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The Use of Special Effects in Movies

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Several decades ago, movie producers found out an advantage of the cinema was that they could perform tricks on the audience and make them view something that was not actually happening. Somehow these tricks deceived the eye and the audience were stunned, some believing it to be real.

The simplest tricks relies on the fact that what the viewer is watching is not actually a moving picture, even though it looks like it. In reality, it's actually a series of still photographs being taken and then it's projected to make it happen in very quick succession. Nowadays, modern movies are full of special effects and camera tricks and almost everyone knows about it, but it doesn't spoil their entertainment of the movie.

In the early times of cinema, the film makers used to make someone disappear in scenes and the audience were flabbergasted. Trust me I even believed it too when I used to watch movies as a kid. I thought it was real magic like Superman who used to fly. Kids nowadays don't even fall for it due to all the technology they have in their hands to get information.

How does the actor disappear on scene? To make the person disappear into thin air, the camera is paused, the actor moves off the set, and then the camera is restarted. Several different effects can be made by editing the actual film.

Behind the scenes of King Kong (1976) showing Jessica Lange in the hands of the robotic gorilla being controlled by computers. It's noticeable in the movie when the camera switches back and forth between the robotic King Kong and the real actor.

Behind the scenes of King Kong (1976) showing Jessica Lange in the hands of the robotic gorilla being controlled by computers. It's noticeable in the movie when the camera switches back and forth between the robotic King Kong and the real actor.

Tricks of the Trade

There are basically two main types of special effects:

1. Trick Photography - This type of effect involves making changes on the film or on magnetic tape, even the digital ones.

2. Theatrical Property - (Props) These are specially made and used on screen such as puppets or models of real objects.

These special effects were used widely in some of the best and popular science fiction movies. The Star Wars movies were one of those which used both trick photography and theatrical properties (models). The director of the 1977 Star Wars movie was George Lucas, and he was the one who founded the 'Industrial Light and Magic' company to create the special effects for the movie. Other special effects companies have been formed later on after the making of Star Wars.

The master of special effects was Steven Spielberg who directed E.T, Jurassic Park, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The main character from E.T (an extra-terrestrial) was an alien from another planet in space who lands and gets stuck on Earth and is befriended by a group of kids. The role of that creature in the movie was a puppet or model, and it's controller was a computer. Before the computers, film makers in some movies had to control the puppets by hand after every frame to show it's movement. This probably took some few hours to film a few seconds of the puppets.

In general, computers now is a revolution in special effects that film makers utilize. The technology of computers allows any filmed image, after it's been digitally converted, to be altered or edited in many ways. This means things can be added to the scene or removed. Today's old movies on DVD or Blu-ray have deleted scenes put back in the original order of the movie or can be viewed separately in the menu. This is another trick of the trade to further the sales of old classics.

A movie prop used as a paradummy for the war movie 'The Longest Day' which was released in 1962.

A movie prop used as a paradummy for the war movie 'The Longest Day' which was released in 1962.

Special Effects in the Making

As we've learned already, special effects studios make use of theatrical properties, mainly when filming objects such as big machines or space crafts. The movements of camera and object are both controlled by computer, and sometimes one sequence may be shot loads of times. It will have different details from other extracts of the film being added each time. In some cases, models and real objects are put together in a scene.

The movie Back to the Future is one of them. You'll see the scene where the Delorean (time machine) flies through the air and lands on the ground, and the actors get out the car. The flying Delorean is a model as many of us know now, and a small fraction is real size and the people inside are puppets (not Michael J. Fox or Christopher Lloyd). As the car lands, it passes behind a street lamp. Next, when the Delorean that comes out the other side of the street lamp, is the real car and, when it stops the real actors can be seen getting out.

What about Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988) Yes, some movies have been made using live action combined with animation. So far Who Framed Roger Rabbit? is the movie that comes to my mind because it was the first ever movie I've watched in the cinema. It has so much animation interacting with real life actors and was assisted by the Industrial Light and Magic founded by Steven Spielberg. The movie gave the animated characters a 3-D effect skilful camera movement and lighting. The live people acted first such as Bob Hoskins, who had to act on his own and pretend the Roger Rabbit character is there to talk to. The animation was added on afterwards.

Amazing special effect on the movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

Amazing special effect on the movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

The 3D Effect

A lot of competition was going around in the mid 20th century when film makers were frantically searching for new ideas for audiences to be entertained. One idea was the use of 3D, which creates an illusion of three dimensions. The audience wore special glasses which had green and red cellophane lenses. In them times, movies were of low quality to be actually enjoyed in 3D, so the process wasn't a huge success.

In fact people actually screamed and ducked when viewing speeding trains and other objects coming towards them in 3-D, however, the 3-D effect slowly wore off. Since then, 3D movies have been made a bit realistic by using further special effects and special cinemas that improves the quality of the 3D illusion.

Today you can watch and enjoy 3D movies more realistically. Movies such as Gravity, Avatar or Titanic can be an awesome experience in the cinema, or experiencing it at the comfort of your own home on HD TV.

3-D special effect glasses

3-D special effect glasses

Comments

FlourishAnyway from USA on December 26, 2018:

I’m glad we have evolved beyond the red and green glasses!

Kelley Marks from Sacramento, California on December 14, 2018:

I love special effects, especially the ones used for movies before the advent of CGI. For those, Ray Harryhausen was the best stop-motion wizard.

Zia Uddin (author) from UK on December 11, 2018:

Thanks for the comment. I think today's movies with special effects are a bit over the top. You watch it once and then never the second time.

Liz Westwood from UK on December 11, 2018:

It is very interesting to see how special effects hsve developed over the years in movies.