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What Zack Snyder's Justice League Looked Like Before Special Effects

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There are movies with little to no special effects, movies with a moderate amount, movies with a heavy amount, and then there's Zack Snyder's Justice League. The four-hour HBO Max event was full of action-packed sequences that couldn't have been done without the help of CGI and a trusty green screen.

Zack Snyder is known for his visionary approach to directing and has delivered spectacles in the past such as 300 and Watchmen. It should be understood when viewing one of the director's films that most of what you're looking at isn't real, and was digitally added after filming. In a Snyder flick, the only authentic thing you're really looking at in the scene are the actors themselves, and maybe a few props scattered around them.

It's rather shocking to see what things look like on set during the filming of a Snyder movie, versus the end result. Zack Snyder's Justice League is proof of that: taking a look at some behind-the-scenes moments may surprise you, as the before and after aren't even comparable. 

Before special effects were added into the Snyder Cut, everything was a sea of green as actors performed inside studios as opposed to outside where half of the film takes place. These behind-the-scenes photos will truly shock you, and you may not even be able to pinpoint what specific moment in the movie they are from.

Amazons hard at work

The first Mother Box Steppenwolf comes for is in possession of the Amazons on Themyscira in a heavily guarded temple. It's the first time we see the horned villain in the film, and when he lands via a portal, he has no qualms about slinging these women left and right as they battle him without fear. Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) realizes she has to take the Mother Box out and seal the temple, despite knowing several of her fellow Amazons will die in the process.

As she escapes through a tunnel, awaiting Amazon warriors stand by with large hammers, ready to knock out massive stone pillars which will release several walls and trap all inside — hopefully killing Steppenwolf in the process. It looks like these Amazons didn't have to swing as hard as it looked in the movie, because in reality they're just hitting large foam pillars wrapped in that trusty green cloth.

Amazon in flight

In Part 2 of the film, Diana Prince gives Bruce Wayne a five-minute lesson on the Golden Age of Heroes and their battle against Darkseid, while the audience is treated to a visual experience of the whole thing. We see Atlanteans, the Old Gods, a Green Lantern, Amazons, and men battle against Darkseid and his armada in an all-out war.

Bodies are flying all over the place in this scene, as almost everyone — except men — can launch themselves into the air with ease. There is one shot of an unknown Amazon who climbs on top of her horse before jumping into the air to wreak havoc on some parademons. We can see that her horse is not real at all, and neither is the world around her.

Aquaman saves the day

In one of Arthur Curry's (Jason Momoa) introductory scenes, we see him rescue a man whose boat has capsized during a brutal storm. The seaman puts out several maydays as he tries to cling to the sinking vessel, but his future looks grim as there is no help in sight. That is, until Aquaman himself appears on top of the boat in all his shirtless glory, ready to save the day.

It's one of the movie's coolest shots, as only Arthur's silhouette can be seen while a large wave comes in to crash down on him. But it turns out that's not real seawater, and Momoa was standing on top of a boat inside a studio. The water was tossed onto him by machines, in what hopefully only required one take.

An underwater battle out of water

When Steppenwolf comes for the second Mother Box, he has to look for it in the ocean as it's being guarded underwater by Atlanteans. Mera (Amber Heard) is one of the first Atlanteans to challenge Steppenwolf and fights him off as he tries to steal the box. Steppenwolf gets the upper hand and almost wipes her out entirely, before Aquaman shows up to save the day yet again.

An underwater fight sequence isn't easy, as this behind-the-scenes photo proves. Three crew members had to help sling Jason Momoa around in the air as he hung from wires, to make his movement look effortless as if he was truly under the water.

Cyborg scrambles for a TD

During one of Cyborg's (Ray Fisher) backstory scenes, we see Victor Stone excelling on the football field while playing for the Gotham City University Wildcats. Seeing that he has no one to throw the ball to, Victor scrambles for a touchdown and brings the Wildcats to victory. It looks like the stands go on for days in the film, but the behind-the-scenes image proves that just a few rows of seating were brought in, while the rest were created through CG.

The scene was not shot outdoors either — or in real snow for that matter — and required a rolling camera to snag the footage. The cameras had to be covered with protective bags to avoid damage from the faux snow, which kept piling in after each take.

Batman keeps his distance

While the team — sans Aquaman and Superman (Henry Cavill) — is battling Steppenwolf in the tunnels below Gotham, there really isn't much for Batman to do at first since he's without superpowers. Cyborg, The Flash (Ezra Miller), and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) basically lead the charge against the villain while Batman aids from afar, fighting off parademons one by one.

After kicking a parademon off one of the suspended metal walkways, he takes a peek over the edge to watch it splatter on the floor. In reality, that fall only would have knocked the wind out of someone, as Ben Affleck was just a few feet off the ground. The only real set pieces around him were some bent black handrails — the rest of the tunnel was all digitally entered after the fact.

Aquaman finally shows up

While Arthur Curry is dragging his butt on deciding to help the heroes, they're battling Steppenwolf and his parademons underneath Gotham Harbor in a series of tunnels. Neither side really wins the fight, but our heroes are almost done for after a redirected missile hits the wall of the tunnels, allowing water to come gushing in with an intense amount of pressure.

As the gang runs away toward the Knightcrawler, it looks like they will be swallowed by the raging flood. But that's before Aquaman decides to get out of bed and come help. The Atlantean comes in through a crevasse and hops out of the water in just enough time to slam his trident and keep the water at bay — water, it should be noted, that was all added after the fact.

Cyborg takes a stroll

Just before the team revives Superman, they have to break into S.T.A.R. Labs, so they have the entire place evacuated with a false alarm put in place by Cyborg. Victor struts down one of the walkways carrying a Mother Box when he passes his father, Dr. Silas Stone (Joe Morton). Silas is trying to alert the evacuated staff that the alarm was actually false when he sees his son is up to something and ends up going along with the plan.

In a scene that was entirely constructed without green screens, Ray Fisher dons his motion-capture suit, fitted with two red glowing lights, as he walks down the corridor with his father just behind him.

Welcome back Superman

Once Superman comes back to life, Aquaman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, and Cyborg all meet him at his monument. Not remembering who he is yet, Superman reads the heroes as a threat when he scans the four of them. Cyborg detects the threat from Superman and his body responds by creating a weapon out of his arm. The Flash tries to warn Cyborg to not fire his weapon, but he is powerless against his own body.

Unable to override his defense system, Cyborg attempts to hold his arm down until it fires involuntarily at Superman. It misses, but knocks out another part of the monument which had already taken a beating from Doomsday in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. It's here that Superman officially turns angry and begins his assault on his fellow heroes.

Superman versus Cyborg

Superman also takes on Cyborg one-on-one shortly after his resurrection, and it's really nothing the former can't handle. Superman has no issue coming to blows with Cyborg and stops him mid-flight by grabbing his hands and throwing him off to the side like a rag doll. 

Since Victor Stone is made (mostly) of metal, actor Ray Fisher had to wear a motion-capture suit for most of his filming and had to carry a large green foam box as he charged Superman, so his character's arms could be CG'ed in later. Henry Cavill had to grab the box in such a way so it looked like he was grabbing Cyborg's hands, making for an interesting behind-the-scenes collision.

Things come to a head

Doomsday had decapitated Superman's head from his monument as we previously mentioned, and it was never reconstructed. The revived Superman ends up using this head as a weapon against the Justice League, but it's not as efficient as he might have hoped.

As he picks up the head with ease, Superman launches it directly at Wonder Woman, who slices it in half with her sword like she's cutting a piece of cake. It's interesting to see in the behind-the-scenes photo that the green prop actually resembled a head, which Henry Cavill clearly had no issue tossing around.

Superman takes on Wonder Woman

In another behind-the-scenes shot from the Superman monument battle, we see Wonder Woman take on Kal-El head-to-head, and she appears to be no match for him. At this moment, she tries to bring her cuffs together in an effort to blast Superman away, but he thwarts her plan by speeding up to her and placing his hand just between her cuffs before they make contact.

This scene takes place next to a small water feature that's part of the monument's landscape, explaining the green screen which lies on the floor in the picture above. The water was added in after filming was completed.

A real headbanger

After he blocks Wonder Woman from using her cuffs, Superman pulls her arms apart and headbutts her. She fires one right back at him, which takes him a second to recover from. After he's had enough, Superman delivers the headbutt of all headbutts when he lifts himself in the air and comes down on Wonder Woman like a ton of bricks. 

In order to get this scene perfect, a green screen-covered crew member had to aid Henry Cavill by bending his legs in a way which brought more fluidity to his body, while he was held up with wires. It would have been impossible for Cavill to bend his body this way while up on the wires, so the silly-looking crew member was essential to get it just right.

Reunited and it feels so good

It turns out that one of the movie's outdoor scenes was...actually filmed outside, if you can believe it. After Clark Kent sees Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and is reminded of who he is, the duo flies off to his family's foreclosed farm and spend some time in the field getting reacquainted. While the white farmhouse was real, the massive tree and surrounding buildings we see in the movie aren't.

Large green screens were used so additional buildings could be added in, as well as a few oversized leafless trees. We had seen these extra buildings before in Man of Steel, where Clark's father Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner) hid Kal-El's crashed Kryptonian ship after the boy first landed on Earth.

It's a bird, it's a plane, it's... Batman on a pile of 2X4's

Throughout Zack Snyder's Justice League, we see Bruce Wayne, Cyborg, and Alfred (Jeremy Irons) work on the Flying Fox — the jet Bruce constructed as a troop carrier. The team has some issues getting it to fly, but eventually, the jet is in working order and carries the team across the world to take on Steppenwolf.

Bruce mans the Flying Fox alone after dropping the team off on land, and takes down Steppenwolf's force field, allowing everyone to enter and start smashing skulls. While it looks like Affleck really is in some type of aircraft in the movie, he's actually sitting on a pile of wood that remains stationary, and he has to thrust himself around to make it look like he's actually in motion.

The Flying Fox has landed

When the Flying Fox lands near Steppenwolf's home base, the team walks off the jet ready for battle. It's one of the movie's first shots of the group together — before Superman joins in on the fun — and has all the makings of an epic scene. Batman stays aboard the jet as Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Cyborg and The Flash exit the ramp ready to take on Steppenwolf.

The group appears to be indoors yet again, as they are surrounded by large green drapes so the gloomy background can be added in later. This version of the Flying Fox looks more like a real aircraft, as opposed to the wooden mess we saw Ben Affleck sitting on earlier.

The team is victorious

The heroes actually fail in the finale after the three Mother Boxes come together and form the Unity, instantly killing all of them in a tremendous explosion. The Flash is able to reverse time before he is hit with the blast, bringing everyone back and allowing Cyborg and Superman to separate the boxes before they can join a second time. Just after the Mother Boxes are ripped apart and destroyed, Steppenwolf finally meets his end as Aquaman impales him with his trident.

Superman delivers one last punch that sends Steppenwolf flying as Wonder Woman slices off his head in mid-air, sending the baddie through a Boom Tube in two pieces to fall at Darkseid's feet. It's here that all six Justice League members stand together and stare through the Boom Tube at Darkseid in one of the film's most powerful moments.

Reveling in glory

One of the best group shots in the movie comes in the finale, after the Justice League is victorious in destroying the Mother Boxes and taking down Steppenwolf. After climbing out of the reactor, the team stands together looking at the horizon prouder than ever. While they all look pretty serious, The Flash can't help but grin alongside his new superhero buddies.

The bright background behind the Justice League was added in after the fact, as was Cyborg's metal body. In this particular shot, he did have the glowing red lights around his eye and at the center of his chest, which was emphasized later on in editing.

A total Knightmare

During the epilogue, we get to see Batman and an unusual group converse during the "Knightmare" scene. The sequence is super odd, and it's quite confusing at first since we aren't given any clear reason why Mera, The Flash, Cyborg, Deathstroke (Joe Manganiello), Batman, and the Joker (Jared Leto) are all together.

At one point Deathstroke asks Batman if he still thinks it's a good idea to have brought the Joker along — one of the very few lines Manganiello has in the film. Of course, Batman doesn't think it's a good idea, but it was done out of necessity. The entire post-apocalyptic "Knightmare" sequence was shot in a big green box, with all the destruction added in after filming.