Written by: Brett Amato
Special effects in motion pictures has evolved over the years into an involved science of illusion and visual magic. The following is a comprehensive perspective depicting the rapidly expanding realm of cinematography. In times of old, special effects in movies was limited to an individual's creativity and the constrictive limits of the tools available. However the results of early special effects masters astounded audiences in their age in the same manner that modern artists do today. The ability to create an effect that was brand new was, and still is, the key to the industry.
Techniques range from the expected to the bizarre in order to achieve a certain image or illusion. Cinematographers in the early fifties would use a black cloth backdrop with white paint splattered off of toothpicks to simulate a space scene in the many science-fiction movies made in that era. There is also stories of a common plate being thrown across a "space" backdrop to emulate a flying saucer in mid-flight.
Although the special effects persons of old were strapped with limits, one of these was not make-up. They relied heavily on this prop to portray the many monsters and aliens in their films. "Nosferatu" a German film about the vampire with the same name was a huge success even in America, where thousands marveled at the intricate detailing of the blood-sucker's razor-like teeth, bulging eyes and a pointed nose and ears. "The Creature from the Black Lagoon" used a somewhat new technique of a body suit that the actor wore along with a mask made of latex rubber and foam. Using cooking oil or butter spread on the body and mask gave an enhancement of sliminess added to the monster image. A fairly recent film using heavy make-up effects is "An American Werewolf in London" done by the master make-up artist Rick Baker who shows what can be done with a steady hand and a lot of patience.
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