Elements of Film
14 May 2012
The Evolution of Special Effects
Special effects have been around for many years, it has continued to capture the minds and attention of the public. Special effects are such a broad term because so many other aspects that goes under this terminology. For instance, special effects can be considered, computer-generated imagery, digital effects, computer animation, 3D graphics animation and many other terms. All of these different terms have lead to the evolution of cinematography and the beauty of it. There are countless movies starting from the late 60s and on, that start to develop and change “special effects” for movies that represent science fiction, surrealism and futuristic plots that express pure creativity. On that note, the purpose of this paper is to discuss the evolution of computer animation through innovators, and the progression of different techniques in creating a movie. While also examining the advancement of film technology, I believe it is necessary to take a look at different movies throughout time to get a glimpse of expansion of movie creativity. As movies go forward with intricate cinema techniques and camera skills, the originality and pure imagination of cinema will continue to influence, inspire, and change the lives of generations to come.
It is important to begin with the person who coined the term “computer graphics,” William Fetter. William was an art director who created the term computer graphics through his project in 1961. His creation was the first human simulation in computer graphics. It is said that this experiment of human figures “became one of the most iconic images of the early history of computer graphics, and often were referred to as the ‘Boeing Man’” (Wikipedia). This was only a start for more new and innovative technology to come with special effects. The “new pioneers” in the mid 60s and 70s made way with research, experimentations, and conventions that would help further along the development of special effects in the film industry. For example, the 1968 movie 2001: A Space Odyssey is a great representation of the types of computer graphic, film industry was working with. Looking closely at the graphics, “the film's end in the Star Gate sequence, astronaut David Bowman (Keir Dullea) traveled through the stargate corridor in a dazzling sequence (using a slit-scan photographic technique) - a sound and light hallucinatory journey or whirling lights and colors in which he was hurled through and into another dimension…” (filmsite.org). This scene is only one example of many throughout this movie, that really gives the audience this surrealistic feeling through the animation used in the film.
Furthermore, “from around the early 1970s, much of the emphasis in computer animation development was towards ever increasing realism in 3-D imagery, and on effects designed for use in feature movies” (Wikipedia). I believe that a lot of directors and editors were excited for this type of development because this type of technology would bring a completely new edge to the film industry. 3-D computer animation was just the tip of the iceberg, because it would bring a whole new complex perspective to the tone and narrative of the film. When 3-D imagery was still evolving in cinema during mid late 70s this is where the public first gets a glimpse of the term, “CGI” computer-generated imagery, in the film Futureworld in 1976. This is the first time Yul Brynner uses digital representation (CGI) in a featured film. However, the movie that received awards and recognition for the visual effect would be, the 1977 movie Stars Wars IV: A New Hope. With complex camera movement and the usage of 3-D computer animation, “ this was the first major work of George Lucas' visual effects company - Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), which would become the biggest, most prestigious FX company in film history” (filmsite.org). As we lead into the 80s, there are numerous advancements in the CGI sector of the film industry. There is where the public is starting to see futuristic type movies with more 3-D graphic imagery, making the scenes more surrealistic and engaging for the audience. As story narratives became more elaborate, the camera technique and computer animation became sophisticated too allowing for a more eye-opening cinema style. Michele Pierson (1999) makes the point, “popular discourses on CGI effects have also focused on the dream of simulation: often presenting the latest Hollywood science-fiction blockbuster as an invitation to participate in the techno-scientific adventure that this dream represents” (167). A great example of this “techno-scientific adventure” would be the 1982 Tron movie, where they used the most computer-generated imagery at the time and created a 3-D world. From the complex visual effects to the captivating soundtrack and background creation, this movie captivated audiences with it directing, illustration and editing, allow audience to enter in a different atmosphere unlike real life.
There was much improvement in the 80s and 90s in the special effect area with movies like The Abyss, Total Recall, Jurassic Park, The Fifth Element, and last but not least The Matrix.
From the 2000 to present day, I would like to talk about movies that have influenced my love for movies and special effects. There are out countless moves in the 2000s that have given a representation of the possibilities of visual effects in some way. For example, The Matrix Reloaded is one of my favorite trilogies that really use fantastic visual animation. When Neo has to fight many Agent Smiths, this particular scene on the roof is a great representation of facial computer animation.
Avatar, an Oscar award winning film, is another representation of visual stunning piece of work, with the usage of 3-D and CGI effects. Again with talking about ultramodern time, “this futuristic, epic 3-D live-action film, with ground-breaking, Oscar-winning special effects. Much of the film's reported budget of over $300 million was spent on CGI. (40% of the film was live-action while 60% was photo-realistic CGI)” (filmsite.org).
Lastly, I would like to briefly talk about the film, Inception for its innovative and ingenious techniques with the usage special effects. This film won best visual effects and cinematography because of “some of the most astonishing, surreal and ground-breaking special effects were seen in the various dreamscapes where the laws of logic and gravity didn't hold” (filmsite.org). This is only two years ago and I can only imagine what 2012 Summer blockbusters movies have to offer audiences, with remakes like Total Recall and the originality of Prometheus. Special effects can only get better with the advancement of technology and camera styles.
History of Computer Animation. (n.d.). Wikipedia. Retrieved May 14, 2012, from
Pierson, M. (1999). CGI effects in Hollywood science-fiction cinema 1989-95: the wonder
years. Screen,40(2), 158-176.
Visual and Special Effects Film Milestones. (n.d.). Greatest Films - The Best Movies in
Cinematic History. Retrieved May 14, 2012, from http://www.filmsite.org/visualeffects23.