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Check out the Nokia Lumia 920 and you’ll see why we love it when innovative ideas became real world awesomeness. One industry, besides mobile tech, where you see this all the time is the film business. 3D, Imax, popcorn – it’s hard to nail down which cinematic gizmo has meant the most to moviegoers over the years. With worldwide attendance on the up – global box-office takings reached US$32.6 billion in 2011! – there’s never been a bigger audience on which to test-drive invention in the talkies. But which past innovations have been the real game-changers? We take a look at five contenders.


Sure, it’s an obvious one, but nailing non-monochrome images was the Grail of the photo-geeks back in the early twentieth century. Hand-tinting frames was one of the first techniques – In 1902, Georges Melies’s A Trip To The Moon was coloured in by twenty-one women in what must have been a rather finicky production line.

Then came the likes of Kinemacolor, Kodachrome, Trucolor, and everyone’s favourite, The Wizard Of Oz in Technicolor, and now there’s ne’er a black-and-white movie in sight.


It’s not like the pre-talkie flicks were actually silent – orchestras often played alongside movies in the fancier theatres, and piano-players were a common sight in cinemas when the budget didn’t extend to a larger ensemble. But once Hollywood managed to synch up sound and vision and record actors’ words, everything changed – from acting styles to casting, scriptwriting, soundtracks and the theatres themselves.

Warner Brother’s Vitaphone system, a sound-on-disc invention, kicked it all off in 1926 with Don Juan, and then The Jazz Singer, in 1927, was the first feature film with recorded dialogue. Now we’ve got surround sound not only in our theatres, but also in our homes. Silence? What’s that?

Green Screen

We’re all graphics experts these days, with Photoshop on our desktops and our eagle-eyes peeled to spot tell-tale CGI blunders in the latest blockbusters. But back in the early days, there weren’t many ways to fake it.

The era of digital compositing was launched way back in the 1940s when RKO Radio Pictures developed what they called the ‘travelling matte’ – an early version of what we’d recognise as green screens and chroma key technology – superimposed backdrops with the actors performing against a blank, coloured wall. Their pioneering movie was The Thief of Baghdad (1940). Anyone…?

Nonlinear Editing

Scissors, sticky-tape and film gave way to digital editing back in the 1970s, but really took off in the 1990s with the rise of Avid and their non-linear editing kit – leading to an explosion in relatively easily created video effects, from split-screens to digital crash-zooms and multi-track sound-effects, all made at the same desk at the press of a button, saving time, money and effort.

It’s not always obvious to the consumer, but to the movie-makers, the nonlinear revolution was like the switch from horse-and-cart to the Model T.  Which led right to…

Low-Budget Film-Making Equipment

Semi-professional kit like affordable video cameras, hard-drive storage and Final Cut Pro has flung the doors of movie-making wide open. Now fledging directors can get their groove on without sourcing multi-million dollar financing.

Sure, not every cheap film is a masterpiece, but there’s nothing like practice, right? And with festivals like the London Independent Film Festival catering directly to the no-budget market – and the option to distribute your films for free online, if you choose – there’s never been a better time to be a young Spielberg.

These are our five cinematic tech superstars, but what about yours? Does IMAX deserve a place on the podium? Should 3D be given a big thumbs up? Let us know in the comments below.

Image credit: Pietroizzo