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Are Today's Special Effects Really So Much Better Than Yesteryear's?


phelps
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I was talking with my father recently about classic movies and he was giving me all the reasons he thought today's movies are so much better. Among them "special effects" ranked the highest. Now, I agree if "Jurassic Park" had been made in the 40's it would have been an entirely different movie but lets give the classics their due. Yesterday, I watched "San Francisco" which was released in 1936. The scenes from the big earthquake were better than anything I have ever seen in current films. The scene when the ground splits open was very realistic as were the buildings tumbling to ash. On a similar note, maybe it is just me but I think the ghost like (transparent) images in black n white movies like "Topper" are more believable than color movies. Do you think there are some special effects that are as good or better than movies of today?

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To me special effects from old movies (silent era through 1960s) are more impressive b/c they were harder to acheive. All effects had to be done 'in the camera' as they say. The use of miniatures could also be very effective if done well. I also love the claymation type of effects like in Ray Harryhausen's films b/c unlike a CGI monsther I know that clay figure is actually three dimensional and I just like that better, even if it looks a little cheesy sometimes.

 

*Peter Ibbetson* (1935) has some really neat effects. There is a scene where Peter (Gary Cooper) is in his prison cell and Mimsey (Ann Harding) comes to him in a dream. She tells him he is free and he can just walk out but he doesn't believe her and he stands in his cell holding onto the bars. Finally she convinces him to try and he walks right through the bars and out of his cell. I guarantee you they couldn't make that effect look any better with modern technology, it's absolutely seamless.

 

*Ben-Hur (1925) also has some amazing effects using different types of miniatures and again it looks flawless. They describe in the *Hollywood* series how they did the chariot race scene and it was really inventive and much more difficult to look good as opposed to CGI. They used hanging miniatures which are suspended a certain distance from the camera to make them blend in correctly with parts of the set that are actually built in a normal size and that's what makes up the arena. It looks like they actually built a full scale arena and had it packed with people but it's a blend of effects that came together perfectly.

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I really hate CGI effects..as far as monsters go, I do prefer the old way of the man in the rubber suit or stop motion ..CGI in some cases is visually impressive, but not quite the same feeling I get when I see Harryhausen or Godzilla movies...

Some EFX are certainly tame when comparing old to new like Forbidden Planet, while others still hold up really well like War of the Worlds 1960..

Todays EFX are different, but not necessarily better..Explosions are a little more violent these days...I guess there are certain aspects of EFX that can be better, but if you prefer older movies, you will always have a place in your heart for how EFX were back then.

I remember watching a lot of old scifi or B movies where a movie ends with a nuclear bomb..the EFX werent done well,or stock footage was used. I can only image what could be done today

The Day After Tomorrow, Harry Potter , Lord of the Rings IMO had great EFX ,that was a good example of todays special effects magic that was done pretty well, but when it comes to movies with monsters like Jurassic Park, Peter Jacksons King Kong, Anaconda, I still prefer the older style, again even though todays EFX are groundbreaking, which still doesnt mean its better..its modern

Maybe it just depends on the effect..movies are more violent today so there are more EFX for larger, louder explosions, car crashes, etc and those EFX have raised the bar when compared to older movies..its being a little more extreme..

 

Message was edited by: dsclassic

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I am of the frame of mind that a matte painting and a "cast of thousands" are much more impressive than the "video game" look of computer-generated backgrounds and casts. Not even close.

 

Say what you will about Cleopatra, everything and everyone you see when Elizabeth Taylor is carried into the city was actually there. That is truly awe-some. I am never in awe of the work found in Lord Of The Rings or Troy or Alexander - three contemporary films I have seen that relied heavily on the work of computer operators.

 

Sometime in the past ten years there was a book published on the Art Of Matte Paintings for the movies. I would really like to get my hands on that.

 

Kyle In Hollywood

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The earthquake scene in San Francisco was fantastic. I lived in the city when I first saw this film and I had dug around downtown for earthquake relics. I?ve still got boxes of them, including burnt wood, coins, and all sorts of odds and ends. Much of the modern downtown area is built on 4 to 6 feet of earthquake debris. I was in a bottle-digging club and we use to go to vacant lots downtown and dig up the stuff by the box full.

 

The street splitting open scene was fantastic. The water main breaking below ground was great. The gradual disintegration of City Hall was remarkable, because that?s actually the way the real City Hall broke up during the real quake. The film showed the way the marble facing stones broke up and fell off the steel framework.

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:San_Francisco_City_Hall_1906-04-20.jpg

 

I read in an L.A. newspaper article years ago that W.S. Van Dyke directed most of the film, but other directors specialized in different segments and one directed the opera sequences, another directed the earthquake sequences, and D.W. Griffith directed the brief ?camping out in Golden Gate Park? sequence. Next time, look at the park scenes, they have many tents and people and go well on into the distance, which is the way Griffith made his scenes look like they had a cast of thousands.

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Say what you will about Cleopatra, everything and everyone you see when Elizabeth Taylor is carried into the city was actually there. That is truly awe-some. I am never in awe of the work found in Lord Of The Rings or Troy or Alexander - three contemporary films I have seen that relied heavily on the work of computer operators.

 

Not quite: the peaked roof of the temple of Capitoline Jupiter, in front of which Caesar greets Celopatra after she's carried down from the great wheeled Sphinx, was added via a hanging miniature, and the more distant background buildings in between the temple and adjacent structures were flat paintings.

 

Now, Samuel Bronston's THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE is another matter: everything was done full-scale, with no miniatures, mattes or efx of any kind. The sets were, in fact, built with finished fa?ades on all four sides, so that they colud be photogaphed from any angle (even if they were never to be used). Everything about FOTRE dwarfs CLEOPATRA in size and detail and texture -- everything except the drama, that is.

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Try experiencing a real earthquake as opposed to a reel earthquake...

Rumbling that you pray ends, but gets worse & for those few seconds, things can be damaged..

As an SF person, I was here in 1989 for the big one, and have felt dozens since. Last November there was one that scared a few people

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"...the thought of being jolted out of a sound sleep by that sort of thing is really terrifying."

 

That would have been me. It was pitch black - no power - and I thought someone broke into the apartment and had grabbed the end of the bed and was bouncing it up and down off the floor.

 

Kyle In Hollywood

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  • 6 months later...

The only test for me is whether I notice them.

 

The Harry Potter series has some of the worst (most spell-castings are painfully obvious cgi), while others are wonderful (notably the owls) because they don't look like special effects.

 

The fx in older movies is generally better because of a higher standard -- they used special effects only when/where necessary (partially because of the expense), and they had to fit seamlessly. Today the attitude is "it doesn't matter how much it matters to the story or how crappy it looks, if we shovel enough in, some of it will wow the audience."

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The worst special effects I've seen for modern movies is "Star Trek V" and "The Aurora Encounter" plus many of the made for TV/video movies.

 

The best is "Titanic", "The 300", and "Star Wars Episodes I - III"

 

Older CGI made in the 70's and 80's are excused because of computer technology at the time period and has simply become obsolete (or boring).

 

The oldest CGI I can recall is in "2001 A Space Odessey". The wire frame graphics took office building size computers to do and was agonizing slow to program and execute. I read that some "graphic programs" at that time period took a couple of WEEKS to run. And we think our 1990's computers are slow! LOL!. I had an 8088 based computer to print out a VGA low res photo on my color dot matrix printer and it took 6 hours to print out.

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I still prefer the older movies, the Harryhausen stop motion & the Godzilla rubber suit monsters over CGI - I still think the personalities of the creatures were better then than they are now.

Sure the explosions are louder, and there is CGI & bigger budgets but you cant replace the classic charm the older films have. That being said, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and Jurassic Park had great effects, but the older movies have that special touch. 1933's Invisible Man to me has the some of the best effects to this day..

I also cant stand those jump flash cuts in movies which confuse the heck out of me :)

 

Message was edited by: TripleHHH

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I believe the special effects people in days of old had to be more creative. I put the following special effects up against anything being produced today...

 

- King Kong

- Beauty and the Beast (Cocteau)

- A Midsummer Night's Dream

- The Wizard of Oz

- The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

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I would say that special effects, as a whole, are better today, of course. One only need compare something done well with a computer to that of even someone driving in front of a matte screen in old movies.

 

However, I miss things that were NOT special effects i nthe past but are today. I'm referring to crowd scenes, like in those Roman epics, where they would have thousands of living human beings. Today, it is only a handful of people and master copied into a computer.

 

I also think it is harder for an actor today to really feel it when he is acting entirely in front of a blue screen.

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> {quote:title=Hobsonschoice wrote:}{quote}

> I believe the special effects people in days of old had to be more creative. I put the following special effects up against anything being produced today...

>

> - King Kong

> - Beauty and the Beast (Cocteau)

> - A Midsummer Night's Dream

> - The Wizard of Oz

> - The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

 

I would add *The Thief of Bagdad* to that list. From what I remember of the audio commentary and/or bonus features on the Criterion DVD, it was reportedly the first movie ever to use blue-screen effects. The effects might look rudimentary to people who grew up with CGI, but as Marty Scorsese mentioned in the audio commentary, these movies worked because you used your imagination when you watched them. Most folks at that time had grown up listening to radio, so using their imagination came naturally to them (Scorsese's opinion, not mine).

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Uhh..I hate to burst your bubble, but Lord of the Rings was filmed entirely on location in New Zealand and there isn't that many CGI effects. For example, about half of the Orc armies and as such are cast native New Zealanders.

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Bela Lugosi as Roxor in CHANDU THE MAGICIAN

Bela Lugosi as Murder Legendre in WHITE ZOMBIE

Bela Lugosi as Doctor Mirakle in MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE

Boris Karloff as Dr. Fu Manchu in THE MASK OF FU MANCHU

Lionel Atwill as Eric Gorman in MURDERS IN THE ZOO

Louise Emmons in MUSH & MILK (Our Gang 2-reeler)

Boris Karloff as Hjalmar Poelzig in THE BLACK CAT

Bela Lugasi as Doctor Vollin in THE RAVEN

Bela Lugosi as Ygor in SON OF FRANKENSTEIN

Bela Lugosi as Dr. Orloff in DARK EYES OF LONDON

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