Special effects are sometimes what make a movie, well, special. In today’s computerized world, with the help of computers, movie makers can put moviegoers right into the action. Special effects are used in almost every film today. But the first movie (not a full-length movie, but a short) with special effects was actually the result of an accident.
It happened in 1896. George Milies (a name frequently found in any historical account of movie making) was using a hand-cranked camera to film a documentary about the Place de l’Opera in Paris in 1896 when the camera jammed. It took him about two minutes to get the camera working properly again. When he had the camera fixed, he continued cranking it.
When Milies developed the film, what he saw was a complete surprise. Between the last frame before the camera jammed and the first frame after the jam had been cleared, it appeared that magic had taken place on the street of Paris. It appeared on the film that men had become women and a horse and coach had been suddenly transformed into a tram car.
Film editing was born, and Milies went on to make several short films that he called “trick films.” In one film he begins cranking the camera just as a woman is taking her seat in a restaurant. Then he would stop cranking, replace the girl with a skeleton, and then begin cranking again. The result was a film where the girl was transformed into a skeleton.
Special effects matured. In 1956 what was, in my opinion, the greatest special effect ever put on film happened in “The Ten Commandments,” starring Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner, with the parting of the Red Sea. This is simply spectacular special effects, and it was done without the help of computers.