The Magical Ride of Hollywood Special Effects

By Sonali Chowdhury in Hollywood Tags: Hollywood, Special Effects, Visual Effects, Hollywood Film making, CGI (Computer Generated Imagery), SFX Evolution, Avatar, The Matrix, Star Wars, The Lost World.

The camera tricks of Hollywood are the art of a master magician, conjuring up myriad alien worlds, massive action set-pieces and stunning character design. And the magic wand which empowers the movie-maker to wow us with his art is the special effects department.

Rockying takes a look at the evolution of what has become one of the most important aspects of modern day movie making: The Special effects a.k.a. SFX (now CGI) by showcasing ten of the most iconic movies that added a new dimension to this world of smoke and mirrors.

  1. THE EXECUTION OF MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS (1895)

    The Execution of Mary Quenn of Scots

    A proof that special effects have been around for as long as there have been movies! This 1895 movie had the first VFX (Visual Effects) shot of the beheading of the titular character. It was done with a dummy and a simple piece of editing

  2. GERTIE THE DINOSAUR (1914)

    Gerite the dinosaur

    Winsor McCay created an affable cartoon dinosaur and then filmed himself with it! A revolutionary step back in the day, this was the first time an animated and a real character shared screen space together.

  3. THE LOST WORLD (1925)

    The Lost Work 1925

    A movie that had all the early techniques on display. Stop Motion Animation (using large puppets and scale models filmed frame by frame) and Traveling Matte (the process of adding a moving element to a frame so that it could be separated as an element and combined with a different background) were widely used.

  4. METROPOLIS (1927)

    Metropolis Movie 1927

    A cult classic that created the Schufftan process - an in-camera, optical special effect which used mirrors to create the illusion of live actors in huge sets (that were actually miniatures of scenery or painted or modelled backgrounds).

  5. 2001 : A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968)

    2001 A Space Odeyssey Movie

    Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece gave us the best shots of outer space ever. With techniques such as the use of miniature models and full sized props, manually-guided pre-motion control cameras and rear-projection, it showcased the best of its time.

  6. THE STAR WARS TRILOGY (1977-83)

    Star Wars 1 Movie
    Star Wars 2 Movie

    A movie series by George Lucas that changed it all. With massive sets and amazing effects (each of the movies won the Oscar for visual effects) it is indeed a feat of genius considering that they didn’t use computers for almost any of the scenes, relying solely on the classic animation techniques.

  7. JURASSIC PARK (1993)

    Jurasic Park Movie

    The Steven Spielberg movie which introduced us to the world of CGI (Computer Generated Imagery). Though most of the dinosaurs we all saw were animatronic models, the movie also had some of the first photo realistic CGI characters in the form of the terrifying Tyrannosaurs Rex. The technique of CGI would soon become the most dominant force in Hollywood VFX.

  8. THE MATRIX (1999)

    The Matrix Movie

    Slow motion action, “bullet-time”, wall scaling, time freezing and a million other techniques were showcased in this blockbuster. While everyone else merely used the CGI, this was the movie that gave it a style and identity which makes it a favourite with fans even today.

  9. THE LORD OF THE RINGS TRILOGY

    The Lord Of The Rings Movie
    Lord Of The Rings Movie

    The character of Gollum was created using the facial expressions and body movements of actor Andy Serkis to create a CGI masterpiece. The technique, called motion capture, still remains a favourite with animators.

  10. AVATAR (2009)

    Avatar Movie

    While every other movie boasted of spectacular special effects, James Cameron’s epic saga of an alien planet brought great new technology on board. With new ways of shooting 3-D and some of the best use of motion capture, Avatar remains the gold standard for VFX in Hollywood today.

Hollywood has come a long way and in the coming years we are only going to witness more such spectacular effects onscreen. Hollywood is betting heavily on this magic wand and why not after all it transports us to a different world and leaves us gasping for more.

From story-telling, special effects, next in our series is make-up where Rockying will unveil evolution of the art of make-up in Hollywood film making. Stick about!

About the Author: Keeping her eyes closed, with long breaths and a gentle sound many mistake for snoring, actually helps Sonali think better. Or so she says. People question about these daily “thinking sessions”, mostly conducted on a comfortable couch or bed, while she claims that the long overdue best-seller she’s been working on (for quite some time now) will silence all the cynics. Till then she dreams on...


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