Old School vs. New School: Visual FX in 'The Empire Strikes Back' and 'Thor: The Dark World'

Old School vs. New School: Visual FX in 'The Empire Strikes Back' and 'Thor: The Dark World'

Dec 18, 2013

Empire Strikes Back AT-AT

Visual effects in the movies sure have come a long way in my lifetime – and if you ever needed visual proof of this, then these two videos will serve as exhibit A in support of my thesis.

As a kid, I remember seeing The Empire Strikes Back in the theater and being absolutely stunned by the epic battle on Hoth. The giant AT-ATs were mindblowingly awesome to second grade me, and I remember spending an entire afternoon with a friend debating about how they made these giant metal machines come to life (also discussed that afternoon – how the shark in Jaws worked. Final answer there? “It’s like a giant submarine and the people the shark eats just hang out inside until the scene is over.” Ah to be that naive again).

While young me never figured out how exactly ILM made the AT-ATs possible, older me can now see it firsthand in this old-school clip that takes us behind the scenes.

In it, we see that the AT-ATs were created using stop-motion animation techniques with models of varying sizes. This painstaking process, where one frame of film was shot, then everything moved a fraction of an inch before the next frame is filmed, meant that some days the team got less than five seconds worth of usable footage. That’s dedication.

Meanwhile, the backgrounds of the sky in those scenes? Elaborately crafted matte paintings. That’s just how FX worked back in the day, and honestly, it’s totally charming and I miss it. 

If the stop-motion animation and matte paintings used in The Empire Strikes Back were a prime example of old-school FX work, then the opening segment of Thor: The Dark World is a shining example of new-school technology.

The opening of that film features an epic battle that’s visually stunning and very complex – and the vast majority of it never even existed in the real world.

This clip from Blur Studios gives us a glimpse of how computers and technology enhanced or outright created many of the visual elements in the scene. From green-screen backgrounds to the headgear on the actors, computers now help create a multitude of the visual elements in modern films. CGI has gotten so good (and so all encompassing) that even the most observant of us will miss countless instances where it’s used in film and television.

Don’t just take my word for it, though – check out the video below for yourself.

[via Blastr and Sploid]




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