We all love watching movies. In lot of movies there are scenes which we don’t get how they could have been done and we wonder if it was real or not. We know that special effects or camera tricks are being used but we are not sure. From the early days of cinema, films have used visual magic such as smoke and mirrors to produce illusions and trick effects.
The first one who used special effects was Oscar Rejlander, he made the first “trick photograph” in 1856 “The Two Ways of Life”. He put together 30 different negatives in a single photo. Then Alfred Clark in 1895 created the first motion picture special effect known as “stop trick”. In 1896, Georges Méliès sometimes referred to as “Cinemagician” also discovered the same “stop trick.” when his camera jammed while he was filming a scene in the streets of Paris. After that he invented and developed techniques like multiple exposures, time-lapse photography, dissolves, and hand painted colour.
As the years passed by new technics and tricks were discovered. In nowadays with the technology that exists they can make even more extraordinary scenes and sometimes we can’t tell if special effects were used or if it is real. Some interesting tricks are described below but a lot more exist.
Dramatic clouds are used in a lot of movies to emphasise or built suspense in scenes. This is accomplished by the use of a cloud tank. This is a trick that involves a big glass tank half filled with salt water which is separated with a thin layer of plastic from the fresh water on top. Once the plastic is removed the water is left to set for a while and you end up with a single body of water, but with two distinct layers in the tank. Paint is carefully added into the tank, near the point where the two layers meet and it looks like billowing clouds. The camera speed and the lighting are adjusted so as to get the appropriate cloudy effect which can be seen in several movies like “The Ten Commandments” 1956 by Cecil B. DeMille, “Close encounters” 1977 by Steven Spielberg, “Raiders of the Lost Ark” 1981 by Steven Spielberg, “Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan” 1982 by Nicholas Meyer.
Another commonly used effect is when the character of the movie seems to defy the laws of physics and starts walking on the walls and the celling. This is where the set is built in a metal gimbal, which rotates the stage around to give the impression that the character can walk or dance his way around. The actors have to learn a little choreography in advance so as to make a scene like that and the timing is very critical so that the actor is not injured when the room is rotating. Some of the movies this was used in are “Royal Wedding” 1951 by Stanley Donen, “The Fly” 1986 by David Cronenberg, “Inception” 2010 by Christopher Nolan.
Snow is featured in a lot of movies which seems to be so perfect and picturesque. Actual snow is hard to work with, melts and can’t be used multiple times over a period of time. This is why most of the times paper is used which has been ripped by a hammer mill in tiny pieces so as to create the desirable effect.
Trailers can also be used so as to make driving scenes more realistic. The car is loaded on the trailer with all the lights, actors, technicians and the trailer is driven slowly so that the actors do not have to bother with navigating while performing.
Another effective and impressive trick is when the actor jumps through glass or jumps out of the window breaking the glass. The glass is not real but is a fake glass. It used to be made of sugar but now it’s made of synthetic resins.
A strange trick was used in the film of Orpheus in 1950 by Jean Cocteau to make the scene where Orpheus travels between our world and the underworld through a magic mirror. The mirror was shot from above and it was actually a vat of mercury. The actor used protective gloves and they were referred to as magic gloves to enter the mirror in the film. Still sounds strange that in 1950 it was ok to touch mercury but nowadays if a mercury thermometer breaks they will evacuate the room so as to ensure that no one touches it.
Article by Chloe Gregoriou