#3. Douglas Trumbull Defined the Look of Sci-Fi -- Before Computer Effects
It's easy to make fun of the old science fiction movies that look like shit today, but what about the ones that don't? Take Blade Runner -- the opening shot of the Tyrell Corporation pyramid still looks breathtaking, and this was done in 1982.
Mr. T debuted in the same year, and he hasn't aged nearly this well.
Or how about that huge fucking spaceship from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, which is five years older?
If you didn't hear the notes in your head, you're probably not a person we'd care to know.
Of course, the granddaddy of them all is 2001: A Space Odyssey -- those shuttles look as awesome as ever, despite the movie being over 40 years old.
We'll trade you your 2001 for the one we had anytime, Kubrick, space babies and all.
Ever wonder how they accomplished all of that before CGI existed? The short answer is Douglas Trumbull, who holds credits for "special photographic effects" on some of the most influential sci-fi films ever and crafted everything we just showed you with his bare hands (and his assistants').
Digital Cinema South
You actually had to stand up and wear pants to work in special effects back then.
You see, "special photographic effects" is just another way of saying "impossible shit we now do with CGI." For example, the opening sequence to Blade Runner was actually done by covering a table with forced-perspective miniatures that were hand painted and fiber-optically lit, then double exposed over footage of fireballs that Trumbull's crew shot in a parking lot outside the studio.
The futuristic city was later occupied by the grittiest ant colony ever.
We've told you about how the trippy "stargate" sequence at the end of 2001 wasn't created with computer effects but with simple photography tricks -- that was Trumbull's idea, too.
He's the reason your parents quit smoking pot.
Even today he kicks CGI in the balls, creating the practical outer space effects for the film Tree of Life using stuff like chemicals, paint, and milk, and extremely zoomed-in cameras. None of that pansy-ass "computer" shit for him.
#2. The Sherman Brothers Wrote the Soundtrack to Your Childhood
Nowadays, putting music to a children's movie consists of buying the rights to a pop song and animating the sarcastic animals that dance to it. Remember when these things actually put effort into their soundtracks? Disney's Mary Poppins alone spawned half a dozen classic tunes, from the inescapable catchiness of "Chim-Chim-Cher-ee" ...
... to the proto-rap of "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious."
Dick Van Dyke and Julie Andrews: original gangstas.
Meanwhile, The Jungle Book had everything from elephants doing a military march to Beatles-like vultures singing a barbershop quartet to a monkey scatting like a jazzman.
So what happened? How did we go from this to a freaking lemur singing "I Like to Move It"? The simple answer is that the Sherman brothers stopped working. Dick and Bob Sherman wrote every song we mentioned, and many more -- they even came up with the theme song from Winnie the Pooh, a melody that will live on long after our planet has crumbled to dust.
The Sherman brothers got their start when their father, a successful songwriter from the 1920s and '30s, goaded them by telling them they couldn't write a popular kids' song. They proceeded to prove him wrong by writing every popular kids' song ever and becoming more famous than he ever was.
Eventually they hooked up with Walt Disney, who, in addition to using their talents to reshape dark novels into lighthearted hit movies, also tasked them with writing songs for his theme parks -- you may have heard of this little ditty of theirs called "It's a Small World."
And now it's in your head for the next week.
The Sherman brothers' on-and-off association with Disney's studio lasted until 2000's The Tigger Movie. But their awesomeness wasn't limited to Disney movies: They also wrote the songs for films like Charlotte's Web and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
#1. Dennis Muren Invented Modern CGI
Visual effects have evolved like almost no other field in the past 30 or so years. We've gone from being shocked by things like the flying bike in E.T.:
"It was as simple as building a trebuchet."
To being blown away by the T-1000's morphing effects in Terminator 2:
Not to mention being the forerunner for years of Capri Sun commercials.
To watching with complete indifference as entire CGI armies battle each other in the Star Wars prequels:
The entire medium has been slowly reshaped over the years ... and most of the reshaping has been done by pretty much one guy: Dennis Muren.
Muren started out moving model spacecrafts in front of a blue screen and manually putting together effect shots for Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind before being crowned the visual effects supervisor of E.T. -- of course, "special effects" at the time meant working with puppets all day.
And he did all this while suffering from an extreme case of gigantism.
Muren was a highly sought after expert in his area, working in the Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and Ghostbusters films, but that still wasn't enough for him. Not content with simply being the best in his job, he went ahead and invented himself a new one.
You see, while working on the 1985 Young Indiana Jones series, Muren created the first fully computer animated character, as well as the first morphing effect, in Willow. Learning to use Photoshop back when the rest of the world was still trying to figure out how to turn on a computer monitor, he realized the power of digitally compositing images together into a single shot and used that knowledge to create the water penis in James Cameron's The Abyss and, later, the T-1000.
But his biggest contribution to popularizing CGI came in a movie where he isn't credited -- when his buddy Spielberg told him he was making a film about stop-motion dinosaurs, Muren told him, "Nah man, fuck that shit and check this out."
"So remember last year when I was really into animal cross-breeding?"
And now we have the Jurassic Park we know and love. Thanks, Dennis! You gave us fucking dinosaurs!
For more unsung heroes, check out 8 Online Fads You Didn't Know Were Invented Decades Ago and 6 Artists You Didn't Know You Were a Fan Of.
If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out 3 Adorable Animals the Internet Loves (Are Going Extinct).
And stop by LinkSTORM where you may discover who actually writes all of Dan's columns.
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