The 89th Annual Academy Awards Ceremony took place yesterday where the best movies released in 2016 were honored for their contribution in cinema and filmmaking. Rudyard Kipling’s adaption of ‘The Jungle Book’ won the award for ‘Best Visual Effects’, competing against the likes of Star Wars: Rogue One. The movie might’ve been able to make audiences absolutely convinced that the animals and the environments were real. But looking in retrospect, there were movies that achieved the same despite being limited by technology of the time. Often comes a movie that introduces or re-invents a particular film-making technology or visual effect that becomes an industry staple. Hence it would certainly be worthwhile to talk about some technologies and techniques that the industry cannot do without.
- Stop Motion
The first portrayal of Stop Motion in movies was done in 1925 for ‘The Lost World’. However, this technique was used to perfection with the 1933 King Kong. Although it’s hard to believe for modern audiences, it was one of the most realistic portrayals of the story at that time. And it was only after this successful portrayal, was the technique used in various other blockbusters such as Godzilla and changed monster movies forever.
While movies were being shot in color since as far as 1911, it was the Wizard of Oz in 1939 that perfected the process. The musical was notable for being one of the first live-action motion pictures to be shot using Technicolor. Interestingly the film was originally shot on a monochrome film, with colors added later using ‘Matte Painting’. This effect was used in specific scenes to set the tone or symbolize various aspects in the movie that added to the visual drama. This movie not only went on to win an Oscar for this, but literally evolved contemporary filmmaking.
- Body Transformation
Sci-fi and fantasy fans are definitely used to seeing people transform into other beings or creatures. The easier it is to write about a person turning into a wolf, than to show it on the screen. This was attempted throughout the early days of cinema, but was brought to perfection with the 1981 American Werewolf in London. While audiences had seen some really scary portrayals of a werewolf transformation in older movies, it was this movie that made audiences squirm in their seats. To the audiences’ surprise none of the transformation scenes were generated with digital imagery, but was a feat of pure camerawork and makeup. The movie sure didn’t win any Oscar, nor was financially successful, it was this particular feat that has made it a Cult Classic.
- Wire Stunts
Audiences were certainly mesmerized by the fluidity that wide assisted stunts added to their visual treat in movies such as Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon or the Matrix. But the technique was first used in its truest form by master filmmaker Stanley Kubrick, who suspended the actors with wires to portray weightlessness in space. Added with the filmmaker’s tight camerawork, the result was as magical and realistic as only NASA could’ve envisioned. Wire assisted stunts were later perfected by the Honk Kong martial art movies, especially by filmmaker Tsui Hark and Stunt Choreographer Yuen Woo Ping.
- Motion Control
Regardless of how much Star Trek fans or scientists might hate Star Wars for being totally unrealistic, one cannot deny the sheer visual pleasure that the original trilogy delivered. Way before CGI and computer animated characters, Star Wars only expanded on the visions that Stanley Kubrick showed through his movie. The filmmakers used miniaturized models and environments along with some camera effects to create some of the best intergalactic dogfights in outer space.
CGI or Computer Generated Image sure spent a long time sucking really bad, especially in Hollywood movies of the 90’s and early 2000’s. Nevertheless, despite its limitations James Cameron proved that good filmmaking can make anything look believable with the blockbuster Terminator 2. The movie’s iconic villain, the T-1000 (played by Robert Patrick) was an advanced cyborg made out of liquid metal, allowing him to shapeshift and make stabbing weapons with this hands. CGI was used to an even greater extent in Jurassic Park, where Stephen Spielberg set the standards of using this technique in filmmaking.
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- Bullet Time
People familiar with Bullet Time, would certainly know how it was only limited to video games (Max Payne Series in particular). But the 1999 sci-fi flick the Matrix totally changed that. Not only did The Matrix showed how bullets travel in super slow motion, but literally invented the technique to recreate the effect with life action footage. It became so popular and iconic that several of the filming and choreography used in the Matrix, became a standard for action movies that were released after.
Filmmaking technology has certainly come a far way, but the above techniques are still widely used ever since they were introduced. While there are countless movies that have used the abovementioned effects with perfection, it wouldn’t have been possible without their initial introduction. It was these newly developed techniques that led to the iconic status of award winning movies and various other accolades.