15 Historical Firsts in Practical Effects

The first ever special effect made audiences believe the actress actually died.
15 Historical Firsts in Practical Effects

Because of the technological aspect, we tend to think of visual effects as modern, “new age” filmmaking tools. But what if we told you that the original explosion in special effects occurred from 1895 to 1925?! Crazy! Okay, maybe the film historians and effects wizards out there will pat our little heads like, “Aww, you finally caught up,” but we’ll admit it… We were genuinely shocked at the visual trickery that these movies pulled off over a century ago!

Before visual effects companies like Industrial Light & Magic brought us computer generated effects in the 70s and 80s, movies solely relied on practical effects. These effects are physically made without computers or other post-production techniques. What you see on the screen was actually shot with a camera, but had some help from mirrors, stop motion, miniatures, and matte paintings. And when you see how much time and effort they take to make, you’ll realize how computers clearly needed to be the next evolutionary step. But hey, we hear enough about computers. Let’s give the O.Gs their flowers. Here are 15 “firsts” in practical effects.

Georges Méliès was an illusionist way ahead of his time.

Historical Firsts in Practical Effects 1899-1909 Georges Méliès: The father of FX The world's most well-known filmmaker at the time, he was the first to experiment with exposure, split screen, dissolve, superimposition, and reverse shots. Effects in his 1902 film A Trip to the Moon are big bang moments in modern cinema. CRACKED

Star Film Company

Den of Geek

Willis O’Brien: The Great Grandfather of stop-motion animation.

Historical Firsts in Practical Effects The first full-length 1925 stop-motion animation Stop-motion pioneer Willis O'Brien developed several innovations for The Lost World that are still used today. Не created a technique that joined stop- motion and live-action onscreen at the same time. CRACKED

First National Pictures

The Wrap

Special Effects get industry-wide recognition in 1926.

Historical Firsts in Practical Effects The term. Special Effect 1926 gets its first screen credit In the 1920s, studios began dedicating entire departments to special effects, and the term Special Effect first appears in the credits of 1926's What Price Glory? CRACKED

Fox Film Corporation

FX Making Of

The world’s first special effect driven blockbuster.

Historical Firsts in Practical Effects Metropolis and the creation 1927 of the Schüfftan Process At $1.5 million (in 1927 dollars!), Fritz Lang's effects-driven Metropolis was the most expensive movie ever at the time. Eugen Schüfftan created an effect that projected actors into miniature sets that were too large or ornate to be created in full. CRACKED

Public Domain


If you’ve seen two actors talking in a car, you’ve seen rear projection.

Historical Firsts in Practical Effects Bear projection: 1930s A staple in filmmaking Literally filming someone in front of a projector, it was first tried by Norman 0. Dawn in 1913, but standardized with a special screen for 1933's King Kong. Fox won a Technical Achievement Oscar for its use in the 1934 film Liliom. CRACKED

RKO Radio Pictures

Film School Rejects

‘The Rains Came’ beat ‘The Wizard of Oz’ for the very first Special Effects Oscar.

Historical Firsts in Practical Effects The first Academy Award_ 1939 for Best Special Effects. The Rains Came won the first-ever special effects Oscar. Of its $2.5 million budget, $500k was used for flood and earthquake scenes. The effects took almost 50 days, requiring 350 laborers, 14 cameras, and 33 million gallons of water. CRACKED

20th Century Studios


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