Since the early 2000s, computer generated images, aka CGI, has been the default technology for special effects, but in the 70s and 80s, hand-painting was the technique used for certain scenes, which can be seen in the original Star Wars trilogy.
“Matte paintings are fake sets that—most of the time—are used to be made with plexiglass and oil paint. The artists used oversized panels to create the necessary detail that the camera needed to fool the audiences when the film was projected over the large surface of the theater screen. The paintings were combined with live action film to match the perspective of the painting. If done well, the public would totally buy into the shot.”
Click the jump to check out the original Star Wars trilogy paintings and a history timeline of CGI in movies.
Although invented in 1976, CGI was not commonly used by production companies until the mid-90s, and did not became a widespread default technology method for movies until in the 2000s. For the original Star Wars movie, Return of the Jedi, Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) used matte paintings to create the Rebel Hangar. Although physical plastic models played a part in the scenes as well, the artwork is what really stands out.
CGI in Movies Timeline
Significance: Cinema’s first 2D computer images in the sci-fi western, Westworld.
Signifance: First 3D computer graphics in the Westworld sequel, Futureworld.
Signifiance: 3D wireframe graphics created Empire’s moon-shaped headquarters in Star Wars.
Significance: first extensive 3D in the movie TRON.
Significance: Pixar’s first-ever animation
*Significance: First physically textured CGI in the film, Jurassic Park.
Significance: First full-length CG film, Toy Story.
Significance: First use of photogrammetry in the movie, Fight Club.
Significance: First photo-realistic human actors in the film, Final Fantasy.
Significance: First motion-capture feature film.
Significance: Facial capture in the film, Avatar.