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


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

Rock & Rule (1983)

This feature-length cel-animated film about mutated humanoids - a post-apocalyptic, off-beat, adult-oriented rock & roll fantasy from Canada, was the first animated film to use computer graphics, although it was only used in a limited way for a few of the film's images.

Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983), and re-releases

The original Return of the Jedi featured over 900 visual effects shots, the most in movie history at that time.

The main computer-generated animation sequence was in the main briefing room of the Headquarters Frigate, during the scene of a planned Rebel attack on the second Death Star space station. A holographic wire-framed model of the Death Star was suspended in mid-air, moving around the shape and eventually exploding.

George Lucas continued to alter his original trilogy with lots of 'enhancements' and changes, and most outraged fans with the 2004 DVD re-release by using CGI to erase Sebastian Shaw's ghost spirit image from Return of the Jedi in the final celebration scene (on the left) and replace him with Hayden Christensen (who played Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader in the 2002 and 2005 prequels) -- Shaw passed away in 1994.

1983/1997 with Shaw (l.)

2004 with Christensen (l.)

Superman III (1983)

The entire animated "Video Game" sequence in this third film in the series enacted a battle between villainous Ross Webster's (Robert Vaughn) "ultimate" supercomputer and superhero Superman (Christopher Reeve), as he flew into a Grand Canyon gorge where the huge supercomputer was located inside a cave.

Webster controlled a 'Space Invaders' style rocket-missile defense system, manipulating joysticks and watching the results on his video screen as numerous missiles were aimed at Superman. The Atari-type game screen displayed the "Score" and the number of rockets remaining.

The sequence was created, one frame at a time, by video game company Atari, Inc. in cooperation with Warner Brothers. It took 3 1/2 months and cost $125,000 dollars to create. They had planned to base a video game on the sequence, but it never happened.

[Note: They also created the graphics for the "Starfighter" arcade game for The Last Starfighter (1984), but an intended arcade game was never released.]

Zelig (1983)

Woody Allen's film demonstrated the technical accomplishment of laboriously matching and interweaving authentic and older period film (newsreels and documentary footage) from the 1920s and 30s with newer, flickering B/W film shot by Oscar-nominated cinematographer Gordon Willis, to make the film appear authentically 'historic'.

Chameleon-like Leonard Zelig (Woody Allen) appeared alongside President Coolidge and presidential candidate Herbert Hoover, boxer Jack Dempsey, baseball player Babe Ruth, tycoon publisher William Randolph Hearst, movie star Charles Chaplin, the Pope, the Fuhrer himself, and the writer F. Scott Fitzgerald.

[These same effects would be replicated 10 years later in Forrest Gump (1994).]

The Adventures of André and Wally B. (1984)

Ex-Disney John Lasseter directed this all CGI-animated short, from Lucasfilm Computer Graphics Project (later Pixar).

This was the first CGI animation with motion blur effects (using the principles of 'squash and stretch' from traditional animation to produce more fluid and realistic movement in characters).

The Last Starfighter (1984)

This was a groundbreaking film - it was the first film to feature the extensive use of CGI -- most importantly, the integrated use of photo-realistic, computer-generated (CGI) models for all Gunstar vehicles or spaceships, or planet shots, rather than more traditional miniature models (as in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) or Star Wars (1977)).

This was called digital scene simulation or 'integrated CGI' - the special effects were actually representing real-world objects, and the CG was fully integrated with the live-action.

A multi-million dollar CRAY XMP-2 super-computer over a period of more than two years was used to create and animate the photorealistic computer graphic images - about 25 minutes worth of CG effects.

Digital-graphic pioneers John Whitney, Jr., and Gary Demos, who contributed to the CG work in the film (and for Tron (1982)), received the Scientific and Technical Academy Award in 1984 “for the practical simulation of motion-picture photography by means of computer-generated images."

Lensman (1984, Jp.) (aka SF Shinseiki Lensman)

This was the first anime film to use CGI - along with its traditional animation.

2010: The Year We Make Contact (1984)

This science-fiction film combined computational fluid dynamics with CGI, for the first time, to create the planet Jupiter. The impressive end "Birth" sequence used CGI to create thousands of monoliths.

The Black Cauldron (1985)

Disney's PG-rated film (their 25th full-length animated film and the studio's first PG-rated animated feature film) was their first animated feature film to use computer graphics technology - in the simulation of a flying visible light source (digital fire).

The film induced Disney animator Tim Burton to turn to live-action films, but he would later return with the use of innovative stop-motion animation for The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993).

Cocoon (1985)

This Ron Howard-directed film won the Best Achievement in Visual Effects Academy Award, defeating Return to Oz (1985) and Young Sherlock Holmes (1985).

It was remarkable for Industrial Light and Magic's (ILM) depiction of the friendly, energy-light emitting alien lifeforms and their alien spaceship. Its climactic arrival came during a fog-shrouded electrical storm to pick up an ascending boatload of retirement home residents who were promised eternal life on the faraway planet.

Dire Straits - Money for Nothing (1985)

The first computer-generated, classic rock music video - "Money For Nothing" by Dire Straits, featured a crudely-animated CGI character.

We Are Born of Stars (1985)

This was the first Anaglyph single projector 3D film created for IMAX/IMAX Dome projection.

Using computer graphics, the film traced the development of life from the formation of atomic nuclei in stars to the molecular structure of water and DNA, zooming the audience through the five-billion-year evolution of our solar system.


Young Sherlock Holmes (1985)

This Steven Spielberg-produced film (with effects by Pixar when it was still part of LucasFilm and Industrial Light and Magic) was noted for having, arguably, the first fully 3-D digital (or CGI), or computer generated, photorealistic animated character in a full-length feature film. It was also the first computer-animated character to be scanned and painted directly onto film using a laser.

[Some have argued, however, that the first CGI 'character' was the polyhedron character "Bit" in Tron (1982).]

This film was the first to composite computer-generated animation with a live-action background.

The CGI character was known as "the stained-glass man" - a knight composed of shards of stained-glass that came to life. With his sword raised, he marched through a church at night, and engaged in swordplay (in a 30 second on-screen sequence that took 6 months to accomplish) to murder the Vicar.

The film also featured a stop-motion animated scene in which young John Watson (Alan Cox) was assaulted by a variety of cakes in a cake shop that came to life in front of him. In another scene, a chicken came to life on a dinner plate and attacked its astonished diner.

Somehow, along with Return to Oz (1985), it lost the Best Visual Effects Oscar to Cocoon (1985) (see above).

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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