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Fencers

Grades 6-8 Lesson: Fancy Fencing
Stage-fighting, and especially sword-fighting, is important to the plot of many Shakespearean plays. In theatre, fights are based on precise choreography.
Choreographers, Europe, Playwrights & Plays, Shakespeare, Stunts & Special Effects

Blood, Guts, & Gore

Video Series: Blood, Guts, and Gore
These video tutorials offer step-by-step guides for homemade fake blood and other gory stage effects. The series is hosted by stuntman and special effects professional Greg Poljacik.
Backstage, Movies & Movie Stars, Television, Theater, Science, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Stunts & Special Effects

A Teenager With a Radio Microphone

Audio Series: D.I.Y. Old-Time Radio
After learning about the history of radio drama, use everyday items around your house to record your own.
Backstage, History, Innovators & Pioneers, Musical Instruments, Jobs in the Arts, Stunts & Special Effects

studio microphone

Audio Series: The Music of Sound
Learn how composers and sound designers use their tools to create or enhance mood in a film or commercial.
Backstage, Composers, Movies & Movie Stars, Music, Jobs in the Arts, Television, Stunts & Special Effects

Buster Keaton

Arts Days: October 04, 1895: The Great Stone Face
A star of the silent film era, Buster Keaton delighted audiences with his trademark deadpan expression or “stone face”—which he maintained even as slapstick mayhem filled the screen. At age three, he began working with his parents in vaudeville and honing his talent for being a fearless, agile performer on stage.

He learned techniques to help him endure the pain of the amazing, and sometimes dangerous, athletic comedy stunts for which he also became well-known. Over the course of his career, Keaton made the transition to “talkies,” had his own TV show for a while, and also performed in live theater. His films, including The General, routinely land spots on best-film lists even today.
Comedy, Stunts & Special Effects, Movies & Movie Stars

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

Arts Days: December 23, 1954: Water, Water Everywhere
This movie, the first science-fiction film produced by Walt Disney Pictures, has it all: an underwater battle with a giant squid, great dialogue, and stars like Kirk Douglas as Ned Land and James Mason as Captain Nemo. The movie was adapted from a book by the French science fiction author Jules Verne.

It featured Nemo’s fantastic submarine, the Nautilus, which could stay under water for five days, and had onboard equipment to convert seawater into drinking water. To bring Verne’s deep-sea world to life, a staff of hundreds—led by director Richard Fleischer—was required. Lucky folks: They got to do much of the filming in beautiful places in the Bahamas and Jamaica.
Movies & Movie Stars, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Stunts & Special Effects, Innovators & Pioneers, Literature, Popular Culture

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Arts Days: December 06, 1964: Not Your Average Reindeer
The cute star of this TV special was none other than that red-nosed reindeer, who is mocked as a calf for his unusual feature but is ultimately a hero when he bails Santa out of a tight spot on a very important night.

The program was shot using stop-motion, also called stop-action, which is an animation process in which producers make objects—in this case, clay sculptures of reindeer, elves, and other characters—appear to move by adjusting their positions ever so slightly, capturing the configuration on camera, adjusting the models again, filming the new setup, and so on. That’s how the snowman appears to glide across the screen and the reindeer soar through the air. Featuring the voices of folksinger Burl Ives and other recognizable voices, Rudolph is still a hit with kids today each December.
Cartoons, Comics, & Animation, Stunts & Special Effects, Television, Popular Culture

Toy Story

Arts Days: November 21, 1995: Toys Will Be Toys
Once upon a time, there was a boy named Andy who had a room full of toys—playthings that just happen to come to life whenever Andy’s not around. Everyone is happy with the status quo, especially Andy’s favorite toy, Sheriff Woody, who’s the unofficial leader of all the toys. That is until a shiny new astronaut toy named Buzz Lightyear arrives and makes Woody jealous.

Produced by Pixar, Toy Story marked a sea change in animated filmmaking. Using new technologies, about 100 animators completed the film on a $30 million budget, as compared to The Lion King a year earlier, which had used 800 animators and cost $45 million to make. Toy Story's significant impact on the art of animation sparked an entirely new film genre of computer animated movies.
Cartoons, Comics, & Animation, Innovators & Pioneers, Movies & Movie Stars, Stunts & Special Effects, Popular Culture

Nobel Detonators

Arts Days: November 25, 1867: The Big Bang Theory
What's a good disaster movie without an explosion or three? Alfred Nobel’s famous invention, which he called “Nobel’s Blasting Powder,” made these blockbusters' explosion-filled sequences possible. Nobel discovered that when silica is combined with nitroglycerin, the resulting substance can be formed into cylinders and other shapes for use in mining operations.

Originally envisioned for these pragmatic purposes, dynamite found a whole new function when it came to creating spectacular special effects in the movies. From exploding cars to towering infernos, dynamite makes all kinds of explosive things happen. These days, on-set special effects experts make sure that dynamite is used safely.
Inventions, Stunts & Special Effects, Cartoons, Comics, & Animation, Movies & Movie Stars

Bert Lahr after being hit in the face with pie

Arts Days: July 17, 1913: Banana or Coconut Cream?
The practice of “pieing” in film got its start in the 1913 movie A Noise from the Deep. Actress Mabel Normand hit co-star Fatty Arbuckle in the face with a pie—no word on what flavor it was.

Throwing a pie in someone’s face was just a physical stunt done to get audience laughs. Actually, it became something of a cliché in the days before talkies because it was done so often. But over the years, the act has sometimes taken on political overtones, with pies being tossed in the face of some politicians, corporate executives, and others perceived by the pie-thrower as being wrong about an issue and in need of a public humiliation.
Comedy, Movies & Movie Stars, Stunts & Special Effects, Innovators & Pioneers

Godzilla

Arts Days: July 07, 1901: Godzilla Suits Up
Just who was the guy who created the fierce Godzilla, who crushed skyscrapers with his enormous lizard fists? Credit goes to the special-effects master Eiji Tsuburaya, who built model airplanes as a kid and never forgot the thrill of seeing the American-made film King Kong in Tokyo. It was at that point Tsuburaya vowed he, too, would make monster movies.

He created costuming breakthroughs, such as “suitmation,” in which actors wear monster suits to pantomime throwing cars or squashing buildings (with sound effects added later). That’s how all of the early Godzilla movies were made, starting in 1954.

This type of movie was known in Japan as kaiju, or “strange beast” film, otherwise known as a monster movie. Tsuburaya’s ingenuity helped propel the genre to new levels of worldwide success.
Innovators & Pioneers, Movies & Movie Stars, Stunts & Special Effects, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Japan

Circus

Arts Days: January 09, 1768: Send in the Clowns
Though acrobats, clowns, trapeze artists, and trained animals all existed before the modern circus, they’d never been under the same roof until Englishman Philip Astley, a former cavalry sergeant major, discovered his ability to perform stunts while standing atop his horse's back.

Realizing his talent’s potential entertainment value, he drew a ring in the ground and invited the public to witness his daring act. His display proved to be popular and Astley readily hired other trick riders, as well as clowns, and musicians to join his show. He built a roof over the ring, which he named Astley's Amphitheatre. Over the next thirty years, Astley took his show on the road and established 18 other circuses in major European cities.
Inventions, Art Venues, Innovators & Pioneers, Stunts & Special Effects, Animals, Europe, Popular Culture, Theater

Jaws

Arts Days: June 20, 1975: Something’s Fishy
When a killer shark decides to vacation at a tourist beach town, you clearly have the makings of the first summer blockbuster action film.

Director Steven Spielberg’s Jaws fast-paced, suspense-filled thriller came ashore on this June day, and caused waves of attention and ticket sales.  Even before the first sight of the lone fin sweeping through the water, composer John Williams’ theme music adds to the film’s sense of impending terror. Audiences quickly covered their eyes as the menacing great white begins to attack innocent swimmers, and as the adventure to track and destroy him tensely unfolds.
Movies & Movie Stars, Stunts & Special Effects, Animals, Composers, Music, Popular Culture

Ice Capades

Arts Days: June 16, 1940: Theater on Ice
There was a time when seeing an Ice Capades show was the hottest ticket in town for a family night out. The show featured Olympic skaters and other national champions acting out plays, TV shows, and other stories in elaborate costumes and on skates.

It all started when a group of ice arena managers noticed how much applause the ice-skating demonstrations between hockey segments generated. On this day, Ice Capades mounted its first show in New Orleans. Skating stars of the day were along for the ride on this debut tour of 40 cities across the U.S. As children flocked to these shows with their parents, demand for ice-skating lessons surged. Still, with so much competition for leisure-time activities and dollars, the show’s popularity faded.
Theater, Popular Culture, Stunts & Special Effects

Dick Smith

Arts Days: June 26, 1922: Master of Makeup
Wrinkly faces—wow! Bleeding limbs—ew! Movies absorb us completely into the action when makeup convinces us that a character really is 100 years old—or turning into a possessed demon before our terrified eyes. And over decades of work in TV and movies from The Exorcist and Taxi Driver to The Godfather and Little Big Man, makeup artist Dick Smith pioneered new techniques in the use of foam rubber, paint, fake blood, and other materials to generate stunning special effects.

Smith developed new ways to create masks for actors, using bits of latex attached to their faces one piece at a time (rather than one big piece that constrained their facial movements and looked more fake). He also experimented with prosthetics and small pouches called bladders that were inserted under an actor’s latex “skin” and manipulated to make it look like the actor had something creepy—a bug, a new body part, whatever—moving underneath.
Innovators & Pioneers, Fashion, Movies & Movie Stars, Stunts & Special Effects

Star Wars

Arts Days: May 25, 1977: The Force at the Box Office
“A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...”

Almost as soon as those ten words began their crawl across movie screens around the U.S., a pop-culture phenomenon was  underway.

The first movie, A New Hope, was later revealed to be Episode IV in a six-episode series that tells the compelling story of good triumphing over evil. A simple-yet-complex science fantasy epic sprung from director George Lucas’ imagination, Star Wars—with its sequels, prequels, books, games, TV shows, and the toys it spawned— has become one of the most successful movie franchises of all time.
Movies & Movie Stars, Popular Culture, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Stunts & Special Effects

George Lucas

Arts Days: May 14, 1944: Hollywood’s Sky Walker
Growing up on a quiet walnut ranch, George Lucas seemed about as far removed from a life making Hollywood blockbusters as you might imagine. But his career as an award-winning filmmaker was launched at the University of Southern California, where he won a prize for one of his early sci-fi shorts. More career-making breaks followed, including Lucas’s turn directing and helping to write American Graffiti.

But even the film’s hit reception paled in comparison to the attention Lucas got for writing and directing 1977’s Star Wars. The film’s intergalactic storyline and technological achievements piled up Academy Awards® and broke most box-office records. The movie’s sequels and prequels, from The Empire Strikes Back to The Phantom Menace, trace the paths of characters Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader—now household names across the world.
Innovators & Pioneers, Movies & Movie Stars, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Stunts & Special Effects, Popular Culture

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