The history of special effects begins even before the invention of the camera itself.During the 1700s, magicians utilized many techniques to perform optical illusions and astoundtheir audiences. These techniques formed the foundations of special effects. One of the mostused effects in magic shows during this period was the summoning of the dead - spiritism. Asmall box with a light source and a semi-transparent slide was used to project images ofhistorical figures onto columns of smoke or billowing cloth. This gave a ghostly motion to theimage, frightening audiences to the point that several magicians were jailed for their satanicwork.
THOMAS DRUMMOND AND THE FIRST SPOTLIGHT The invention of limelight (also known as the incandescent calciumoxide light) around 1820 provided a way to project much brighter images from greater distances. This led to the use of magic lanterns forpresentations and educational purposes. This changed the magic lantern from a secret tool of specialists to a well-known instrument The first theatrical spotlight invented by Thomas Drummond in 1816. Drummond’s light, which consisted of a block of calcium oxide heated to incandescence in jets of burning oxygen and hydrogen, provided a soft,very brilliant light that could be directed and focused. It was first employedin a theatre in 1837 and was in wide use by the 1860s. Its intensity made it useful for spotlighting and for the realistic simulation of effects such as sunlight and moonlight.
Another technique of early illusionists was the use of glass sheets as two-way mirrors. In an illusion that came to be known as "Peppers Ghost", after John Henry Pepper, a member of the audience was turned into a skeleton and back. This was done by placing a large glasssheet at a 45 degree angle between the audience and the stage, and adjusting the lighting so that that audience would either see THROUGH the glass to the person, or the REFLECTION in the glass of a skeleton off stage. The lighting was faded in and out to make thetransformation. This technique was adopted later in early films, and a horde of "ghost" movies were created using two-way mirror techniques.
With a background in mechanical engineering and buildingequipment, Robert W. Paul was commissioned to copy Thomas EdisonsKinetoscope. Although he originally refused, he was convinced toundertake the project because Edison had failed to obtain an internationalpatent. This gave Paul a legal market for his work. In 1896, he haddevised and built a film projector, which he sold in large numbers due tothe Lumieres restricted sales. In 1897 he built Europes first filmstudio, complete with trap doors, a hanging bridge and dolly track onwhich to move his cameras. In 1905, he shot the short film TheMotorist, which pioneered several special effects techniques. The filmwas about a couple that drove so fast that they escaped the Earthsgravity and travelled through the solar system before returning home.Despite his short-lived success, he dropped all cinema activities in1910, sold his studio, and burnt all of his film stock. The 2011 film HUGO portrays this story as well
The greatest changes in the revolution of SpecialEffects happened in the 20th century, with computers.Computers helped revolutionized the world of SpecialEffects in movies. Now with computers we are able to createsceneries we would never think possible. With the help ofcomputers we can create people, buildings, animals,monsters, aliens, and many other creations. Our creations inthe computers can come out to life with a touch of a button.Special Effects have gone to the extreme with the use ofcomputers. We could even build and re-sink the "Titanic"with the use of computers .
Some of the early pioneers for special effects, or "tricks" as they were originally called, were also magicians, machinists, inventors, and prop builders. Their multiple talents were broughttogether to find new and interesting ways to use the motion picture camera. Because the mere sight of moving pictures on a wall seemed like magic to those first audiences, it is not surprising thatthe first films were magical, whimsical and absurd. The magicians first viewed the cameras as another tool for their illusions, using the magic of film to enhance their own magic tricks. Audiencesquickly caught on to the methods of trick films, however, and film makers had to push harder and harder to find amazing visions fortheir films. The magician/filmmakers were shortly made extinct by their own creations, however, as the magic of film held little need for actual illusionist talent. The illusions that required such talent on stage could be produced by anyone on film. Only those magicians that could adapt to the new art form and make the shift into special effects survived.