Silent Movie Special Effects – How Did They Do That?

A lot has changed in the movie industry since the 1920s. New movies, with 3D technology and CGI graphics, expanded the possibilities of special effects.

There were no projections or green screens, and almost every background was painted by hand. Filming was difficult and expensive, and the work conditions were dangerous. Actors were literally burned by reflectors, because cameras needed a lot of light.

Let us take a look at some famous scenes from Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Harold Lloyd and see how they were filmed.

Harold Lloyd Hanging Off The Clock In Safety Last! (1923)

This shot was filmed from nearby building using a trick of perspective. The set was then moved to higher buildings to make the illusion that Lloyd was climbing.

Charlie Chaplin Roller-skating In A Department Store In Modern Times (1936)

This unforgettable scene was filmed using a matte painting of a ledge that was placed in front of the camera.

It looked like he stopped an inch from the ledge. But in reality, there never was a ledge to begin with.

Buster Keaton Rides Over A Broken Bridge In Sherlock Jr. (1924)

The bottom half of the film was blacked out as Keaton would ride the motorcycle over the bridge. Later, they would repeat the shot by blacking out the top half of the film and recording the two trucks going under the bridge.

The second part however, had no special effects. Buster really rode the motorcycle over the bridge while it was collapsing.

Media Source: Imgur

Featured Image Source: Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

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