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The filmmaker Georges Méliès was first a magician. Now movies proved to be the ultimate medium for magic. With complete control of everything the audience can see, moviemakers had developed an arsenal of techniques to further their deceptions.
Motion pictures are themselves an illusion of life, produced by the sequential projection of still frames, and they astonished the Lumière brothers' early audiences. Even today's sophisticated moviegoers still lose themselves to the screen, and filmmakers leverage this separation from reality to great effect. Now imaginative people have been having fun with this for over 400 years. Giambattista della Porta, a Neapolitan scholar in the 16th century, examined and studied the natural world and saw how it could be manipulated. Playing with the world, and our perception of it, really is the essence of visual effects. So digging deeper into this with the Science and Technology Council of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences reveals some truth behind the trickery.
Visual effects are based on the principles of all illusions: assumption, things are as we know them; presumption, things will behave as we expect; and context in reality, our knowledge of the world as we know it, such as scale.
Now a fourth factor really becomes an obsession, which is, never betray the illusion. And that last point has made visual effects a constant quest for perfection. So from the hand-cranked jump cut early days of cinema to last Sunday's Oscar winner, what follows are some steps and a few repeats in the evolution of visual effects. I hope you will enjoy.
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It's been 110 years since Georges Méliès sent a spaceship slamming into the eye of the man on the moon. So how far have visual effects come since then? Working closely with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Don Levy takes us on a visual journey through special effects, from the fakery of early technology to the seamless marvels of modern filmmaking.
Don Levy has served on the frontlines of the digital transformation of entertainment. For 17 years, he led the communications efforts for top visual effects and digital animation studio, Sony Pictures Imageworks. He is fascinated by the magic of movies. Full bio »