Hollywood Before Visual Effects.

Visual effects (VFX) are the art of creating images or scenes that do not exist in reality using computer-generated imagery (CGI). VFX is widely used in movies and TV shows to create fantastical worlds, realistic creatures, spectacular action sequences, and more. But how did Hollywood make movies before the advent of VFX?

The Early Years of Film Making

The movie industry has consistently relied on some visual effects, even in the early years of filmmaking. Whether it was the fake blood in 1965’s Battle of the Bulge or the impressive Kong in King Kong (1933). As time progressed, it’s no surprise that the amount of special effects utilized in films constantly increased. Special effects help to create fantastic things that do not exist in our world. To help create a unique visual experience like in Sin City or 300. The early years of filmmaking relied on practical effects; now, most effects are created through a computer.

Effects used before Visual Effects

Practical effects are done physically on set, such as using props, models, makeup, animatronics, pyrotechnics, etc. Some of the techniques that were used to create practical effects include:

  • Stop-motion animation moves objects in small increments between individually photographed frames. Creating the illusion of movement when the series of frames is played continuously. One of the most famous examples of stop-motion animation is the skeleton battle scene in Jason and the Argonauts (1963), created by Ray Harryhausen.
  • Miniatures: These are scaled-down versions of sets, vehicles, buildings, etc., that are used to create realistic scenes that would be too expensive or impossible to film otherwise. For example, 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) used miniatures for many set pieces and hand-drawn rotoscopes to combine everything for the final shot.
  • Matte painting: This is a technique where a painted representation of a landscape, set, or distant location is used to create the illusion of an environment that is not present at the filming location. For example, The Wizard of Oz (1939) used matte paintings to create the Emerald City and other backgrounds.
  • Rear projection: This is a technique where a previously filmed or photographed image is projected behind the actors on a screen, creating the illusion that they are in a different location or interacting with something that is not there. For example, The Birds (1963) used rear projection to show birds attacking people.

The Rise of CGI in Visual Effects

Computer-generated imagery (CGI) is the creation of images or scenes using computer software. CGI can create realistic or stylized characters, environments, objects, effects, etc. CGI can also enhance or modify existing footage by removing wires, adding blood, changing colors, etc. Some of the techniques that are used to create CGI include:

  • Green-screen or blue-screen: These are techniques where actors are filmed in front of a green or blue background that can be digitally replaced with another image or scene in post-production. This allows for more creative freedom and flexibility in creating scenes that would be difficult or impossible to film. For example, The Avengers (2012) used green-screen to show superheroes fighting aliens in New York City.
  • Motion capture: This is a technique where actors wear special suits with sensors that record their movements and expressions, which are then translated into digital models that can be animated and rendered. This allows for more realistic and expressive characters and performances. For example, The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-2003) used motion capture to create Gollum.
  • Performance capture: This is a technique where actors wear special cameras that capture their facial expressions and eye movements, which are then applied to digital models that can be animated and rendered. This allows for more detailed and nuanced characters and performances. For example, Avatar (2009) used performance capture to create the Na’vi.
  • Digital compositing: This technique combines multiple images or elements into one final image or scene using computer software. This allows for a more complex and seamless integration of practical and CGI effects. For example, Gravity (2013) used digital compositing to show astronauts floating in space.


Visual effects have come a long way since the early days of filmmaking. From practical effects to CGI, Hollywood has constantly been innovating and experimenting with new ways to create stunning, immersive movies. Visual effects are used to create fantasy and sci-fi worlds and enhance realism and storytelling in any genre. Visual effects are an integral part of the movie industry and will continue to evolve and surprise us in the future.

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