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The rise of CGI characters

Which CGI characters qualify?

Neomorph/Xenomorph from "Alien: Covenant"

Steppenwolf from "Justice League"

Ares from "Wonder Woman"

The Asset from "The Shape of Water"

Supreme Leader Snoke from "Star Wars: The Last Jedi"

The Pearls from "Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets"

Korg from "Thor: Ragnarok"

Rocket Raccoon from "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2"

King Kong from "Kong: Skull Island"

Baby Groot from "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2"

The Beast from "Beauty and the Beast"

The Hulk from "Thor: Ragnarok"

Bad Ape from "War for the Planet of the Apes"

Paddington from "Paddington 2"

Caesar from "War for the Planet of the Apes"

Today's effects-driven blockbusters often star computer-generated characters. Actors like Andy Serkis shoot their scenes wearing motion capture suits covered in tracking markers with a multitude of cameras aimed at them, and visual-effects teams turn those performances into a fully animated final form. 

From "The Last Jedi" to Marvel's various adventures to the heart-stopping "War for the Planet of the Apes", we've scoured the year's biggest blockbusters to rank the best and worst CGI characters of 2017. 

Caption by / Photo by Twentieth Century Fox

This list includes characters rendered entirely in digital form -- we're not including Cyborg from "Justice League", for example, or the so-called "digital doubles" that take the place of real actors in action scenes in films like "Spider-Man: Homecoming". And it's only CGI characters in live action movies, so we aren't including animated films like "Coco" or "The Lego Batman Movie".

Caption by / Photo by Warner Bros. Pictures

Let's start with the year's worst offenders. In the original "Alien", Ridley Scott turned the limitations of the day's make-up and effects into a virtue by cloaking the rapacious alien in darkness. Despite being a guy in a suit, the combination of unsettling design and sheer mystery made the creature a terror for the ages. Unfortunately, when returning for the latest installment in the series, "Alien: Covenant", Scott seemed to have forgotten his own masterstroke, and presented a couple of versions of the alien with a glossy CGI sheen, allowing us to see more of the creature than we wanted to.

Caption by / Photo by Fox

"Justice League" just came out a few weeks ago and I can't remember a thing about the CGI villain Steppenwolf. Neither can you.

Caption by / Photo by Warner Bros

Put "Justice League" villain Steppenwolf and "Wonder Woman" baddie Ares next to each other, and I honestly couldn't tell you which was which. Both are weightless, character-less video game sprites with zero personality or menace. In this list, Ares edges ahead simply because "Wonder Woman" was smart enough to not actually show him for most of the film's running time.

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I haven't seen "The Shape of Water". Has anyone seen "The Shape of Water"? Is it any good? It's Guillermo Del Toro, so I assume it is. Anyway, the fish-man character looks pretty cool in the trailer, and can't possibly be worse than Steppenwolf. If you have seen "The Shape of Water" please let me know if this is correct.

Caption by / Photo by Fox Searchlight Pictures

"The Last Jedi" features multiple CGI and CGI-enhanced creatures, from BB-8 to the porgs to that big beastie Luke Skywalker milks. But most prominent of all is Supreme Leader Snoke, played by Andy Serkis. 

Serkis delivers a viscerally hate-filled snarl of a performance, but there's no getting round the fact the wizened Snoke is a bit rubbish. CGI adds very little to his scarred visage that wasn't done 10 times better with a mix of real acting, make-up and subtle digital effects to create the similarly scarred character Two-Face in "The Dark Knight". Search your feelings -- you know it to be true. 

Caption by / Photo by Lucasfilm

Luc Besson's "Valerian" was a galaxy-sized misfire, but boy howdy was it beautiful to look at. The vast and varied assortment of CGI beings lit up the film when the story failed to launch, with the iridescent Pearls given the most screen time.

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Played by Taika Waititi, the comic genius who directed "Thor: Ragnarok", Korg rocked. Like, he was literally made from rocks. A prime example of how a CGI character can be endowed with a personality by the script, not the effects.  

Caption by / Photo by Video screenshot by Bonnie Burton/CNET

Considering he's a homicidal rodent, Rocket Raccoon is a surprisingly sympathetic character in Marvel's"Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2". A large part of that comes down to Bradley Cooper's performance, but there's some virtuoso visual effects at play too.

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No monkeying around, just punching helicopters. Badass.

Caption by / Photo by Warner Bros. Pictures

They don't come much cuter than Groot.

Caption by / Photo by Marvel

The star of the show in the year's biggest film, the CGI Beast translates Dan Stevens' performance brilliantly. Fun fact: the intricacies of performance capture meant Stevens had to film everything twice -- once on set to record his movements with the other actors, and then again weeks later to capture his facial performance.

Caption by / Photo by Disney

Finally given a haircut and something resembling a personality, was it just me or was the Hulk kinda hot?

Caption by / Photo by Marvel

As the maltreated and troubled Bad Ape, Steve Zahn gave one of the most heartrending performances of the year in "War for the Planet of the Apes". His warm, tender acting was matched perfectly by visual effects that helped give Bad Ape such soul. 

Caption by / Photo by Twentieth Century Fox

There's a moment at the end of "Paddington 2" when the titular tourist from deepest darkest Peru gazes straight down the camera with the most soulful look it'd melt all but the hardest hearts. Even surrounded by actual living, breathing actors of the highest calibre, Paddington never looks like a cartoon character: gorgeous writing, a lovely performance from Ben Whishaw and first-rate visual effects make him one of the realest, most sympathetic characters of 2017.

Caption by / Photo by StudioCanal

Performance capture at its finest. All the elements combine here: a great script giving depth to the character; a blistering performance from master of the form Andy Serkis breathing life and personality into the role; and utterly breathtaking digital effects selling the illusion of a walking, talking, conflicted ape. Hail Caesar!

Caption by / Photo by Twentieth Century Fox
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