolas Cage appeared in a topless scene with some very, very chiseled abs. According to Cage, who spoke to IndieLondon (via CBR) about the film, he spent "four or five hours a day on shooting days and then all day on the weekends" getting into shape for the scene. While his abs may have been real, the actor did admit that his huge arm tattoo was digitally removed for the film.
Plus, as CBR noted, comparing side-by-side photos of Cage on set and Cage in the finished product, there are a few differences. While Cage is definitely in incredible shape, his abs might not be quite as defined as they are in the film. It could be the case that the CGI team started work on Cage’s arms and then decided to touch up his abs, too. Even The Daily Beast backed this theory. We’ll probably never know exactly what happened in the editing room, but the tattoo removal on its own is definitely impressive.
Tobey Maguire’s hair in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas wasn’t real
If you’ve seen Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, you might not even remember Tobey Maguire’s role. He only played a small role — he appears briefly as a hitchhiker sporting a pretty horrific haircut. The director Terry Gilliam was apparently set on the balding, wispy look and asked Maguire to shave his head for the role. However, according to Yahoo!, Maguire wasn’t so keen, and asked for $15,000 in exchange.
Gilliam chose to use a bald cap and CGI instead of paying Maguire the money. However, apparently the digital editing ended up costing even more! We have to admit, the results are pretty impressive — it’s impossible to tell that his hair isn’t real. Plus, there’s no denying that the cringe-worthy hairstyle definitely adds a certain something to the odd character. We just aren’t sure if it was really worth over $15,000!
The Waterworld team CGI’d Kevin Costner’s gills
The 1995 Kevin Costner film Waterworld was undeniably a bit of a disaster. During production, a set was destroyed by a storm and the script was rewritten. With all of the delays, it ended up costing $175 million to make, according to Forbes. A juicy rumor was started by Newsweek at the time that Costner had added to the costs by demanding a CGI makeover for this thinning hair. Costner naturally denied this, as Entertainment Weekly reported, saying, "We had a hard enough time getting the computer-generated things we need for the movie, let alone that."
One thing that was definitely added using CGI was a pair of gills for Costner. These also caused some uproar, as one movie exec apparently said, "The d***ed things look like little vaginas!" Apparently, the team managed to transfer the gills from an above-water scene to the underwater scene where they did look a little suspicious. It seems that back in the ’90s, CGI wasn’t quite as easy as it is today!
Olivia Wilde’s nudity in The Change-Up was done in post-production
It probably won’t come as a surprise to learn that not all of the nudity you see in movies is real. In the case of the 2011 movie The Change-Up, Olivia Wilde appears naked during one scene. However, as Wilde noted on Jimmy Kimmel Live! (via Entertainment Weekly), it’s all an illusion. "I wasn’t actually naked, but now I appear naked," she explained. "They CGI’d me naked," she added.
In order to film the scene, Wilde explained, she had to wear what she called "pasties" — in other words, little stickers covering her, well, private parts. Later, in post-production, details were added digitally. Wilde even got to approve the edits. "They sent me an email saying, ‘Please review nipple cover shot one through seven and decide which one is most like the original,’" she recalled (via Complex). Talk about having a weird day at the office!
Lena Headey didn’t actually bare all in this infamous Game of Thrones scene
Game of Thrones was famous for its (what some called excessive) nude scenes. However, it turns out, one of the show’s most infamous nude scenes was actually created using a little CGI magic. In the Season 5 finale of the show, one of the character’s most lovable villains, Cersei Lannister, played by Lena Headey, is forced on a "walk of atonement" through the city entirely naked as a form of punishment.
As Express reported, many users noted on Twitter at the time that the body was definitely not Headey’s. Some people guessed that Headey was noticeably pregnant at the time of the shoot, while others figured that the massive crowd of extras made her choose to use a body double. Either way, it’s evident that Headey’s head was CGI’d onto a body double for the scene.
And it certainly wasn’t an easy job for the mysterious body double. As Headey’s co-star Hannah Waddington said to Vulture, "Our fantastic body double was just so brave. I had a lot of respect for her."
Something was off about this Splash scene on Disney+
In the original version of Splash, the mermaid flick featuring Tom Hanks and Daryl Hannah, one touching scene saw Hannah, a mermaid who becomes a human in the air, kiss Hanks before running back into the ocean. In the original version of the movie, Hannah’s bottom was clearly visible in the scene. However, when the movie was released on the Disney+ streaming platform, some questionable CGI was added.
Because Disney’s platform is meant to be child-friendly, they decided to cover up Hannah’s nude bottom using CGI. Apparently, they tried to extend her long blond hair. But the CGI definitely looks a little weird, as the added hair doesn’t really seem to be connected to the actress’ real hair. As one Twitter user joked, "They gave her a furry bath mat on her butt what the hell." This one is definitely a hilarious case of CGI gone wrong.
Of course, all of the actors in Cats were digitally altered
The 2019 movie version of the Broadway musical Cats is pretty infamous. With almost universally bad reviews, the movie was a sound flop. One of the common complaints about the movie was the strange CGI that morphed many well-known actors into bizarre feline-human crossovers.
As Stylist noted, the movie that most of us saw was actually a second version. Apparently, the first cut was filled with errors that needed to be edited out using CGI. For instance, in some scenes, Judi Dench could be seen wearing her own wedding band — which is a little odd for a cat! In another scene, one of the extras could be seen wearing a hoodie — apparently, the editing team forgot to add CGI fur to him.
In addition to the CGI mistakes, the entire Cats movie is one big example of how CGI can only take us so far — maybe a human-cat mix is just a little too weird. After all, as The Sun noted, plenty of viewers were seriously creeped out by the strange cat CGI in this movie!