A Look at Special Effects Throughout History

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In the beginning there were merely pictures, but not soon afterward people got bored with just looking at still images. That is when Alva Edison assigned his assistant, on his behalf, to invent something to record moving pictures (Rickitt 10). Out of that grew the Kinetoscope, which used a lantern to project a series of pictures (25-30 per second) through a lens which gave the illusion of movement (10). The Lumière brothers, of Paris, were then first to invent the Cinèmatographe (10). The Cinèmatographe would then project these images on a larger screen, like the projectors of today. The Lumières at first felt that their invention was just a craze but decided to try and use it for short-term financial gain (10). The brothers then gave the first public showing of films on December 28, 1885(10). One of the featured films was Train Arriving at a Station, which caused such an uproar because the audiences thought the train was going to jump off the screen towards them (10). The brothers then realized how powerful Salem 2

their invention was and sent over two hundred agents to travel the world and exhibit their films (10). Thus starting the era of movies, which has shown no signs of stopping. The first master of special effects was George Méliès. He used simple magic tricks to produce special effects which are still used today. He invented such things as double exposure and stop-action (Rickitt 13). Double exposure is overlapping two images on a piece of film caused by running the film through a camera twice. The technique can be used to create in-camera dissolves or the appearance of transparent ghosts. Stop-action is a method of animating models by physically altering their position in between the photography of each frame. When the resulting images are projected at the normal speed, there is the illusion of autonomous movement (309). The 1910's played an important part in special effects, for the first time people began to edit movies, use camera movement, shot composition and lighting (Rickitt 16). David Wark Griffith began to use shot transitions such as fade-in and fade-out to signify time difference (16). He also invented iris-in and

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iris-out which is used to reveal or conceal areas of the frame (16). Also during the 1910's many film companies settled in Southern California, which was the beginning of Hollywood. As people began to specialize in certain parts of movie making, Norman O. Dawn, Hollywood's first special effects man, invented some new techniques (Rickitt 17). One technique Dawn pioneered was the glass shot; Whereby scenery could be altered or extended on film by the use of highly detailed paintings. The technique was typically used to add height to studio sets that were only built one or two storeys high (17). The upper levels were added by painting them on a sheet of glass positioned in front of the camera (17). He also invented the in-camera shot which enabled filmed scenery to be combined with paintings (17).

Before the 1920's sound did not play a big role in movies, but that soon changed in 1927 with The Warner Brothers The Jazz Singer (Dirks, 3). With the company in financial trouble this was the last attempt to save The Warner Brothers company, apparently fired the public imagination and signaled that the "talkie" was here to stay (Rickitt 19).

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The 1930's has stuck out as a time for movies that have lasted through history. Such movies as King Kong (1939), Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), Gone with the Wind (1939) and The Wizard of Oz (1939), have passed the test of time and were known as visual masterpieces of their day (Dirks 5). King Kong used Willis O'Brien's method of stop-action animation, which is; A method of animating models by physically altering their position in between the photography of each...
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