Someone wise once said, “Movies are the magic butterflies that help us play dreams of transcendence.” Actually, nobody said that, because that makes absolutely zero sense.
But movies are pretty neat. And, more often than not, it’s the jaw-dropping special effects that make them so. Most special effects rely on huge, life-sized replicas of whole city blocks, expensive CGI work, and complex visual illusions. Most special effects…but not all of them.
Here are five movies that managed to achieve mind-boggling special effects by using surprisingly simple tricks.
5. Flying kick—Godzilla
Even though I now know the secret behind this special effect, I still can’t quite wrap my head around it. It’s impossible to believe that you’re witnessing anything other than a real-life scene. But here’s how it was done:
The robotic spaceman and the cockroach monster? They’re simply actors…wearing appropriate suits! What can I say? The simplest tricks are usually the most convincing. And Godzilla? Well, that’s not even an actual lizard. It’s a model, suspended by a few invisible wires. The camera is set up in such a way so as to give the illusion of three giant monsters duking it out. It’s called a “forced perspective” effect, and it’s guaranteed to continue messing with your mind even though you now know exactly how it’s been achieved.
4. Cartoon characters with humans—Space Jam
At first, I—like you—thought of how difficult it must have been to create multiple self-aware cartoon characters and transport them into our world to interact with Michael Jordan and Bill Murray. However, that’s not what’s happening here at all.
Michael Jordan was, in fact, filmed separately. The cartoon was simply drawn around him afterwards. Clever? Yes! Simple? Absolutely! Incredible? You bet. That’s how real special effects professionals work.
3. UFOs—Plan 9 From Outer Space
Now that’s realism! If you’ve ever seen a more realistic UFO in real life, I dare you to show it to me. Didn’t think so! And yet those UFOs are just cheap models placed over the rest of the movie using that same “forced perspective” effect we’ve already talked about. As for the colourless world—that’s done by simply filming it in black-and-white. Nothing more, nothing less.
2. Beheading—Savage Planet
Ignore the nasty captions added by the YouTube user that uploaded this scene. He’s just jealous of the subtle use of relatively cheap special effects. From the motion of the actor’s body to the impeccable blood splatter physics, this scene is nothing if not convincing. As a matter of fact, it’s very hard to find any signs that this is a movie at all. I personally couldn’t see any, until I read about how these special effects were achieved.
Turns out the actor simply pulled the shirt over his head and attached a fake “severed neck” at the top. This created the flawless “decapitation” effect. But wait, there’s more. The blood? Yup, it’s also fake! I know, I’m just as speechless as you are.
1.”I’ll be back”—Terminator
I know what you’re thinking: “Surely the filmmakers must have built a lifelike android for this scene. They’ve programmed it to speak the words in a believable human manner. His facial expressions may not be very fluid, but what can you expect from a goddamn robot? In any case, this is a truly amazing—and undoubtedly expensive—state-of-the-art achievement in robotics!”
That’s what I thought, too. But sorry to disappoint ya, that’s not the case. This scene doesn’t even use any special effects to begin with. That man is—you better be sitting down—actually an actor! His name is Arnold Alois Schwarzenegger. In a surprising twist, we have the case of a human playing a robot, instead of the other way around. His soulless face, his monotone voice, and the almost otherworldy way he speaks the words without any hint of emotion? That’s all Arnold.
Now that’s what I call method acting!