Special Effects in the 80s

Earlier this week, we featured a little infographic counting down the biggest movie sets in the history of cinema. This look into the practical sets from decades past shows both how impressive and large some physical sets used to be, and also just how few giant film sets are built today, in favor of digital effects. But even the world of special effects wasn’t so technologically advanced. And much like extensive practical set building, the use of less-sophisticated but still impressive special effects is something that seems to be missing from today’s movies.

So if you need to escape the present day for awhile, check out this vintage one-hour NOVA special that takes a look at the magic of special effects in the 80s, focusing on films such as Return of the Jedi and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Watch the NOVA segment on special effects below!

If you need any more convincing to take this journey into the past, over 30 years ago, you’ll also get behind the scene glimpses of the sci-fi adventure Explorers from director Joe Dante (featuring a very young Ethan Hawke) as well as Peter Hyams’ 2010: The Year We Make Contact. And the Return of the Jedi segment goes behind the scenes of Industrial Light & Magic, with George Lucas popping up as well. This is a fantastic time capsule of the way blockbusters were made without an abundance of digital wizardry.

Don’t get me wrong, we don’t want to take credit away from the thousands of animators, digital artists and more who bring unbelievable worlds to life on the big screen. Even though sometimes the visual effects aren’t as good as they could be, more often than not, they really transport you to another world that just can’t easily be created practically.

But at the same time, there are plenty of things that can be done practically that just end up being completed in post-production, whether it’s to make production cheaper or more efficient. When you look at this NOVA special, there’s something wondrous about seeing these innovative effects created with limited technology compared to what’s at our disposal today. But alas, we are living in a digital frontier.

Do you wish there were more practical special effects done today? Or do you like digital special effects more?

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