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Using Blue Screen for a Flying Scene in ‘Superman,’ 1978

Before computer effects could edit out Superman’s mustache, the series was already a VFX leader.

Christopher Reeves Margot Kidder Superman
Christopher Reeves Margot Kidder Superman

Well before Henry Cavill became the Caped Crusader, Christopher Reeve starred as Superman in four films in the 1970s and 1980s. While certain aspects of the movie certainly feel cheesy today, the series’ first film was a huge milestone in pop culture.

To start, the movie’s production included groundbreaking effects. This included gigantic models, The use of matte paintings, and as shown above, some of the first major use of blue screen in film production. When movies were shot on film, blue screen was used in film production and chemically removed from the film reels later, as opposed to the green screen used in modern production.

This technique was relatively rare at the time, but many saw “Superman’s” use of the effect absolutely groundbreaking. In addition, the film used extensive wirework, also seen in this photo, which is still used constantly for stunts today. One antiquated effect the film did use was rear projection, in which a pre-filmed video is projected on a sheet behind the actors to act as a sort of on-the-fly green/blue screen, but this technique fell out of favor as true blue screens became more and more common.

“Superman” received an honorary Oscar for its visual effects. It was nominated for an additional 3 Oscars, including another nomination for legendary composer John Williams. The year before, 1977, Williams had won Best Original Score at the Academy Awards for the first “Star Wars” film, while simultaneously being nominated for “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”

The film was, at the time, the most expensive movie ever made at $50 million, and made well over $300 million at the box office. The film alongside “Star Wars” and “Close Encounters” are credited with being the trio of films that brought the science fiction genre back into the mainstream, where it mostly has stayed through to the modern day.

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