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The Vanishing Lady

Film is magic. In films, anything can happen that can’t happen in real life. From talking monkeys to superheroes with magical powers. Nowadays special effects in film are made using a computer or a green screen. How were special effects created earlier, when cinema was just invented?

In this Short for Kids, children will discover the magic of film through one of the first filmmaking tricks in the history of cinema.

Filmmaking tricks by George Méliès

There were no green screens or computers back in 1896, but even so, visual effects were already used in film. They were invented by film pioneer and illusionist George Méliès. One of his special effects was to have people disappear and reappear. Take a good look at the following film made in 1896. How would this filmmaking trick work? What do you think?

Watch The Vanishing Lady (George Méliès, FR 1896)

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Still from The Vanishing Lady (George Méliès, FR 1896)
Still from The Vanishing Lady (George Méliès, FR 1896)

This is how Méliès did it: he first filmed the woman, then he turned off the camera. He left the camera exactly where it was. The woman walks out of the picture. He then turned the camera back on. This way, it’s as if the woman under the cloth has vanished.

Coincidence

Méliès discovered this trick by coincidence. The camera jammed as he was filming. After a minute the camera started rolling again and Méliès went on filming. When he looked at the film later, it was as if a bus had suddenly changed into a hearse. The camera had jammed when there was a bus in the picture and had gone back filming when there was a hearse instead.

Mélies used this trick on purpose for the first time in the film The Vanishing Lady (the one you just saw). So, you’ve just witnessed one of the very first special effects in the history of cinema!

Assignment: make your own film using a trick

Take a smartphone or tablet that has TikTok. If you don’t have TikTok, use the free YouCut Video Editor app. Think about what you would like to make appear or disappear. First film something, then push stop. Place what you want to appear in front of the camera, or remove what you want to disappear. Now turn the camera on again and do the rest of your film. Make sure you put your camera on a stable surface, using a tripod for instance, and don’t change the frame. You leave the camera exactly where it was, the way Méliès did, it will look real.

Share your film with us!

Would you like to share your film trick with us? Post your film on Instagram or Facebook using #kortvoorkids and tag @eye_film.

credits

Short for Kids is created by Taartrovers and Eye Filmmuseum's educational team.

Film credits

The Vanishing Lady (Escamotage d'une dame au théâtre Robert Houdin) (George Méliès, FR 1896)

Film theme

Early film and special effects

Ages

8-12