Evolution of Special and Visual Effects in Film

By Burk19
  • Period: to

    Rise of Filmmaking

    By the end of the 1880's, all the elements required to make moving pictures had fallen into place. This time saw the invention of the Kinetograph, which could take rapid sequential images, and then using a Kinetoscope could be played rapidly giving the illusion of a moving picture. The invention of the moving picture was the spark that led to the explosion of the movie industry
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    100 Years of Visual and Special Effects

  • Stop Action

    Stop Action
    Stop Action is the oldest known visual effects shot. It was first used in "The Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots". For this effects shot the actress was filmed up to the point where she knelt for her beheading, at which point she was replaced by a dummy. This technique was revolutionary and is still used today. Here's a link to the film: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XgDG_wc19aU
  • In-Camera Matte

    In-Camera Matte
    In-Camera Matte was the next big step in visual and special effects shots. This process was first used in "The Great Train Robbery" and used a matte, a mask used to obscure part of an image in a film and allow another image to be substituted, to insert detail into the windows of a train to give it the effect of moving.
  • Glass Shot

    Glass Shot
    The Glass shot technique was first used in "The Missions of California". During the filming of this movie Norman Dawn, the director, wanted to film Missions of California as they appeared in their founding. To do this Dawn painted the missing compenents for his scenes on glass and hang them in front of the camera. When lined up properly it created a seamless viewing experience.
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    Film Making Becomes a Major Business

    During this time Movie making was on the uprise and by 1914 the industry was well established in Southern California. This period saw many advancements in movie making, with probably the most important being the introduction of the feature film.
  • Traveling Matte

    Traveling Matte
    The traveling matte technique was first used in the movie "Barney Oldfields Race for Life". In this movie Barney must save a women from a speeding train. Of course it was too dangerous to place the actors in the way of an oncoming train, so the traveling matte technique was used. For this technique, the actors first shot their scene out of danger and then the train was filmed. Next the two shots were put together using a matte which gave the illusion that the two scenes were one.
  • Matte Painting

    Matte Painting
    Another technique pioneered by Norman Dawn, this allowed for unparalleled creative possibilities by using paintings for backdrops. Any Location imagined could be created and used for filming. From here on out diirectors were only limited by their imagination.
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    Film Making Grows Bolder

    During the 20's, American film making flowered. Film makers began to branch out beyond the artistic and technical boundaries established by early pioneers and began to rely more on special and visual effects to tell increasingly elaborate stories.
  • Williams Process

    Williams Process
    Williams Process was first used in the film "Beyond the Rocks", which until 2003 was lost. After years of experimentation, Williams had perfected a version of luminance keying that used a forground shot against black or white to produce a matte that would allow any background to be added behind the original scene. Up until this time effects shots were cut quickly so the audience didn't have time to see the flaws. However, Williams work was so refined it allowed for effects shots up to 30 seconds
  • The Shuftan Process

    The Shuftan Process
    The Shuftan Process was first used in the film "Metropolis". This technique is a traditional method of using mirrors to combine full-scale live action and miniatures in-camera.
  • Rear Projection

    Rear Projection
    Not only did the film "Metropolis" pioneer the Shuftan Process, but is also the first use of rear projection with a moving background image (Until this time it had only been used with still images). This method combined live-action foregrounds with pre-filmed background scenery. Actors perform in front of a translucent screen which has still or moving images projected on to it from behind and another camera films the composite image. These are then put together to create the completed image.
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    Sound Comes to Movies

    By this time silent films had reached their peak and with the introduction of the "talkie", audiences began to clamour for films with sound. From this point on, cinema would forever be changed with the integration of sound.
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    Colour Comes to Film

    During this decade colour finally made its way into film. However, it was an intensive and expensive process and many films during this time still shot in black in white.
  • Cloud Tank

    Cloud Tank
    The cloud tank technique was first used in the movie "The Beginning or the End" to re-create the explosion of the atom bomb. This effect uses a glass tank filled with saline solutions of various densitites and is used to film billowing cloud formations. Similar methods have also been used to create billowing cloud formations in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" and "Ghostbusters."
  • Motion Control

    Motion Control
    This Technique was a huge step forward in filmmaking. Until this point in cinema history, successful combination of separately filmed elements was traditionally dependent on ensuring that there was no movement in any of the cameras used to film the various components. O.L. Dupy changed all this with the invention of the Dupy Duplicator which recorded the movement of a camera and reproduced it wherever and whenever different elements of a composite shot filmed, and effectively combined later.
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    Film Battles TV

    During this decade television took over. No longer did families have to go to the cineplex and pay to see a movie when they could watch free TV in their own home. To battle this Hollywood decided to innovate. They started filming most movies in color, as well as, worked to improve the size and quality of the image and widescreen was finally introduced.
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    An Uncertain Future

    Even after all the innovations of the 50's, Hollywood still entered the 60's with trepidation. Film audiences had dwindled by millions, and profitable theaters closing. Movies of this time generally became increasingly fast-paced, action-packed and violent. This hunger for the spectacular had little use for the traditional skills of Hollywood's special effects departments and many studios closed their Fx departments down.
  • Front Projection

    Front Projection
    Front Projection is a method of simultaneously filming performers in a studio and pre-filmed background images which are projected on to a highly reflective backdrop from in front. This technique was being used as early as the 30's, but it wasn't until the 50's that interest in the method led to a number of practical systems. The film 2001: A Space Odyssey marked its first use in a major feature film.
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    The Next Blockbuster

    After a poor performance in the 60's, Hollywood entered the 70's in its most perilous financial condition ever. Much of Hollywood now lay in the hands of business conglomerates only looking to make a buck. With a new focus on making money, Hollywood entered the blockbuster age. A rise in great directors such as Spielberg, Lucas, and Coppola were willing to meet this need by creating movies of mass appeal with big budgets and big effects, playing a huge role in the revival of special effects.
  • Zoptics

    Zoptics is an imaginitive variation of front projection. First used in "Superman" this technique allowed for Superman's long flights to be achieved in a small studio without any problems. To do this the zoom lens on a camera is linked with the zoom lens on a projector. by simultaneously increasing the size of the camera, the projecrted image will appear to remain the same size when rephotographed while any foreground object will appear to shrink. Thus allowing Superman to fly towards and away.
  • Electronic Composite

    Electronic Composite
    Electronic Composite was created by Barry Nolan. Nolan spent a million dollars to build the world's first film resolution electronic compositing system. This system scanned the film, extracted the matte from the blue layer, composited the elements, and filmed the shot back out from a high definition black and white CRT through separation filters onto color negative - entirely in analogue format.
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    A Remarkable Revival

    With new found success in Blockbuster style movies, film executives looked to continue the trend and did. Movies only continued to get bigger, and dazzling visual and special effects kept audiences coming back. The 80's were a very successful period for Hollywood with 1989 being the most successful year in history at $5.03 billion at the box office. The film business underwent a remarkable revival and cemented its position as an integral part of the globalleisure industry.
  • Introvision

    Introvision was a new technique first used in the movie "Outland." This technique, a compicated variation of front projection, effectively enables the 2-D projected background image to be split into various planes. This was performers can be made to appear as if they are actually acting 'within' the environment of the projected image.
  • 3D Computer Graphics in a Composite

    3D Computer Graphics in a Composite
    For the first time in history a 3D computer generated image was successfully placed into a film background. The company that achieved this was ILM and the film they did it for was "Young Sherlock Holmes."
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    Into the Digital Age

    With huge success in the 80's, the American film industry had developed into an efficient money-making machine and the country's most profitable export. In the realm of visual and special effects, the 90's saw a huge breakthrough in digital imaging. The ability to get film in and out of the digital realm with no loss of quality opened the floodgates for digital revolution. Digital technology quickly became affordable and could be seen in even the smallest productions.
  • Live-Action 3D

    Live-Action 3D
    The release of James Camerons' "Avatar" marked the film industry's introduction into true 3-D. Before, 3-D was only thought to be a movie gimmick, but Cameron designed dual-function cameras that simultaneously filmed in both conventional 2-D and state of the art 3-D. The result was nothing short of amazing and has led to the 3-D craze we now see with movies.