Frankenstein (1931)


Kenneth Strickfaden, the designer of the iconic electrical effects utilized in Frankenstein’s creation scene, reportedly became the double for Boris Karloff, who played the Monster. This due to the fact that Karloff’s abdominal region was visible for said scene, making him vulnerable to the hot sparks coming off the equipment.

Citizen Kane (1941)


Citizen Kane has often been considered the greatest movie of all time. Part of this is due to its revolutionary use of pre-CGI special effects, which included advanced optical printing, matte painting, miniatures, and deep focus. With the development of computer technology, optical printers are now instead mostly utilized as artistic tools, educational purposes, or photochemical film restoration, but its use in Citizen Kane will forever be considered iconic by many film buffs.

Jason and the Argonauts (1963)


Ray Harryhausen, a renowned special effects and stop motion animator, was responsible for the creation of Dynamation- a technique that separates the foreground and background of pre-filmed footage, allowing him to integrate stop-motion models with reality. This was famously used in the skeleton fight scene in Jason and the Argonauts before the existence of modern-day CGI and computer effects.

Toy Story (1995)

Pixar’s first Toy Story is widely recognized for its role as the first CGI-animated film, but unsurprisingly today’s animation is afforded a vastly quicker and easier process. According to Insider, the animators rendering Toy Story were forced to run 117 computers 24-hours a day, as rendering a single frame could take anywhere between 45 minutes and 30 hours; this led to the invention of the software ‘Renderman’ to handle the quantity of footage. A mere 30 seconds of footage could be rendered every day, which is hard to believe in 2023.

Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977)


With only the bare bones of CGI existing in 1977, ILM (Industrial Light and Magic) was formed in order to develop the special effects required to create Star Wars, such as handcrafted robots and spaceship models. The trilogy’s use of miniatures, digital matte painting, blue screens, stop-motion animation, in addition to the beginnings of CGI, revolutionized the visual effects industry as we knew it, and Star Wars remains one of the planet’s biggest and most beloved franchises.

Intolerance (1916)

Although Intolerance was far from low-budget even by the standards of the time, it’s hard to imagine the cost and effort that it would take to recreate the film today, with over 3,000 extras being used and their total respective payrolls costing $12,000 a day in 1916. Despite film being a huge part of modern-day life and the billion-dollar status of the industry, it’s unlikely even the largest of studios would attempt to undertake such a massive feat.

The Wizard Of Oz (1939)


It’s well known that the set of beloved classic The Wizard Of Oz (legendary for its groundbreaking blend of sepia and color film) was a health and safety nightmare. Between the Cowardly Lion’s 60-pound costume made of real lion skin, the original Tin Man having a severe allergic reaction to his aluminum dust makeup which gave him breathing issues for life, and director Victor Fleming slapping Judy Garland across the face for laughing during a take, maybe some things are better left in the past.

Mary Poppins (1964)


Mary Poppins was the only of Disney’s films to be a nominee for the Best Picture Academy Award in his lifetime, and it’s not hard to see why. Petro Vlahos, the inventor and engineer hired to do the special effects, revolutionized what has eventually developed into the green screen today. He overhauled the existing model of the blue screen, replacing it with the sodium vapor process; this used sodium yellow lights that didn’t interfere with red, blue or green layers, allowing the live action and the animated to combine seamlessly.

Invention for Destruction (1958)


Karel Zeman, in his bid to accurately translate the fantastical whimsings of Jules Verne into film, recreated the Victorian line engraving style of Verne’s works by using rubber paint rollers to add hatching to costumes and scenery. To add to the effect, Zeman used Mystimation, which is described by creative Emmett Redding as “the process of combining live-action and animation techniques, including hand-drawn two-dimensional animation, stop-motion and cut-out animation, as well as extensive matte paintings and miniatures.” While this style could easily be recreated by computers today, Zeman’s dedication to his craft and vision is admirable.

Jurassic Park (1993)


1993’s Jurassic Park shook the film industry with its use of CGI. The scenes involving the dinosaurs reportedly took almost a year to complete. In addition to the incredible animatronic creations of Stan Winston, ILM used the software Viewpaint in order to allow the effects team to add color and texture onto CGI dinosaur models, which were used for fast motion and full body shots, creating one of the most impressive cinematic feats to date.