Movie Magic: Audio and Visual Special Effects 1960-1990

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Have you ever wondered what special effects in movies were like before computer graphics, 3-D animation, and Pixar? Well, take a look at the 1970’s and 80’s and you will see. Before 1977, no one knew what a light saber was. After that, everyone wanted either a blue, green, or red saber. Such was the magnitude and impact of the film entitled “Star Wars”. The technological aspects of this film were like no others seen before. It was a pivotal movie, showcasing the newest and brightest special effects and sound designs of the time. In the movie, light sabers are the main weapon used by the “Jedi masters”, an elite group of fighters and psychics that used the “Force” for good and not evil. The actors were filmed with light saber props made of plastic handles and rods made of aluminum. The film is developed normally, and then taken to the special effects team. “A special effects … artist looks at the film frame by frame, and projects each frame that contains a light saber onto a clear piece of plastic (an animation cel). The special effects artist draws the outline of each light saber blade in the frame onto the cel. Then, for each frame, the artist paints in the correct color for the blade using a bright cartoon color. Eventually the artist has a stack of these cels, one for each frame of the movie containing a light saber. The cels are clear everywhere except where the light saber blade is seen in each frame. Now, a new piece of movie film is shot. On this film, each animation cel is placed over a black background and shot with a light diffuser over the lens (this diffuser gives the light sabers the glow they have around the edges). If you were to play this film in a projector, all you would see is the light saber blades moving on a black background. Before it is developed, however, the actual footage from the movie is double-exposed onto this same film.” Because all the special effects were new to the producers, almost every effect and sound was made up as they...
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