Animated visual effects — in the 1940s!

Truly, when it comes to special effects, there is nothing the CGI artists are doing today that the old-school animators weren’t already doing years, if not decades, before.

Three years ago, I noted that the Bob Hope – Bing Crosby movie Road to Morocco (1942) includes a scene of talking camels, in which hand-drawn mouths are superimposed on live-action footage of the animals in question. Replace the hand-drawn animation with the computer-generated kind, and you have basically every talking-animal movie of the last decade or two, from Babe (1995) to Beverly Hills Chihuahua (2008).

And now, thanks to the Jerry Beck video essay below, I have learned that the original live-action Superman serial (1948) used animation for some of the flying scenes, and that it even features at least one shot in which lead actor Kirk Alyn is transformed into an animated character when he leaps into the air. That’s precisely the sort of thing that modern-day superhero movies do all the time — but with computer-generated animation instead of hand-drawn animation.

The video essay itself is all about the various portrayals of Superman — whether official or parodic — in 1940s cartoons, and the segment on the use of animation in the Kirk Alyn serials begins around the six-minute mark. Check it out:

Click here if the video file above doesn’t play properly.

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  • Anonymous

    And don't forget Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) which had, to my knowledge, the first morph. Dracula morphs between Lugosi and a bat using animation, and it's exactly the same kind of morph that's common today.

  • Thanks for the tip, I’ll check that out sometime.

    It occurs to me that we probably also get a hand-animated morph in The Ten Commandments (1956), when the staff turns into a snake and/or vice versa. And that was in colour!