Old Hollywood Special Effects We’re Still Using Today

These tricks look slicker today, the concepts are the same.

Watch a big budget film today and you’ll see all kinds of special effects in use from realistic CGI animations to covert background changes using LED screens. Compare this to the special effects of Old Hollywood from 100 years ago and beyond and the difference is pretty astounding. But, the tricks used to create such masterpieces as Bambi (1942) and A Trip to the Moon (1902) use techniques that are so successful that they’re still being employed to this day in the film industry.


This method combines two shots by splicing them together. Films like The Ten Commandments (1956) used this to great effect. In the Biblical film shots of molded gelatin were combined with scenes of the Israelites walking on sand for the famous parting of the Red Sea scene.

This same method is used when actors act in front of a green screen and then separate footage is used in the green areas to combine 2 different clips into one.

Red Sea scene from The Ten Commandments
Via: Paramount Pictures/Insider

Substitution Splicing

Ever see something just pop into someone’s hand in a movie as if by magic? This is a very old technique that was first employed by early filmmakers like Georges Méliès. A shot without the object or feature is shot, then the filming stopped. Then the object or effect is applied while the actors stay in the same places with the same backgrounds. Filming resumes and it looks like magic. Even though this technique was in use as early as the late 19th century, it became the bread and butter of 1960s TV shows like Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie.

This is done today using multiple camera angles and various digital effects for a more seamless look, but the concept is the same.

stills from The Vanishing Lady
Via: Star Film CompanyInsider

The Parallax Effect

Bambi is a classic because even though the scenes and characters are animated, you feel like you’re there with them inside the forest. This is in part due to the parallax effect. Disney used this effect in a lot in their animations since they weren’t filming actors, but only drawings.

Different cells or drawings were placed on glass plates that were physically distanced from each other. This is referred to as a multi-plane camera. When the camera moved the perspective and distance changed in a realistic way since the scenes were actually seen at different angles to each other.

Bambi trailer opening credit
Via: Walt Disney

Get all the details on how these old film effects and many others have influenced today’s filmmakers in the video below.