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A Changing Industry: Motion Picture Special Effects

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Essay title: A Changing Industry: Motion Picture Special Effects

A Changing Industry: Motion Picture Special Effects

“Special visual effects have added to the allure of motion pictures since the early days of cinema. French director Georges Mйliиs is considered the most influential pioneer of special effects. His film “A Trip to the Moon” combined live action with animation, demonstrating to audiences that cinema could create worlds, objects, and events that did not exist in real life” (Tanis par. 1). Through examples of the new techniques and the movies where they were presented, this paper will detail the changes that special effects have seen over the last twenty-five years.

Special effects have been used ever since the film industry became popular. Three-dimensional film technology became popular in the1950s, when it enjoyed a brief period of use (Sklar par. 3). Although motion-picture film, like still photography, normally yields two-dimensional images, the illusion of a third dimension can be achieved by projecting two separate movies. Members of the audience wear 3-D eyeglasses so that the right eye sees one picture and the left eye sees the other, producing the effect of three dimensions.

Three-dimensional film technology is still being used today at Universal Studios in Florida. When my family visited the amusement park there was a feature 3D film that was rendition of “The Terminator.” Three-dimensional film has changed, because now the members of the audience no longer have to wear glasses with one red and one blue lens. Now the glasses are clear, but still allow the user to get the same three-dimensional effect that they would the red and blue glasses.

Another example of the lasting power of early techniques is stop-motion photography. The original “King Kong” used this technique, in which the King Kong figurine was repeatedly filmed for very brief segments and then moved, so that when the film was projected at normal speed, King Kong appeared to move. The same technique animated the figures in “James and the Giant Peach” (“Nova” par. 2).

After World War II there was a lull in the development and use of special effects. Technical advances in the design and manufacture of motion-picture cameras made it easier to film on actual locations, and the trend in cinematic storytelling tended toward realism, resulting in less call for fantastic illusions. Then in 1968 the film “2001: A Space Odyssey”, in which astronauts appear to float weightlessly in outer space, led to a renewed interest in special effects.

In his article published in Encarta in 2000 Nicholas Tanis said, “In making Star Wars, Lucas used computers to control camera movement. In this technique, called motion-control cinematograph, the computer’s precise control allows a camera shooting live action in one studio to move at the same speed as a camera shooting a model in a second studio that serves as background for the live action” (par. 2). “Star Wars” revolutionized the way special effects were created and proved them to be a potential box-office gold mine. George Lucas, who directed “Star Wars,” created his own special-effects studio, Industrial Light & Magic, which became a leading innovator and was responsible for a series of groundbreaking special-effects techniques.

Filmmakers draw upon many other special effects to create illusions in the cinema. Sometimes a film calls for an actor to appear in a place it will be difficult to film, or doing something that is impossible, such as flying. In these cases, the filmmaker uses the so-called blue-screen process, filming the actor in front of a screen that is either painted or lit to match a particular shade of blue. During printing the filmmakers then replace this blue background with a completely different image, creating the illusion that the actors are moving through that setting. According to Hayes 1979’s “Superman” won and Oscar for the special effects, which included blue-screen processing, that were used in the production of the movie (229). A blue-screen was used to depict the hero's flight. The actor, Christopher Reeve, was filmed with his arms outstretched against a blue screen in a studio, acting as if he were flying. After images of the city were substituted for the blue background, Superman appeared to be flying over tall buildings. Blue-screen processing

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