Special Effects Part 1, 1890’s-1940’s

January 9, 2021 0 Comments

Have you ever wondered how filmmakers create those incredible special effects that can turn an above average film into an academy award nominee? Well I have, so I did some digging and here’s what I turned up. The origin of special effects (SFX) can be traced back to Swiss photographer Oscar Gustave Reijlander (1813-1875) who in 1856 edited sections of thirty-two different negatives to create a single image, this was an early example of trick still photography.

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In 1895 director Alfred Clark created the first known motion picture special effect with the guillotine scene in the film Mary Queen Of Scots. This particular scene was created using a technique known as stop motion where just before Mary was beheaded the film was stopped and the actors all held their positions as a dummy situs judi slot promo terbaru, dressed like mary, was brought in and placed under the blade of the guillotine. The filming resumed the guillotine dropped and the audience was given a realistic sense of an execution, this film was also one of the first ones produced by Thomas Edison (1847-1931. )

Another pioneer in the field of special effects was the french magician Georges Melies (1861-1938) who in 1896 also came across the stop motion effect and would go on to create over 500 short films using this technique along with some other special effects that he discovered which included multiple exposures, time-lapse photography and dissolves. As the motion picture slowly started to evolve in the early 1900’s so did special effects as was the case with the Fritz Lang 1927 silent masterpiece Metropolis In this film Lang incorporated a very creative illusional effect known as the Schufftan Process which used mirrors to “place” the actors in miniature sets.

In 1939 Mgm studios released the film The Wizard Of Oz which was based on the Lyman Frank Baum (1856-1919) book The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz, and with it came a new batch of cutting edge special effects. From flying monkeys to combining black and white film with color film to a nasty witch (Margaret Hamilton) who could fly on a broom and hurl balls of fire at a sweet and simple scarecrow (Ray Bolger), this film was packed with special effects.

To me the most impressive effect was the tornado scene where Dorothy (Judy Garland) gets swept up into a cyclone and is transported to the land of oz but creating a tornado on paper is one thing, creating it on a soundstage is entirely different! Special effects coordinator Arnold Gillespie was given this daunting assignment and here’s how he did it. His original idea was to use a 35 foot tall rubber cone but that idea was scrapped after it was determined that the cone was to rigid, tornadoes have a natural back and forth and side to side motion and the rubber simply wouldn’t flex enough to recreate that motion. His next idea was to use muslin, which is plain woven cloth, this type of material could be manipulated in any direction needed so Gillespie built a 35 foot long tapered muslin tower, to picture this mentally imagine a 35 foot wind sock.

The top was attached to a steel gantry, which was mobile and could travel the length of the set and the bottom disappeared into a slot in the stage floor. A steel rod came up through the base of the tornado and was moved in one direction while the gantry was moved in the opposite direction this gave the tornado a natural swaying motion. Then a material known as Fullers Earth, which is a brown powdery dust, was blown in to the base and top of the tornado by using compressed air, some of the dirt filtered through the muslin which helped to mask it. This effect recreated the dirt and other material that a tornado picks up as it moves across the ground, next came the sky. Thick dark clouds of smoke made from sulphur and carbon were blown onto the set from catwalk’s over the stage, this gave the effect of the dark ominous sky’s that are usually associated with severe weather. To top off all of this tornadic chaos two panels of glass, which had grey cotton balls pasted to them, were placed four to five feet in front of the cameras and were moved in opposite directions this added to the tornado’s churning motion and also helped to hide the gantry and the top portion of the tornado. Throw in some wind machines and you have yourself a very convincing recreation of a tornado.

In 1940 a young special effects man named Larry Butler would use two invention that he created to forever change the field of special effects. The first was the Traveling Matte and the second was the Bluescreen, which is still widely used. The first film that these effects were showcased on was The Thief Of Bagdad (1940) which featured flying carpets, a 70 foot tall genie and a goddess with six arms, to name just a few. The traveling matte is a complex effect to work with because it requires a different matte for each frame of film unlike still photography where single mattes are used. The film must be manipulated various ways especially during its processing to create the illusion of a person being somewhere that they really aren’t. An example of this effect would be someone who is clinging by their fingertips to the outside of a 1, 000 foot tall skyscraper.

You could use the actor or actress to do this but if something goes wrong you could wind up with a big mess on your hands! legally speaking that is plus actors are too valuable to risk on something like this. Another option would be to use a stuntperson and only use long camera shots but in this type of scene you would want to see the fear and tension on the actors face so we can toss this option off to the side along with the first, the next option is the traveling matte and bluescreen. First you would film the skyscraper, this is called the background plate then you would film the actor dangling from a wall similar to the skyscraper which is done in the studio against a bluescreen, in reality the actor is only a few feet off the ground. You would then manipulate and combine those pieces of film during its processing and like magic you wind up with is a very realistic scene of a person tangleing from the side of a skyscraper. Larry Butler won the first of his two oscar’s in 1940 for the special effects he created using these two inventions in The Thief Of Bagdad, not bad for a man who dropped out of Burbank High School in California to learn special effects from his father who was also in that profession.

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