In today’s Hollywood, it’s the special effects that pack the movie theaters. In most cases, the story and the actors take a back seat to the “Wow” factor in a film. Of course, a film’s “Wow” factor only lasts as long as the next mindblowing special effects innovation in the next blockbuster film.
With that said, I have nothing but the utmost respect for special effects wizards such as Willis O’Brien, Ray Harryhausen, Douglas Trumbull, and John Dykstra. And there are indeed “Wow” factor films that have become classics, the special effects still as innovative as the day of the premiere.
While Peter Jackson and Dino DeLaurentis sank many millions of dollars into the special effects in their remakes of “King Kong”, it is still the 1933 original that stands the test of time.
Willis O’Brien was Hollywood’s first special effects wizard. Producer-director Merian C. Cooper pitched the idea of King Kong to RKO film studio executives by showing them a stop-motion animated sequence shot by O’Brien. The executives were “wowed” by the sequence that showed Kong battling a T-Rex. It was O’Brien’s special effects that sold the movie.
Jason and the Argonauts
Ray Harryhausen was inspired to become a special effects wizard by Willis O’Brien’s achievements in the original “King Kong.” In 1949, one of Harryhausen’s first jobs was with O’Brien, his idol, on yet another classic giant ape movie, “Mighty Joe Young.”
For some film critics, Harryhausen’s crowning effect was the skeleton sword fight in the mythological tale, “Jason and the Argonauts.” For this effect, he shot no more than 13 frames of film per day, the total equaling only a half-second of screen time.
2001: A Space Odyssey
Modern special effects master Douglas Trumbull made his reputation working on director Stanley Kubrick’s film “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Kubrick had hired Trumbull after seeing his documentary “To the Moon and Beyond.” Trumbull had made this documentary for the 1964 Worlds Fair.
Trumbull’s first major technical achievement was the Stargate scene in “2001.” For this scene, he used a technique that he had developed called “slitscreen photography.” The scene’s flashing kaleidoscopic images and streaking effect were created by moving the camera at a high speed past a series of different lighted pieces of artwork. All of this was done while holding the camera’s shutter open.
Special effects wiz John Dykstra designed and built the first computer-run motion-control camera system dubbed the Dykstraflex for George Lucas’s “Star Wars.” The groundbreaking camera system allowed for seven types of camera movement: roll, pan, tilt, swing, boom, traverse, track, lens focus, motor drive, shutter control, and multiple take duplication. For years, Dykstra has been the guiding technical force behind Lucas’s Industrial Light & Magic special effects factory.
“Top Ten F/X Scenes in Movie History”, Erin McCarthy, Popular Mechanics, URL: (http://www.popularmechanics.com/technology/industry/4206967.html?series=6)
“Hollywood Goes High-Tech”, Rachel Rosmarin, Forbes, URL: (http://www.forbes.com/2007/06/06/shrek-lucas-spielberg-tech-cx_rr_0606movies_slide_2.html?thisSpeed=20000)