History of Visual Effects

Taught by Matt Leonard

Course Number:
Software Version:
Original Run Date:
July 2013 
11 hours 3 minutes 
In this unique fxphd course Matt Leonard takes you on a journey through the history of visual effects. Starting in 1867 and moving forward to today we look at how the industry got started, the key players and what techniques and tools they where using. We look at familiar names such as George Méliès, Ray Harryhausen, Dennis Murren and others as we cover their contribution to art and science of VFX.

Over the entire course we look at movies, companies, software, techniques, people, places and technologies. From Blade Runner to Avatar, Alias/1 to Maya, hand painted glass matte to Nuke’s RotoPaint. The course structure will consist of video interviews, software demos, slides, illustrations, film extracts and much more. I’ll be showing old school techniques recreated with modern tools and we’ll be getting some advice from a number of today's great VFX Supervisors. This course is a must for anyone passionate about the visual effects industry. Be inspired as you look back at the amazing history of our industry.

Matt Leonard has been in the 3D and visual effects industry for 20 years. He has spoken at various events and shows on behalf of Autodesk, The Foundry and eyeon Software and has had articles published in various magazines and journals. He is a member of the Visual Effects Society and has worked as a beta tester for Maya, Katana, Arnold, RenderMan, Mari and Nuke. He currently runs his own on-site training company in the UK and has trained artists from companies such as ILM, Pixomondo, MPC and Sony Pictures Imageworks.
History of Visual Effects
Watch our overview of the course

Class Listing

Class 1

1829-1959: The Early Years: We cover the life of George Melies, the creation of Traveling Mattes, the Shufftan Process, and Blue Screen Colour Separation. We also have an in depth interview with John Alexander from ILM on the Optical Printer and look at how to recreating the Optical Printer inside Nuke. The lesson covers a number of key movies including King Kong, Metropolis, When Worlds Collide and The Ten Commandments.

Class 2

1960 - 1976: The Optical Years. We cover the life of Willis O'Brien and Ray Harryhausen, and look in depth at the history of Matte Painting. We also have an interview with VFX Supervisor John Dykstra. The class covers a number of key movies including Jason and the Argonauts, Mary Poppins, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Westworld. We also look at The Utah Teapot, Phong Shading, Z-Buffering, IMAX and a brief look at L-Systems in Houdini.

Class 3

1977 - 1982: The Golden Years. In our third class among other things we cover the advent of home computers. We focus on movies such as Star Wars, Tron and Blade Runner, along with the work of James Blinn. We study the technique of Go-Motion and look at the great VFX Supervisor Dennis Muren. We also look at the Reyes Renderer.

Class 4

1983 - 1988: Into the Digital Realm. We look at the VFX Supervisor Phil Tippett. We look at some of the key movies of this period including Return of the Jedi, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, The Terminator, Back to the Future and much more. We cover some of the software releases of the time including the founding of Alias, Wavefront, Softimage and Side Effects along with breakthroughs in Radiosity and Ray Tracking. We also look at a host of VFX Companies including Boss Films, Matte World Digital and Framestore.

Class 5

1989 - 1993: The Fall of Optical. We look at the work of companies such as Scanline VFX, The Mill, Metrolight Studios and Animal Logic. We cover software including Photoshop, Power Animator, 3D Studio, Commotion and Avid. We hear from Visual Effects Supervisor John Knoll, cover in-depth case studios of both The Abyss and Terminator 2, and look at recreating a famous VFX shot using Maya 2014. Movies this week include RoboCop, Death Becomes Her, Backdraft, and Total Recall.

Class 6

1994 - 1996: Going Mainstream. We look at the work of companies such as Cinesite, Core Digital Pictures, and Rising Sun Pictures. We cover software including Bryce, Matador, Filmbox and 3D Studio Max. We hear from a couple of people talking about what got them into the business, and cover in-depth case studies for the compositing software Fusion and the movie Jurassic Park. We also look at Morphing and recreating the functionality of Industrial Light and Magics in-house tool 'Enveloping'. Movies this week include Forest Gump, True Lies, Babe, Apollo 13, Twister and Dragonheart.

Class 7

1997 - 1999 - Every Man and His Dog. We look at the work of companies such as Prime Focus, Method Studios, Double Negative, Gentle Giant Studios. We cover software including OpenEXR, Realflow and Arnold. We hear from a couple of people talking about what got them into the business, and a more in-depth discussion between Mike Seymour and Kim Libreri. Movies this week include Titanic, What Dreams May Come, and The Matrix. Finally we look in-depth at Maya and cover the latest work using Solid Angle's Arnold render engine.

Class 8

2000 - 2003: The Coming of Age. We cover the first move from celluloid to digital capture. We focus on movies such as Gladiator, Hollow Man and the Lord of the Rings, along with Steve ‘Spaz’ Williams hugh contribution to the VFX industry. We study the evolution of digital camera tracking and look at the VFX Supervisor Ken Ralston and the VFX giant Double Negative. We also look at the software Katana, Flame and Softimage (XSI).

Class 9

2004 - 2009: No Going Back. We look at the work of companies such as Screaming Death Monkey, Image Engine, and Prana. We cover software including Silhouette, Terragen, Toxik, Modo, Flix, and Mudbox. We hear from a couple of people talking about what got them into the business, and a more in-depth interview with Ken Ralston and Dennis Muren. Movies this week include Van Helsing, The Island, Poseidon, Transformers, Iron Man, and District 9.

Class 10

2010 - 2013: Beyond the Impossible. We look at the work of companies such as C.O.R.E Digital Pictures, Cafe FX, Kerner Optical, and Matte World Digital. We cover software including OSL, Deep Compositing, Alembic, Generation AM, Hiero, and OpenSubDiv. We hear from a couple of people talking about what got them into the business, and look at movies such as Tron: Legacy, Thor, Rango, The Avengers, and Gravity.