When Fritz Lang debuted Metropolis in 1927, it was unlike any movie that had ever been made. The silent film was a marvel of modern filmmaking, pioneering special effects like the Schüfftan process, which uses mirrors and miniature models to give the illusion of life-size cityscapes. Pretty low-tech stuff compared to today’s CGI Godzillas, but at the time this miniature technique was so revolutionary it was adopted by the likes of Hitchcock and even used by Peter Jackson to illustrate grand shots of Gondor in 2003’s Lord of the Rings: Return of the King.
Even more than a century ago filmmakers were in the habit of playing cinematic tricks on us. Special effects have been around for as long as filmmakers have needed a way to represent the unrepresentable. These illusionary effects are often a way to answer a director’s nagging question: How do you film the impossible? A new video from Jim Casey rolls 136 years of special effects into a three-minute reel, and it’s magical.
Casey’s film starts in 1878 with a choppy zoetrope animation. As you fly through the years, the effects shift from in-camera tricks to more complex and technologically advanced options like CGI and digital composites. You see the *Wizard of Oz’*s use of matte screens and The Lost World’s stop animation dinosaurs. Pretty low-tech stuff compared to today’s hyper-realistic visuals. Near the end of the video, the images begin to adopt a computer-aided glossiness, and it becomes clear just how much the art form has changed over the decades.
Special effects is a craft that evolves alongside technological advancements. What’s possible today will can only begin to touch what will be possible a decade from now. These leaps in technology allow us to make fake things look realer than ever, but is that a good thing? Sure, seeing a glowing earth from Sandra Bullock’s outer space view is impressive. But after watching Casey’s video, it’s hard not to feel like specials effects are just a little less special now.