26 October 2015

Movie magic - the story of special effects in the cinema

John Brosnan 1974

This is less a review of a book and more a remembrance of my youth. I recently had an overpowering desire to read this book again. My original was lost in a flood eons ago and I thought I had forgotten about it...but I found myself frantically searching Amazon and buying the hard cover without a second thought.

I have absolutely no regrets. It is rare when something so influential from your youth not only holds up, but surpasses your expectations coloured by decades of fond memories. In many ways this book cemented my desire to work in visual effects for movies. I, like many kids was fascinated by monsters and spaceships, but unlike many kids I wanted to know how they were made and do it myself. This book is still inspiring despite or possibly because of the now out of date descriptions of how special effects were done back in the days before Star Wars and digital techniques changed forever how films were made.

Written well before the digital age, the histories and interviews seem much more authentic than something written today. After all, the people who invented film magic were still around to talk about the early days of the art and scale models, puppets and hand done matte paintings were still state of the art when this was published. Brosnan does more than just explain techniques but gives the context and personal stories around how all the classic and not so classic miracles of the silver screen came to be.

Reading this book has inspired and encouraged me all over again to keep pushing my craft and reminding me that while some things may be easier, sometimes the old ways were best or at the  very least, retain their charm and power to this day in a way modern effects are somewhat less able to accomplish.


T' said...

I definitely agree that there was much more romance and genius in the old style of special effects than there are now. Yes, it takes a lot to program all these things, account for lighting, atmosphere and all that but back then, they had to make all this stuff from nothing and trick us into believing it. And sometimes there were solutions that were just some amazing feats of cleverness. It's not coincidence that Jackson shot most of the Lords of the Rings movie on location or did most of the miniature work with actual miniatures and not digital means. There's something about them that just looks more real. So we're definitely on the same page here. I, too loved to read those books and magazines; Cinefex, Cinefantastique, SFX, Starlog, anywhere I could learn about this stuff though I never did much with that knowledge. Good for you! Can't wait to see what you do!

Behemoth media said...

jackson's Kong despite all the CGI, some of which is pretty terrible also tried to get that feeling of the layers glass paintings the original used to make the jungle scenes and i think that worked out really well. That movie... like a lot of his stuff, is just far too long and stretched out. If they kept it to 90 minutes or so it would have so much better and i think the effects would have had more time and money devoted to each shot. And No ice skating in central park! WTF! I am going to try and film some shots I can add effects to soon... before it snows!