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"
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.
Scale-size Kong bust, one of many sized models.
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."
Photos: Bison Archives
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