Undergraduate Degree



DT2002 History of Visual Effects

[Studio Contact Hours: 39 hours; Pre-requisites: NIL; Academic Unit: 3.0]




Academic Unit


3 AU

Course Description

Learning Objective

To deliver to the students an overview of the history of visual effects. To place visual effects in context to the technologies, creative individuals and cultural influences of its creation.


Visual Effects is one of the key technological contributions in the advancement of the visual development of cinema. This course presents and examines this field in its many aspects, introducing and investigating its historical, theoretical, and technical development and helping to put into context the digital revolution that is taking place inside the contemporary cinema industry. Students must conduct original research on an approved topic, and present a final paper for successful completion of the course.

Course Outline




- Magic lantern and optical toys, Thomas Edison, the Lumiere Brothers, Georges Melies

2 - 7

• Silent Movies: Georges Melies, D.W.Griffith, etc 
• Experimental movies: German expressionism, Metropolis etc
• The development of animation: Willis O’Brien (The Lost World and stop-motion, King Kong etc)
• Art direction: 
- Merian C. Cooper (The last days of Pompeii, She etc) 
- Alexander Korda and William Cameron Menzies (Things to Come)
- Expanding the space: movie matte painting and Citizen Kane. 
- Painting with colours: The thief of Bagdad.
• The 3D background: The multi-plane camera, Stereoscopic films 
• Len Lye, Oscar Fischinger, Norman McLaren 
• The film and sound format: Cinemascope, anamorphic, Cinerama 70mm and IMAX, Stereo sound. magnetic channels etc 
• Ray Harryhausen: Gods and monsters

​8 - 13

• Science fiction: John P. Fulton (The Invisible Man), George Pal (Destinatio Moon, The time machine etc)
• Ub Iwerks and Disney: 2D animation and live action (Mary Poppins) 
• Alfred Hitchcock: The Birds. 
• Theme parks
• The European and Japanese experience: Karel Zeman, Peplum (Hercules, Goliath and the Argonauts), Sergio Leone (The colossus of Rhodes), Ishiro Honda (from Godzilla to Akira Kurosawa) • The analogue era: 2001 a Space Odyssey, Star Wars, One from the heart, the THX standard etc

• Industrial Light & Magic: Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis (Close encounters of the third kind and Who Framed Roger Rabbit etc)
• Electronic improvements: Go-motion, motion control and animatronics 
• Synthetic Images: 
- Disney and the Tron experience 
- LucasFilm and the raising of P.I.X.A.R.
- James Cameron and the digital characters: The abyss and Terminator 2 
- Morphing images, digital painting, 3D computer graphics 
- JusassicPark: The maturation of digital characters 
- Digital natural phenomena effects 
- Invisible effects and related ethical issues
• CGI: Nothing is impossible: 
- Star Wars rides again 
- Peter Jackson and The lord of the rings trilogy
- Hero and the Asian production
- The potentials and limitations of image composing
- Digital 3-D projection and the digital camera
• Conclusion: 
- The influence of visual effects on cinema and other forms of global communication and media.


Learning Outcome

The students will be able to place visual effects within the broad context of its cultural circumstances. The students will have an informed overview of the significant figures, events and technologies of visual effects.

Student Assessment

  1. Final Exam: 30%
  2. Continuous Assessment: 70% (of which at least 15% is participation)


Suggested Reading:

  1. Richard Ricket, Special effects: the History and Technique, Billboard Books
  2. Ron Miller, Special effects: an Introduction to Movie Magic, 21st Century Books