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Hal Roach Studios Rear projection at Hal Roach Studios

"You ain't heard nothin' yet!" With Al Jolson's words in "The Jazz Singer" (1927) the era of talkies is born. Early sound recording equipment was cumbersome and difficult to use on location, so studio-bound directors turned more frequently to special effects to create the illusion of shooting in exotic locales. The first Golden Age of visual effects begins.

As head of special effects for Universal, John Fulton devises effects for "Frankenstein" (1931) and numerous horror films to follow, including "The Invisible Man" (1934), "The Bride of Frankenstein" (1935) and "The Mummy" (1935).

King Kong Scale-size Kong bust, one of many sized models.

Director Merian C. Cooper and animator Willis O'Brien join forces for a masterpiece of effects, "King Kong." Stop-motion animation, miniatures, rear projection and optical compositing artfully combine live actors, puppets, and miniatures. The stop-motion animation of a menagerie of prehistoric creatures takes 55 weeks to accomplish.

Howard Lydecker becomes head of special effects for Republic Pictures, home of 66 popular moviehouse serials including "King of the Rocketmen" and "G-Men Vs. the Black Dragon." Expert pyrotechnicians, Lydecker and his brother Theodore create explosions, infernos, conflagrations, and vehicle crashes on land, air, sea, and sky to inspire generations of "pyro guys" to come.

The first Academy Award for Achievement in Special Effects is awarded to "The Rains Came," featuring a flood of Biblical proportions in India masterminded by Fred Sersen. The film bests such notable rivals as "Gone With the Wind" and "The Wizard of Oz."

Continue: 1940s

Photos: Bison Archives

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