The history of special effects in the cinema



    The history of cinema is inextricably linked with the history of special effects. From the first primitive tricks with lighting and false daggers in silent films, to entire worlds and incredibly realistic creatures that never existed. Now almost ALL films with a decent budget, to one degree or another, use virtual sets.

    What is primary in the movie - the plot or the play of the actors? Special effects or operator skill? Of course, all these components are extremely important. But, nevertheless, some films became famous precisely thanks to the special effects used. And though today some of them look ordinary, and some are naive, at one time they became milestones in the cinema. Of course, there were a lot of such films. But few people can boast of special effects, solely thanks to which it became possible to tell the story. Such special effects, which not only caused a wow effect, but really took for granted. Which forced to empathize with the protagonist, imbued with the situations in which he found himself. Let us recall some of these iconic films.

    Metropolis (Metropolis) (1927)






    Perhaps Metropolis is the first film in which special effects have become a real breakthrough. The director managed to perfectly convey the atmosphere of the city of the future, and could not do without complicated technical tricks. Here, for the first time, the Schüfftan Process was applied, named after the inventor Eugene Schufftan . Its essence lies in the formation of a combined image using a system of mirrors, which made it possible to create non-existent landscapes and organically fit actors into them.







    At that time, Metropolis was the most complex and expensive film made in Germany. He also became a kind of challenge to Hollywood. However, the cost of production so exceeded the budget that Universum Film AG Studios had to go into debt to the Hollywood corporation Gunning. As a result, the Americans began to massively use the Schüfftan process, until in the 1950s it was replaced by other technologies.



    But even later, the Schüfftan process was regularly used in cinema.

    The Taking of Power by Louis XIV (1966): Versailles construction site.



    Socrates (1971): Acropolis of Athens.



    The Age of The Medici (1973): 15th Century Florence.



    Some scenes from The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King were shot using this technology. It’s hard to say why Peter Jackson used the Schüfftan effect, armed with powerful modern technology. This was probably a kind of expression of appreciation and respect.





    Forbidden Planet (1956)






    The script of the film retells Shakespeare's play “The Storm”, but the action is transferred to another planet. Here you have spaceships, and unprecedented landscapes, and a mysterious monster generated by the mind of one of the last representatives of the extinct people. This film became a classic of the 1950s American cinema.

    In the Forbidden Planet, special effects, magnificent for that time, were applied, thanks to which they depicted the views of the planet Altair IV with two luminaries and a green sky; underground cities of steel and porcelain created by an extinct race; scenes of battles with a monster and a flying spaceship. Matte painting











    technique was used to create many decorations., which was the forerunner of blue screens for analog shooting and green - for digital. In addition, it was the first film in which only electronic music sounded.

    A curious fact: “Forbidden Planet” was the second work in the cinema of Leslie Nielsen , who presented us with a series of films “The Naked Gun” .



    Space Odyssey 2001 (1968)






    One of the most famous science fiction films. A long, drawn-down narrative would bury any movie other than this. Stanley Kubrick managed to create an incredible sensation of a near, almost onset, but still future. All scene details work for this, including fonts of any inscriptions and interfaces. The most amazing thing is that after almost half a century, the space stations and ships depicted do not look naive. And after watching, you will understand where the Star Wars designers drew inspiration from. True, we are talking about the exterior; the interiors were still created in the spirit of the fiction of the 1960s.



    Every scene, every frame was built with incredible accuracy and attention. To shoot the film, the most complex and expensive special effects were used. It was 1968, computers were in their infancy, and all effects were analog. At the same time, the creators managed to achieve incredible realism.



    IPad in 1968: The





    technology used to shoot the first part of the film is Schüfftan's process:



    And here is the scene:



    was shot using the slit-scan technique:



    A huge spinning drum was built for shooting inside the ring module on a spaceship:





    But not all the scenes were shot on such a scale. For example, in the film there is an episode when the stewardess enters the passenger compartment and sees a ballpoint pen rotating in zero gravity. Today it would be filmed using 3D. Kubrick managed a piece of glass and double-sided tape.





    Star wars (1977)






    The history of science fiction can not be imagined without Star Wars . Yes, in general it is impossible to imagine a world without them. The abundance of all kinds of spacecraft, aliens, spectacular shootout scenes and - lightsabers! And the scene where the rebel fighters are trying to break through to the core of the Death Star? By the way, a model of the station’s surface several meters long was built for its shooting, and the camera was driven along it in a car at a decent speed.





    Yes, the younger generation can no longer understand with what delight and secret breath we watched these films. And it's not at all that there should be more lasers and space. With the help of special effects, George Lucas was able to create an amazing atmosphere of a fairy tale, the existence of which he wanted to believe unconditionally.





    For the filming of the film, many models of technology were created and various layouts were built. Various alien fauna was depicted using single-frame shooting of dolls. Actively used blue screens for the subsequent overlay image.



    An interesting fact: the famous effect of the text floating away into perspective at the beginning of each series of Star Wars was originally shot in analog form: the



    camera slowly moved along the panel with luminous letters. It was very difficult to ensure sufficient smoothness of movement. In addition, I had to shoot the same scene in different languages, as required by the rental conditions in different countries - German, French, Spanish, etc. Lucas subsequently replaced these episodes with computer versions.



    Alien (1982)








    Very few directors use special effects to enhance the emotional intensity of the story. They are mainly used to create surroundings and general entertainment. “Alien” definitely refers to psychological fiction. Here technologies were used to create not a beautiful wrapper, but feelings, emotions, souls, if you like, the main character. The strange looking alien was very convincing, the audience was very empathetic to him. The doll, filled with servos, made you fall in love with a big-eyed ... whoever he was.



    Carlo Rambaldi , a legendary specialist in special effects (rate the list of films he worked on), was inspired by the faces of Karl Sandberg , Albert Einstein and Ernest Hemingway when creating the Alien . Doll's eyesanimatronics were critical to the credibility of the image, and specialists from the Jules Stein Institute were hired to create them . For the filming, 4 copies of the Alien's head were made: one animatronic for common scenes, and the rest for close-up shots of various emotions.

    However, only the character’s head was mechanical. Inside the body, a man was hiding. In different scenes, the costume of E.T. put on one of the two dwarfs. The third actor also participated in the filming - a 12-year-old boy born without both legs. The hands of the Alien were run by a professional mime. The manufacture of all components of the dolls took three months and cost $ 1.5 million.

    Ghostbusters (1984)






    Extraordinarily charming fantastic comedy . Ivan Reitman managed to make such an exciting film, filled with ghosts, ghosts and special energy traps, without a single digital effect. Only the good old "analog". At the same time, everyone who watched The Hunters was ready to swear that they could not do without 3D. And yet, the creators somehow got out. The film used a huge amount of animation and effects matte painting . All kinds of models and dolls were made, lighting effects were very widely involved. After which painstaking work was carried out to reduce the various video sequences.





    In fact, it was SPECIAL EFFECTS in the film that were not used so much. Often used all kinds of "grandfather" methods, such as hanging objects on cables, pyrotechnics and so on. For example, in a scene in a library, catalog cards start to fly out of pop-up drawers. This was realized using a pipe system through which air was pumped by a fan:



    However, skillful work with the special effects of the “old school”, excellent directing and acting made the Ghostbusters one of the best fantastic comedies. And the name "Lizun" even entered the folklore.

    Terminator 2 (1991)






    The success of the first "Terminator" allowed the creators to get much more money for shooting the second part . This allowed us to create a character, without which today the story about the Terminator is simply impossible - T-1000.

    The indestructible liquid metal robot, capable of taking a variety of forms, shook the imagination of viewers around the world.



    Of course, there were many other impressive scenes, including the dream of Sarah Connor, where she observed an atomic explosion. But nothing in this film can be compared with the fear of the invulnerable T-1000, which found us everywhere, and which could not be destroyed.



    For shooting different scenes with the participation of the "liquid metal" robot, animatronics dolls were created, special costumes were made, computer effects were widely used. By the way, in the scene where he kills a policeman and takes on his appearance, in fact, two twin brothers were shot.



    Baby Pig (Four-Legged Baby) (1995)






    For some reason, this film was not popular in Russia. This is a very moving story about a piglet who, in order not to become a jelly, learns the duties of a shepherd dog. At that time, “Pig Baby” boasted the highest quality computer animation of animals. And as with all the films in this review, special effects were an integral part of the plot. Without them, it would be impossible to tell this good and sweet story.

    To achieve verisimilitude, the filmmakers shot and digitized the facial expressions of various animals. Subsequently, concrete phrases of the characters “gathered” from these materials. At the same time, real animals participated in the filming of the scenes, on whose faces the computer animation was applied.



    The Matrix (1999)




    The film is an era that has had a tremendous impact on contemporary pop culture. The effect of his release was deafening. The gloomy history of our universal enslavement shocked a huge number of spectators. And the role of special effects here is simply invaluable. Literally the whole film rests on them. The unusual and novelty of the scenes created by the Wachowski brothers (then still brothers) led to a shaft of imitation. The hallmark of the film was the effect of frozen bullets when time slows down and we see their flight paths.





    In fact, the "Matrix" has become a classic, barely going to hire. The main "chip" Wachowski became the scene in which the characters froze in motion, and the camera flew around them in a circle, giving us the opportunity to enjoy the moment from all sides. This was done by installing several dozen cameras that simultaneously (or with a slight delay) took one frame. After that, these frames were collected in a video sequence.





    The most difficult episode of the film is the scene of a shootout in the lobby of a skyscraper, where Neo and Trinity confront a crowd of guards with automatic rifles:



    Each jab, each hit on the wall, accompanied by the release of fragments of stones, was done with the help of squibs. Achieving perfect shots, Wachowski re-shot this scene about 20 times. And for this, each time it was necessary to completely restore the destroyed interior.



    “I know kung fu!”

    Iron Man (2008)






    On the one hand, this is a rather unexpected choice , like Babe Pig. I didn’t include this movie because it’s another stupid Hollywood piece on superheroes. In my opinion, the special effects used in the film make every spectator’s heart shrink. If you suddenly forgot, this is not a list of the best films of all time. Here are collected tapes in which special effects are not only very good for their time, but without them it would be impossible to convincingly tell the story conceived by the authors, to make the audience empathize with the hero.

    For example, in a scene when Tony Stark, performed by the inimitable Robert Downey Jr., explodes, he connects a car battery to his beating heart ... To create an artificial chest, a latex cast was taken from the actor and an invasive rib cage indistinguishable from a real one was made on it.





    And finally, remember this virtuoso flight with fighters, in which the protagonist turns his deadly tragedy into something amazing.





    Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)






    It is probably difficult to choose another film over the past 20 years, in which visual effects would be inextricably linked with the plot and main characters. "Rise of the planet of the apes" is unthinkable without a huge amount of computer graphics. At the same time, the authors faced a very difficult task of realistic modeling of primates. And it's not just about skeletal animation. The most important thing is the facial expressions of monkeys, which had to be humanized, made meaningful. But so that it would remain monkeys. Think about how difficult this was, if you add to this a continuous hairline that does not facilitate the work of 3D modeling and animation specialists.







    To create facial expressions, so similar to human, the shooting of human actors was used, followed by digitization at control points.



    This is one of the applications of motion capture technology: actors with special markers on the body are shot in various movements, after which these markers create a computer animation with the necessary corrections and the imposition of 3D models. Moreover, the correction implied a correspondence not only to skeletons, but also to the muscle system of monkeys.



    Gravity (2013)






    I would like to complete this list with Gravity . And not because the creators spent more than $ 100 million on the set, and not for the seven Oscars received. The drama unfolding in space, associated with the destruction of the shuttle and two space stations, could not be removed without innovative special effects.





    Critics will argue that even Gravity could be presented in the form of a theatrical production. But to such critics, I wish to watch nothing more than Viktyuk’s repertoire. And a film that makes you feel the horror of loneliness and defenselessness together with the main character, hold your breath during depressurization, strain your muscles when you try to avoid a collision and reach the hatch - such a film deserves all its Oscars.



    This is one of the last films whose special effects work not only for a beautiful picture, but primarily for the tension that does not let go until the very end, the struggle for life together with a female astronaut.







    For 5 months, Sandra Bullock trained to move like a person moves in zero gravity.





    I am sure that you will not agree with every choice, you will not find anything in this list. Offer your options in comments, this is welcome.

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