Throwback: The history of VFX in Hollywood films

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Throwback: The history of VFX in Hollywood films

vfx in hollywood films

Two scientists, a cloned-dino theme park and that moment when they realize the long-extinct ferocious creatures they have been studying all their lives are alive and kicking…and literally vying for their blood.

A tropical storm. Two kids. Deadly dinos chasing them. Cornered in the park’s industrial kitchen, the kids must come up with an escape plan or risk becoming dino food. 

Who doesn’t remember Jurassic Park – a cult movie to beat them all, a movie that made “nerds” cool? If it made the hair on your back stand and evoked a strong urge to call out to your mum, you have the film’s visual effects (VFX) to thank.

Not only was the movie one of the most impactful science-fiction flicks of our generation, it was also among the flag-bearers as far as using Computer-Generated Imagery (CGI) to create the scary visual effects is concerned.

For those of you who may not know, visual effects in film making refers to the process of creating imagery outside the context of a live shot. Why is there a need to create visual effects? Visual effects help create environments that look realistic when integrated into the live footage, but may be dangerous, expensive, impractical, or impossible to capture.

If you are having difficulty imagining it, just think of Pi sharing space with a Bengal tiger on a lifeboat in Life of Pi or the adorable Mowgli having a friendly chat with a fierce black panther in the recently-released The Jungle Book.

VFX in Films


 vfx in hollywood films



The history of VFX in Hollywood – When did it all start?

The first animation films can be traced back to the early 1900s which featured characters from the popular comic strips of the time. These films made use of the single frame method which involved images projected at a high volume of frames per second. Gertie the Dinosaur created by sketch artist Winsor McCay in 1914 is believed to be the first successful animation short film.

VFX in films – When did it all start?


The first full-length animation film using the single frame method was Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs released in 1937.

Another one of early Hollywood VFX used included stop motion photography, which involved a series of hand-drawn illustrations or photographs of realistic puppets of models that are manipulated one frame at a time to create the illusion of movement. King Kong, released in 1933 was among the pioneering movies to use this technique.

Film VFX

The use of miniature models was another Hollywood VFX technique that was in use in the early 1900s, but it was taken to another level by the classic sci-fi franchises Star Wars and Star Trek. Hundreds of miniature models manipulated by some brilliant camerawork marked these films, which created an unprecedented fan base.

Superman, released in 1978, was another milestone in the special effects industry. By using cables, blue screen and some clever camera tricks, the movie makers created the illusion of a flying superhero.

visual effects in Film

Computers-aided graphics

By the 1990s, the use of computer-generated imagery or CGI had begun to become popular with Hollywood movie makers and moviegoers. As mentioned earlier, Jurassic Park and Terminator 1 are considered the pioneers of CGI. However, some of the film world’s first CGI was created for the 1982 movie Tron.

Toy Story, released in 1995 and created by Pixar along with Disney, was the first feature-length computer animated movie.

Other milestone movies that broke new ground in special effects included The Matrix (bullet time), Lord of the Rings (motion capture), Avatar (motion capture and CGI), and Gravity (3D).


Some of the most successful and highest grossing films in the recent past have had visual effects as an important component. The use of special effects has transformed many movies into mega, larger-than-life productions that have left a lasting impression on the audience and a monumental impact on the way films are being shot.

VFX adding value to films

Visual effects definitely add value to movies and while Hollywood remains the mecca of special effects, film makers the world over are now using VFX to enhance their movies. There’s a huge demand for special effects in the Chinese and Indian film industries.

Some of the recent hit films in China to have used VFX heavily include the Zhong Kui: Snow Girl and the Dark Crystal, John Woo’s The Crossing, and the recently released Monster Hunt, which went on to become the highest grossing Chinese film of all time. 

In India, the larger-than-life Bollywood films use an average of 500 to 1500 VFX shots. Films like DhoomChennai Express and the smash-hit Bahubali have used special effects to perfection in recent times.

Film VFX in hollywood


The growing popularity of visual effects in world cinema has led to a spurt in the demand for special effects companies like Toolbox Studio, which has been doing impressive work in the field. Our studio was responsible for creating the visual effects for the recently-released UnIndianwhich had Australian cricketer Brett Lee as the protagonist

One thing is clear, VFX in films are here to stay. Visual effects will keep getting bigger and better and that spells good news for both the thrill-seeking fan and the special effects studios the world over!

View our portfolio to see the amazing VFX work we’ve been doing for our international clients and contact us to know the range of sub-services we offer under the VFX domain!