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A VFX Throwback: Then & Now

A VFX Throwback: Then & Now

Overviewing the past 120+ years of the VFX industry

The human race is in a Digital Era that changes daily, especially in the VFX industry. We went from computers that took up entire rooms, to computers that fit in the palms of our hands, all in a matter of a few decades. All of these changes open up the opportunity of working in brand new ways, that maybe 15 years ago, would have never been possible.

I want to do a throwback type deal here and remind y'all just how far we have come in the VFX world. We are going to take a look at a few moments in history where artists were bringing visual effects to life, before they even knew what "visual effects" were.

The Execution of Mary Queen of Scots (1895)
In what was most likely the first film to use any sort of editing, this short was produced by Thomas Edison and distributed by the Edison Manufacturing Company.
If you couldn't tell, the film had a cut right after Mary laid her head on the chopping block and was replaced with a mannequin. Pretty cool to be 1895, right?

Voyage Dans La Lune (A Trip to the Moon) (1902)
While being one of the most recognizable films in cinema history, A Trip to the Moon is the first known "sci-fi" film that was ever created. The Director Georges Méliès' main goal was to innovate by using new visual tricks to fool the audience.
Through this process he was able to create various techniques that we all use today. He was also the first to actually move the camera while filming, which might not seem like a big deal, but those things were a lot heavier than those DSLR's we shoot with now.

Betty Boop’s Snow White (1932)
After you get past the eerie clown dancing and singing an interestingly catchy song, you'll see that this clip of Koko the Clown is actually two different pieces of footage blended together.
Max Fleischer was the man behind inventing this rotoscoping technique that debuted in 1918 during the Out of the Inkwell animated series.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)
While creating a film that combines live action with traditional animation had been done before, it had never been done to this extent. A lot of actual engineering went into this production, which I thought was pretty cool.
The crew created mechanical devices to be able to help sell the interaction between the cartoons and the people. Some of which involved building entire robots with suction hands so they could pick things up.

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy  (2001-2003)
Asides from bringing together one of the coolest fantasy worlds to the big screen, Lord of the Rings was also the first to use the large scale crowd-simulation software Massive. This program randomly generates the actions of each character individually. Of course, each individual orc could've been animated on it's own, but that would have seriously taken ages.

Avatar (2009)
As you all know, this film broke numerous records and earned its place in cinema history for many reasons. Director James Cameron even went as far as developing a system that rendered the actors' performances in realtime, so that he could actually watch the scenes play out. Pretty impressive stuff, if you ask me.
While this list doesn't cover every major advancement and VFX milestone, it is a good way to take a look back to see how far the industry has come.

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