Greatest Visual and
Special Effects (F/X) -
Milestones in Film


Film Milestones in Visual and Special Effects
Title Screen
Film Title/Year and Description of Visual-Special Effects

Tiger Child (1970)

The IMAX system (then known as Multiscreen) premiered with the showing of the first IMAX film - the 17-minute Tiger Child by director Donald Brittain - at EXPO '70 Osaka, Japan. It played in the temporary Fuji Group Pavilion (known as the Air Dome), where audiences were carried through the theater continuously on a large rotating platform. Each viewer saw the endless film reel starting at a different point.

There were up to nine simultaneously-viewed images within the frame.

[Note: The first permanent IMAX theatre, named Cinesphere, was built in 1971 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.]

The Andromeda Strain (1971)

This science-fiction techno-thriller classic was another early feature film, possibly the first, to use advanced computerized (or optical) photographic visual effects for its time, with work by Douglas Trumbull ( 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and Silent Running (1971)), James Shourt, and Albert Whitlock (The Birds (1963)). $250,000 of the film's budget of $6.5 million was reportedly used to create the special effects.

This film contained possibly the first use of computer rendering (in the mapped view of the rotating 2-D structure of the massive, hi-tech, top secret 5-story, cylindrical underground laboratory in the Nevada desert named Project Wildfire).

Biologist Dr. Jeremy Stone (Arthur Hill) turned on the 'animated' computer simulation of the "electronic diagram which rotates to afford an overall view, or it can be stopped at any section. Detailed plans of the various levels and labs are also stored in the system...."

Rotating 2-D Structure - A Computer Rendering

A Clockwork Orange (1971, UK)

Kubrick's film was the first to use Dolby technology for recording sound - the first film to be mastered with Dolby noise reduction.


Fritz the Cat (1972)

This was the first X-rated animated feature in Hollywood history, from writer/director Ralph Bakshi, and based on the comic books by Robert Crumb.

It was also the first independent animated film to gross more than $100 million at the box office.

X-rated Fritz the Cat Animation

The Poseidon Adventure (1972), Earthquake (1974) and The Hindenburg (1975)

All three of these films won the Special Achievement Award for Visual Effects, during the 70s era of disaster films.

The Poseidon Adventure (1972) opened during a New Year Eve's Party on board the SS Poseidon on its final journey from New York to Athens, Greece. A gigantic 90 foot wall of water (a rogue wave), caused by a 7.8 sub-ocean earthquake, flipped the ocean liner upside down. The exterior shot of the capsizing was created with a large miniature model in an enormous water tank on the 20th Century Fox back lot. One of the most unforgettable images was of passengers hanging onto upside down tables, and then falling to their deaths - into ceilings.

The special effects of Earthquake (1974) included 'model' skyscrapers that collapsed, panoramic views of Los Angeles (matte paintings), Styrofoam concrete, and a 'miniature' to depict the crumbling Hollywood Dam. Earthquake's sole competitive Academy Award Oscar win was for Best Sound, involving the Sensurround audio system.

Images of Earthquake's (1974) Disastrous Quake

In The Hindenburg (1974), the events surrounding the sabotage (fictional) and eventual destruction of the Nazi's German zeppelin dubbed the Hindenburg were highlighted. The climax of the film was the massive explosion and fire that downed the flying airship as it arrived at the Lakehurst Naval Air Station in New York on May 6, 1937 - simulated or manufactured footage and historical footage were composited together. Over 70 matte paintings and multi-element complex blue screen composites, plus miniatures and a large-scale model (over 25 feet in length) of the dirigible were created.

The Poseidon Adventure (1972)

The Hindenburg (1975)

The Exorcist (1973)

This sensational, shocking horror story about devil possession and the subsequent exorcism of the demonic spirits from a young, innocent girl (of a divorced family) (Linda Blair) contained some highly memorable scenes, using various special effects techniques.

There were some truly nauseating, horrendous special effects including the 360 degree head-rotation, self-mutilation/masturbation with a crucifix, and the projectile spewing of green puke - a mixture of split-pea soup and oatmeal through a nozzle attached to the stunt double's mouth, etc.

Crucifix Self-Stabbing

Raised Welts: "Help me"

In the scene in which the words: "help me" appeared on the girl's stomach, the welts were produced on a foam rubber stomach by applying a strong chemical. The shrinking of the swelling by heat guns was filmed - and then projected in reverse - to make it appear like the words were rising up through the skin.

Demonic Eye-Rolling

180 Degree Head Rotation

360 Degree Spinning Head

Soylent Green (1973)

In this sci-fi, dystopian thriller, live-in lover Shirl (Leigh Taylor-Young), colloquially known as "furniture," was briefly seen playing the coin-operated video arcade game Computer Space housed in a white unit or fiberglass cabinet. She laughed playfully over the present of the "toy" and was told by rich magnate William Simonson (Joseph Cotten) of the Soylent Corporation:

"I'm glad it amuses you."

[Note: This marked the earliest film appearance of an arcade-styled videogame (since a similar game called Asteroids from Atari wasn't released until 1979). It predated Atari's Pong by a year. Computer Space was the first commercially-available videogame of its kind, first sold in 1971. It was derived from the earlier computer game Spacewar! in 1962.]

'Computer Space' Videogame - A Futuristic Entertainment Device

Westworld (1973)

This was the first significant entertainment feature film, Michael Crichton's sci-fi western, that employed the use of computer animation (2-D computer generated images), the precursor to CGI.

Full-screen raster (or bit-mapped) graphics were used in this film by computer graphics artists (at Evans and Sutherland) to produce the scenes representing the android Gunslinger (Yul Brynner) robot's infrared point-of-view or perspective (POV) -- pixelated robovision.

Each frame of footage was color-separated and scanned, then converted into rectangular blocks. Color was added to make a coarse pixel matrix that could be output back to film.

The first use of 3-D CGI in a feature film was Westworld's sequel, Futureworld (1976).

Gunslinger (Yul Brynner)

Gunslinger's Infrared POV

Closed Mondays (1974)

An 11-minute long Oscar winner of the Best Animated Short Film, by co-directors Will Vinton and Bob Gardiner, this animated short was included in the theatrical release of the compilation feature film Fantastic Animation Festival (1977).

The short was the first instance of Claymation animation, using 3-D clay figures filmed with stop-motion animation.

It told of a drunken visitor viewing how objects displayed in an art museum ("Closed Mondays") came to life - and concluded with a twist - the bulbous-nosed visitor was part of the museum's statuary.

In the last image, the man was viewed as a stationary figure on the floor of the museum, seen through an outer window.

Claymation Stop-Motion Animation

Hunger (1974, Canada) (aka La Faim)

Hunger was the first computer-animated film to be nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Short Film (Animated) category. It also won the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival that same year.

This surrealistic, avante-garde animated film short (11 minutes long) without dialogue from the National Film Board of Canada (and director Peter Foldes) was the first to use computer digitization to interpolate (or 'fill in') the animated action between various key cells drawn free-hand, although it had experimentally been demonstrated with his earlier film, Metadata (1971).

The film's director was the first animator to use computer animation (a computer-assisted 'key-frame animation' system) that imitated conventional cel animation.

Black and white animated illustrations appeared against a colored backdrop, with surrealistic figures that fluidly and rapidly dissolved and reshaped themselves to take new forms - an early and primitive example of morphing.

Film Milestones in Visual/Special Effects (F/X)
(chronological order by film title)
Introduction | 1880s-1890s | 1900-1905 | 1906-1920 | 1921-1929 | 1930-1939 | 1940-1949 | 1950-1959
1960-1969 | 1970-1974 | 1975-1979 | 1980-1982 | 1983-1985 | 1986-1988 | 1989-1991 | 1992-1994
1995-1996 | 1997-1998 | 1999-2000 | 2001-2002 | 2003-2005 | 2006-2007 | 2008-2009 | 2010-Present

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