Special Effects In Movies: Everything You Need to Know

Special effects in movies are mechanical or artificial visual effects that contribute heavily to the visual experience of the audience. In order to continue to engage audiences, filmmakers must create better special effects, some of which can redefine or alter the industry into the future. Special effects can include character design, action situations, and many other aspects of the film.

Special Effects in Movies: Stunning Examples

Take a look at some of the movies that feature incredible visual effects, some of which have altered the landscape of special effects going forward.

  • The Man With a Rubber HeadGeorges Méliès is known in the film industry as the father of special effects. He was a magician who brought his sense of wonder to the art of film in the early 20th century. The special effects he utilized and pioneered included contraptions, wayward body parts, imps, and other artistic effects.

  • MetropolisThe dystopian masterpiece from Fritz Lang received mixed reactions when it came out in 1927. However, it’s now considered to be one of the most influential films when it comes to innovative special effects. Creating the art deco-inspired city involved hand-drawn backdrops, actors, and three-dimensional miniature figures, put together with a technique using angled mirrors to scale what the audience sees.

  • King KongEvery Hollywood blockbuster film can credit the influence of “King Kong” and its incredible special effects for the time, which included the use of rubber, animal fur, glass, and latex to bring the title character to life, as well as heavy stop-motion work, matte paintings, and rear projection.

  • The Wizard of Oz“The Wizard of Oz” was groundbreaking for its time. Released in 1939, the special effects included sepia tones giving way to bold and bright hues, the Wicked Witch of the West melting into a pile of steamy fabric, and the realistic-looking tornado that ripped through the plains of Kansas. In order to achieve these effects, techniques included coating four horses in four different gelatin powder flavors, creating a rubber cone that cost $8,000 as the original tornado concept, and using 35 feet of muslin fabric to create the actual tornado effect.

  • Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: This film connected human actors with computer-generated imagery in raw, emotional scenes. It transformed the industry in that it was one of the first films to use CG characters to carry some of the weight of the narrative arc, rather than simply advancing the action of the story. The work put into the special effects earned this film an Oscar nomination for Best Visual Effects. The digital apes, including 12 main characters and 20 “extras,” involved hand animation and motion-capture footage of the actors who voiced and portrayed the characters.

Scene from “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”

Scene from “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”

Scene from “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”

Scene from “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”

Scene from “The Dark Knight”

Scene from “The Dark Knight Rises”

Scene from “The Dark Knight Rises”

Scene from “The Great Gatsby”

Scene from “The Wolf of Wall Street”

Scene from “Transformers”

Scene from “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn”

Scene from “300”

  • Pacific RimThe story of “Pacific Rim” includes robots who must save humans from monsters who come from the sea. Both the robots and sea monsters were created with special effects, and the film received six VES Award nominations.

Scene from “Pacific Rim”

Scene from “Pacific Rim”

Scene from “Pacific Rim”

  • GravityMany of the visual effects featured in “Gravity” use computer-generated imagery. Sandra Bullock’s spacesuit-clad body was digitally animated for much of the film. The space shuttles, telescopes, International Space Station, and even the earth are all CGI.

Scene from “Gravity”

Scene from “Gravity”

Scene from “Gravity”

Scene from “Gravity”

Scene from “Avengers: Age of Ultron”

Scene from “Avengers: Age of Ultron”

Scene from “Avengers: Age of Ultron”

Scene from “The Avengers”

Scene from “Alice in Wonderland”

Scene from “Captain America: The First Avenger”

Scene from “Deadly Honeymoon”

Scene from “District 9”

Scene from “The Hobbit”

Scene from “The Hunger Games”

Scene from “Iron Man”

Scene from “Life of Pi”

Scene from “Man of Steel”

Scene from “Oz the Great and Powerful”

Scene from “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl”

  • The MatrixWhen it came out in 1999, “The Matrix” was a surprise hit that reinvented special effects in film. The special effects launched the visual effects supervisor’s career and raised the bar in the science-fiction world. This movie introduced the concept of thinking in computer code in a uniquely visual way.

Scene from “The Matrix”

Scene from “The Matrix”

Scene from “The Matrix”

  • Interstellar“Interstellar” featured effects that made the audience feel like they were headed to space along with the main character. Some of the effects created realistic alien worlds, a new dimension, and a black hole that was visually and mathematically accurate. In order to achieve this goal, the film crew included a physicist who delivered equations that allowed the special effects team to generate more realistic images.

Scene from “Interstellar”

Scene from “Interstellar”

Scene from “Interstellar”

  • Inception: “Inception” combined wide-scale appeal with the aesthetic typically reserved for art house films. The film was a blockbuster smash, weaving more than 500 jaw-dropping digital effects shots into its multi-level dream worlds where the laws of nature no longer apply. The team behind the film’s special effects earned an Academy Award for Visual Effects

Scene from “Inception”

Scene from “Inception”

Scene from “Inception”

  • Terminator 2: Judgement DayAnimators moved the actor’s form when the cyborg was human in nature and utilized the movement of fluid when he transformed into liquid metal. What made this film particularly groundbreaking in the visual effects world was the completely digital process.

Scene from ” Terminator 2: Judgment Day”

Scene from “Terminator 2: Judgment Day”

Scene from “Terminator 2: Judgment Day”

Scene from “Jurassic Park”

Scene from “Jurassic Park”

Scene from “Jurassic Park”

Scene from “Avatar”

Scene from “Avatar”

Scene from “Avatar”

Scene from “Avatar”

Scene from “Tremors”

Scene from “Hollow Man”

Scene from “Titanic”

Scene from “Babe”

Scene from “Independence Day”

Scene from “The Day After Tomorrow”

Scene from “Death Becomes Her”

Scene from “Twister”

Scene from “Starship Troopers”

Scene from “The Perfect Storm”

If you’re interested in learning more about special effects in movies, apply to Nashville Film Institute to gain professional qualifications as a filmmaker.

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