Cinematic History – December 8, 1861 Georges Méliès Was Born
Sometimes Labeled the Father Of Special Effects, His Films Changed Cinema Forever.
Georges Méliès was born on December 8, 1860 in Paris. He was the son of a shoe maker but did not express interest in the family business. His interests lied in the arts fueled at a young age by building puppet theaters and later marionettes as a teenager.
In December of 1895, at age 35, Méliès viewed a demonstration of the cinematograph by the Lumière brothers. He studied the design of the device and modified it so that it could be used to acquire images as a film camera. He developed his own film stock since no film processing labs existed in Paris at the time. And so launched his career into film.
Georges Méliès directed 500+ films in a 17 year time span, with runtimes up to 40 minutes. Many of his films contained some of the first ever special effects such as people and object changing size, disappearing, or changing into other objects. He invented many special effects that were firsts in filmmaking such as the substitution splice, and double exposure.
His years of experimenting with special effects (and films essentially devoid of plot) culminated in 1902 when Méliès released his most famous film, A Trip to the Moon. Based on stories from Jules Verne and H. G. Wells, it was a success in France and around the world. An expensive film, it is seen as a pivotal point in filmmaking, where it was shown that movies could be created purely for entertainment, and that the science fiction/fantasy genre was possible to execute with clever camera and editing.
Méliès ran his film studio, Star Film Company, until 1913 when a poor business dealing left him penniless. In 1917 the French army turned his studio into a hospital and melted many of his original films down to recover the silver and turn into heels for shoes. Georges Méliès burned all of the negatives of his films that were stored at the studio and many do not exist today. About 200 of his films were preserved of the original 500+
By 1937 Méliès fell ill and was admitted to the Hospital. He died of cancel in January of 1938, and is currently at rest in the Père Lachaise Cemetery.
His legacy lives on forever as a jumping point for the introduction of special effects films into cinema. His visual specatacles didn’t need a strong plot to be successful. Maybe without him, we wouldn’t have modern popcorn movies like Transformers or superhero vfx powerhouses like The Avengers.