Top 10 special effects in Hollywood

Ever wondered what production teams did before the advent of computer generated imagery? Even today, a lot of sequences that we assume to be the work of computer animators are actually created by a dedicated team of special effects artists who specialise in creating masks, body suits and prosthetics. In this post, we have drawn up a list of the top ten special effects done in Hollywood without the help of computer graphics. These are the genius of some talented individuals. 

Jaws (1975)

Director Steven Spielberg overshot the budget on this one because of his insistence that the sharks be shot at sea instead of in a tank. Art director Joe Alves headed a 40-person unit to create three prop sharks. They were named ‘Bruce’, after Spielberg’s lawyer. The ability of Jaws to scare the living daylights out of audiences even today puts the movie in the list for the top 10 special effects.


Video courtesy: Oquatanginwann

Alien (1979)

This terrifying Sigourney Weaver classic enthralled moviegoers with its Oscar-winning special effects. The now famous ‘chest burster’ effect was applied by pushing a puppet through a packed artificial torso, accompanied by real cows blood and spleen that made the movie into a franchise.


Video courtesy: Adriaan Odendaal

An American Werewolf in London (1981)

This Oscar winning, horror satire illustrated spell-binding effects that featured advanced robotic body parts and various other prosthetics that won the movie the Outstanding Achievement in Makeup Award. Makeup artist Rick Baker is said to have changed the face of horror makeup in the 1980s with the character of Griffin Dunne who returns as a bloody and mangled ghost.


Video courtesy: Ledergrant

Scanners (1981)

This high-tech, science fiction, horror flick kept audiences in awe with its iconic exploding head effect. Director David Cronenberg teamed up with makeup artist Dick Smith to develop prosthetics for the climactic scanner duel and car chases in this futuristic thriller.


Video courtesy: Pushkidman

The Thing (1982)

Makeup artist Rob Bottin was the creator of the scary creature in this cult classic. Amputated torsos, tummy teeth and webby creepies kept audiences on the edge of their chairs with a hard-hitting storyline directed by horror demigod, John Carpenter.


Video courtesy: Horror Fan

The Fly (1986)

The creature that transmogrified from Jeff Goldblum’s character, Seth Brundle, into a human super-fly, became so popular in the special effects industry that it received its own popular name – Brundlefly. The transformation involved seven stages, including prosthetics and latex body suits, and culminated into the final Brundlefly with the help of full body cable and rod-controlled puppets. Makeup and effects artist Chris Walas won an Academy Award for the astounding Brundlefly effect.


Video courtesy: The Brundlefly Project

Jurassic Park (1993)

You may think the effects in this Steven Spielberg blockbuster was all born from a chip, but there were plenty of good, old fashioned practical effects in the movie. Besides a full-sized, 20 foot live animatronic T-Rex, the Velociraptors, that chased the protagonists of the movie, were actually human crew members in rubber suits!


Video courtesy: Stan Winston School

Contrary to popular belief, not all special effects in modern movies are CGI. Hollywood continues to produce special effects purely through the skills of some very talented people. Here are a few on our list:

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001-2003)

Special effects are called successful when they get noticed by a wide spectrum of audiences. The wizards behind the scenes of the LOTR trilogy did more than just that, when they succeeded in putting the dwarves and hobbits in a height perspective in accordance with the vision of JRR Tolkien.


Video courtesy: TX Film Professor

The Matrix Reloaded (2003)

Believe it or not, even the Wachowski brothers knew when to let go of CGI and rely on old style, practical special effects. While computer animation may have made many of the scenes in The Matrix Reloaded possible, the famous expressway car chase was shot entirely on location, using practical video shooting trickery.


Video courtesy: Movie Watcher 159

The Dark Knight Trilogy & Inception (2005-2012)

We couldn’t pick just one of these, so we decided that it was a tie between two of director Christopher Nolan’s famous works. Nolan has leaped beyond traditional special effects with eye-catching visuals in these blockbusters. Flipping an eighteen wheeler on an air piston, dunking a plane to earth from another aircraft and using air cannons to blow up streets in Paris are some of the cutting-edge technologies that he has used to minimise the reliance on computer animation.


Video courtesy: Nolan Fans

Tell us your favourite special effects in movies that were not computer generated.


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